Fostering Environmentally Sustainable Behavior

Many of us who want to get people to behave in an environmentally sustainable way, tell them why they should do so. Sometime we even tell them how to do so. But research studies confirm what many of us have learned through personal experience. For most people, having the right attitudes, values and information is not sufficient to produce the amount of environmentally sustainable behavior that we would like.

I attended Doug McKenzie-Mohr’s workshop on Fostering Sustainable Behavior: An Introduction to Community Based Social Marketing and learned much about how to be more effective.

Sometimes, doing the right thing requires too much effort. Sometimes people think that it requires too much effort. Hence, we must understand the barriers that people perceive in engaging in sustainable behavior. We then should try to reduce those barriers by making the behavior more convenient and more beneficial to the person doing it.

In addition, it is often useful to get people commit themselves to the behavior and to provide reminders for behaviors (e.g., stickers reminding people to turn off unneeded lights).

It is also useful to establish and use the norm that the community expects certain behaviors. One reason that curbside recycling works well is that people see their neighbors recycling and know that their own behavior will also be noticed. To establish such community norms, it can be very useful to persuade respected community members to adopt the desired behavior and for these people to encourage their friends to do likewise.

If you are thinking about attending one of these workshops, go to However, unless you feel like traveling to Vancouver in November, you should check this link in several months, so that you can see when and where workshops will be offered in the winter and spring.

A considerably less expensive, but also less effective, way of learning this material is to buy Doug’s book which has the same title as the workshop. It is published by New Society Publishers, and also available through

Stan Kaplowitz

Professor of Sociology

Michigan State University

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