Satisfaction from Conservation Activities in North America ?
Americans, says pollster Harris (1977), 'have begun to
show a deep skepticism about the nation's capacity for
unlimited economic growth', and they have even begun to
question the benefits of such growth. These same indi
viduals, Harris goes on to report, are eager to learn how to
gain satisfaction from non-material experiences. Inglehart
(1977) has noted this same shift in other western nations
a shift from an 'overwhelming emphasis on material well
being and physical security toward greater emphasis on the
quality oflife.' People are not ignoring all tangible indica
tors ofwell-being; they are far too practical for that. Instead
they are looking for a broader definition oftheir well-being.
Yankelovich (1981) has discussed the adaptive nature of
'A person who gauges his or her self-worth in terms of a bigger
car, a better neighborhood, and a steadily rising income, does
well in good times. These signs of success are satisfyingly tan
gible, visible to others as well as to one's self. When incomes fail
to keep pace with inflation, however, the person who gauges
self-worth in terms of less tangible quality-of-life values may
have a broader range of life satisfactions to fall back on.'
If well-being is important to leading an effective exis
tence. and ifthis well-being is to be increasingly linked with
intangibles, then research must become more concerned
with these elusive yet powerful sources ofsatisfaction. The
purpose of this submission is to report on several recent
investigations ofenvironmentally responsible behaviours,
covering two main themes:
I. There is a clear and stable structure to the satisfac
tions which people report deriving from daily conservation
2. These satisfactions are independent of satisfactions
gained from material things.
Much ofthe emphasis in conservation research has been
on attitudes (Weigel, 1983) and incentives (Cone & Hayes,
1980; Geller et aI., 1982), with insufficient attention given
to the satisfactions which people derive from the activity
itself. The major body ofliterature that addresses satisfac
tions from an empirical viewpoint is referred to as 'social
indicators research' (Campbell et aI., 1976; Campbell,
1981). Within the limits of this literature, satisfaction is
measured in a global sense-often with reference to such
content-areas as private life, social life, and public prob
lems (Andrews & Withey, 1976); and very often these
measures of satisfaction tend towards a single, gross na
tional product type of measure of well-being.
However, the ecological appropriateness of different
daily activities varies considerably. While each behaviour
may contribute to some particular form ofsatisfaction, one
would not expect every behaviour to produce the same
type ofpersonal satisfaction. For instance, people may gain
satisfaction from avoiding the creation of unnecessary
waste (a satisfaction from frugality), as well as from having
and using certain convenience products (a satisfaction
from luxuries). While one would expect an activity such as
re-using materials around the house to provide a satisfac
tion from frugality, one would not expect it to increase
satisfaction from luxuries. Thus a multidimensional struc
ture to satisfactions might be expected.
There are two reasons why empirical support for the
multidimensional nature of satisfactions would be helpful
to have. First, many conservation activities are repetitive
elements of common, everyday behaviours (Simmons et
aI., 1984-85). A framework for investigating the types of
satisfactions that exist at this relatively mundane level of
behaviour, could be of considerable interest to intrinsic
motivation and social indicators research workers.
Second, in the general environmental literature there are
suggestions that some individuals derive considerable
amounts ofnon-economic satisfaction from 'ordinary con
servation activities'. If these satisfactions were found to
form a coherent and stable structure, then that structure
might be useful in making conservation satisfying to a
wider clientele and hence larger population.
Satisfaction and Conservation
A multidimensional structure to satisfaction has been
reported in several studies ofconservation behaviour, both
in Canada (DeYoung & Robinson, in press) and in the
United States (DeYoung, 1984). These studies have in
volved separate random samples, as the Canadian survey
focused on water conservation while the United States sur
veys have concentrated on recycling and re-using behav
iours. Although the survey instruments were not identical,
they did have some portions in common. The findings
reported here are derived from those common portions of
the surveys. Three satisfactions are examined in detail:
frugality (i.e. the avoidance of wasteful practices), partici
pation in activities that can make a difference in the long
run, and luxuries (i.e. having access to the material benefits
afforded by society).
Frugality:- The relationships between the environmen
tally appropriate behaviours of recycling, re-using mate
rials, and water conservation, together with their satisfac
tion-dimensions, have followed a meaningful and stable
pattern across all the three items studied. In particular, the
respondents have associated satisfaction from frugality
(e.g. avoiding wastefulness, saving and repairing things,
keeping things running long past their normal life) with
household conservation activities.
This finding is particularly interesting because the idea of
frugality is intimately tied to a conservation ethic; frugality
and hard work have long been the hallmarks of Western
culture. While one is regularly reminded that such simple
values build character, the respondents in each ofthe three
studies seem to go beyond the utilitarian nature offrugality
to suggest that it also provides reward and fulfilment.
Participation:-Respondents have also reported that
conservation is an opportunity to participate in a commu
nity activity and a way of taking action which can change
the world. Satisfaction from participation is not just a gen
eral 'sense ofsatisfaction' but a satisfaction from making a
difference-from doing things that matter in the long
The satisfaction-from-participation dimension reminds
one that humans are not passive beings, willing to accept
solutions from kindly others, but rather are active, knowl
edge-generating and knowledge-utilizing creatures. This
information-processing view of participation, and the
sense that humans are deeply concerned about this con
cept, has gained wide support (see Kaplan & Kaplan, 1982).
That humans would derive satisfaction from activities
which they are deeply concerned about, has an intuitive
credibility. The sense ofbeing needed or ofhaving a chance
Environmental Conservation, Vol. 12, No.3, Autumn 1985 - © 1985 The Foundation for Environmental Conservation -Printed in Switzerland.
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to influence how things are done, are not luxuries but
necessary parts ofour well-being. The respondents, as had
done others before them, highlighted the importance of
having a chance to be involved. They were also aware ofthe
relationship between this satisfaction and conservation
Luxuries, and the independence of satisfaction from
them:- In each study, a satisfaction-from-luxuries dimen
sion was identified that focused on the pleasures gained
from having the comforts and conveniences of modern
society. This dimension reflects the satisfaction which peo
ple experience in being a member of a thriving communi
ty-participating in the good life.
In a hasty analysis, one might conclude that satisfaction
gained from luxuries is the direct opposite of the other
satisfactions. Yet in all three studies all satisfaction-dimen
sions have had similar mean scores, and the luxuries
dimensions have had generally positive and always very
low correlations with the other satisfaction-dimensions.
This suggests that satisfaction from luxuries is not the anti
thesis of satisfaction from frugality or participation.
Furthermore, there has been a lack of significant rela
tionships with any ofthe conservation behaviours studied.
This supports the idea that there is no conflict between a
life-style ofmodern convenience and comfort, and behav
ing in an ecologically responsible manner. Together, these
findings suggest that environmentally appropriate activ
ities might be made to appeal to a broad cross-section of
North Americans (the well-off and disadvantaged alike)
rather than just to people of a Spartan nature.
One must avoid equating quality oflife or sense ofwell
being with economic standard ofliving. The North Ameri
can public is concerned about intangible as well as tangible
indicators of well-being. In fact, a shift towards deriving
one's well-being from intangible resources would seem an
adaptive response to a people-rich but concomitantly
Despite the common-sense nature ofthese findings, their
application to the plight ofthe disadvantaged is often over
looked. Clearly, human well-being can be increased in
many non-economic ways. Due to the plurality of human
satisfaction, people have the potential to improve their
quality oflife even ifthey have difficulty in moving rapidly
up the economic ladder. For this potential to be realized,
however, people must be able to become involved in their
environment: they must be able to take actions to explore
and to experiment, on a daily basis. They m u ~ t , in short:
experience the environment as supportive oftheir concern
to participate and always avoid wastefulness.
Fortunately, the urban environment can be designed and
managed in ways that enhance environmental supportive
ness (Kaplan, 1983). In fact, creating supportive environ
ments may be vital, in terms ofequity andjustice, for those
of limited resources, as it provides alternate routes to a
Partial funding for this research was provided by the
Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies and the
University ofMichigan Office ofEnergy Research (Project
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RAYMOND DEYOUNG, Research Fellow
School ofNatural Resources