J. ENVIRONMENTAL SYSTEMS, Vol. 15(3),1985-86
CONSERVATION BEHAVIOR AND THE
STRUCTURE OF SA TISF ACTIONS*
University of Michigan
This article deals with the concerns, the predicted rewards and the satisfactions that
people who do conserve derive from their conserving behaviors. In order to
investigate the factors that playa role in maintaining energy-conserving behavior,
interviews were conducted which focused on the satisfactions that are derived from
people's everyday pursuits. The thirty participants were individuals who were known
to be concerned about energy conservation issues, and special emphasis was placed on
those satisfactions associated with their daily energy conservation activities. Eleven
distinct types of satisfactions were found in the data with only one being economic
in nature. The range of satisfactions found suggests that many potentially fruitful
avenues exist for encouraging the adoption of energy conservation practices among a
much broader population.
Why do people behave as they do? To the proverbial person on the street this is
one of the most obvious questions to be asked of psychology. From a
psychological perspective, however , this apparently simple query breaks down
into a multitude of often complex issues. Despite considerable attention to
many of these issues, there remains an avenue of exploration that is both
promising and relatively neglected. For many ordinary, everyday behaviors,
people do them because they like doing them. They are sources of satisfaction.
* This research was supported, in part, by a grant from the University of Michigan Office
of Energy Research (Project No. 65). Deborah Simmons, Janet Talbot, and Rachel Kaplan
were also members of the project team.
© 1986, Baywood Publishing Co., Inc.
234 / R. DEYOUNG AND S. KAPLAN
At the same time there is a more concrete, practical basis for examining the
nature of the satisfactions people derive from their everyday activities. One
everyday, activity of considerable interest is conservation. Conservation, despite
considerable publicity, remains little practiced by the majority of North
Americans. While attitude change  and extrinsic incentives [2,3] might seem
to be the appropriate means of promoting this important behavior, both have
serious enough limitations [4-6] to make alternatives worth exploring.
One might begin by exploring the various explanations people offer for
carrying out everyday conservation activities. There are reasons for expecting a
rich array of such explanations. Behavior is generally accepted as being multiply
determined; one can expect a multitude of motives for a given activity. The term
"satisfaction" is used here as a relatively neutral, catch-all term to capture
whatever sorts ofjustifications are offered in discussing conservation behaviors.
This article explores three themes:
1. Are people who conserve somehow different from other people?
2. Does conservation depend on having a special outlook?
3. Is there a single pattern of satisfactions underlying conservation?
MOTIVES FOR CONSERVING
One possible explanation for conservation behavior is that the people who
conserve are a peculiar group of individuals, that they may possess so unique a
motivational pattern as to constitute a fringe group relative to the population
It may be the case that the motivation to conserve is derived from a special,
perhaps frugal, outlook on life. The tie between an ecological outlook and a
conserving lifestyle has been suggested by many writers. The study of
environmentally responsible lifestyles has received considerable attention during
the last decade, much of it inspired by the work of Gregg on voluntary
simplicity [7, 8] . Leonard-Barton has shown that an individual's tendency
toward voluntary simplicity, as characterized by such things as ecological
awareness and decreased personal consumption of goods, is a predictor of energy
conservation behavior and the intention to purchase solar heating equipment .
The frugality concept has recently been characterized as a central aspect of a
conserver society  . Yet in discussing a lifestyle of living with less, Johnson
has called it, "the subject that often leaves people flat. At best, it seems
mundane. At worst, it is downright disagreeable, with no positive attributes
other than necessity" . The issue, then, is whether conservation is
dependent on an austere outlook or whether it might provide payoffs of a more
ordinary, potentially more widely shared kind.
A final theme has to do with the structural nature of one's motivation to
conserve. Is it the case that this motive is a unitary, monolithic pattern or is
CONSERVATION BEHAVIOR AND SATISFACTION / 235
there the possibility for mutually supporting patterns? If the motive to conserve
in fact involves a choice among alternative patterns then there would be
possibilities for many people to contribute to conservation via individually
appropriate and satisfying patterns.
There is reason to suspect that some individuals do derive considerable
satisfaction from everyday, undramatic conservation activities. It must be
emphasized that there may not be many such people, and that their very
existence at this point must be considered a hypothesis and not a fact.
Nonetheless, as Weigel has suggested, there may be special value in studying the
behavior of people who are known to have pro-environmental attitudes . If
such people could be found and their satisfactions studied, it might be possible
to achieve insight into what would be required to make such activities satisfying
to a larger population.
While such a route might seem fraught with risk and uncertainty, there are
two factors that speak in its favor. First, it has been repeatedly demonstrated
that conservation is by far the most cost effective means of dealing with resource
scarcity . Second, satisfaction as a means of fostering conservation may
have great advantages over such extrinsic manipulations as incentives. These
advantages range from increased cost effectiveness [13,14] to the durability of
the behaviors once an intervention has ended [15,16]. If one could discover via
an understanding of satisfaction how conserving behaviors could be woven into
the fabric of everyday life, such activities could become a durable facet of the
North American lifestyle.
In order to explore the types of satisfactions that are derived from energy
conservation activities as well as other everyday pursuits, an open-ended
interview was conducted with thirty participants. Participants were sought
among groups with a known interest in the area of conservation. About one-half
of the volunteers came from a group formed to work on energy issues in a small
city. Other participants were members of an organization with interests in a
broad range of conservation issues. Two participants were not members of either
group but heard about the study and offered to respond. The interview was
described to potential participants as lasting about an hour, and as focusing on
everyday activities as well as specific energy-related actions, along with the
satisfactions associated with these pursuits.
The sample obviously was not chosen to be representative of the general
public. Since we are not yet a conserver society, asking people in general about
their conservation activities would yield little of the information being sought.
But by recruiting the participants from groups that were actively involved in
environmental and energy issues we hoped to provide a rich sample of the
diversity of satisfactions that people might derive from energy related activities.
236 / R. DEYOUNG AND S. KAPLAN
Questions asked in the interview focused on everyday activities. The interview
was structured loosely, and participants were told to consider the questions as
only a guide, with expansive answers encouraged. The participants were asked
about their transportation and shopping routines, about what kinds of tinkering
or puttering around the house they did, and what specific energy-saving habits
they practiced. Finally, they were asked to describe any other everyday activities
which they particularly enjoyed. In discussing each area, the participants were
asked both to name the types of things they did, and to describe the satisfactions
or dissatisfactions associated with doing them.
Names and demographic data were not requested as part of the interview. The
sample was nearly evenly split between males and females; ages ranged from the
twenties to the sixties. A wide variety of income levels was represented; the
participants were split approximately evenly between home owners and renters.
Two interviewers were used for this study with each interviewing about
one-half of the sample. Extensive notes were taken during each of the interviews
and a content analysis of these data was performed. In this analysis eighteen
distinct types of satisfactions or justifications were identified as being associated
with the participants' everyday and energy-related activities. There was
substantial variety in the types of satisfactions discussed, including satisfaction
from avoiding wastefulness, savoring comfort and convenience, and social actions.
Once these eighteen distinct types of satisfaction had been established, the
interview records were reviewed again and the notes for each participant were
scored for both the degrees and the various categories of satisfactions which
were expressed. This scoring was done by two individuals working independently
and an inter-rater reliability of 94 percent was achieved. A three-level variable
was used in scoring each type of satisfaction: high - that type of satisfaction
seemed very important to the individual; moderate - that type of satisfaction
was discussed, but did not seem especially valued by the individual; or missing
the interview did not include any mention of that specific type of satisfaction.
The resulting eighteen satisfactions variables were reviewed and seven were
excluded from further analysis based on their low endorsement. The eleven
retained satisfactions had been mentioned (e.g., scored as "high" or "moderate")
by at least one-third of the sample. Finally, the correlations among the eleven
variables yielded the dominant and secondary themes discussed below. In two
instances the intercorrelations among a number of variables suggest the existence
of a cluster. These clusters must be considered tentative as a formal cluster or
dimensional analysis was precluded by the small sample size.
The variety of types of satisfactions which emerged in the interviews is striking
(see Table I). They include economic incentives, a concern for the future and
the desire to act in an enVironmentally prudent way. And they demonstrate the
CONSERVATION BEHAVIOR AND SATISFACTION / 237
Table 1. Satisfaction Themes
Examples from the
Waste is thoughtless, stupid, sinful
Save th ings for the next generation
Repair/reuse rather than replace
Conservation as a duty, responsibility
The motive of cost avoidance
Money as primary motive to conserve
Heat regu lated to save money
Like doing useful and lucrative work
Manage heat for comfort
Freedom not to have to wear sweater
Combine trips and errands to save
Live close to work to save time
Freedom from material things
Reduced power of utility companies
Extra food supply for emergencies
Car gives sense of freedom
Qual ity of daylight
Feel of car on long drives
Stimulating feeling of walking
Clothes as a reflection of self
Garden as an image to others
Not want to be too different
Buy quality goods
Hate concept of obsolescence
Fresh, whole, natu ral food
1.4 .70 40
Service on public boards
Aware of effects of own actions
Save people from misinformation
Seeing others' enjoyment
Li ke to organ ize
Enjoy stirring th ings up
Reduce political power of utilities
Bottle bill instills ethics
Keeping up on what is happening
Satisfaction in getting others involved
Social contacts from activities,
Use my own time and effort, not
1.5 .75 40
1.8 .62 70
EnjOY learning, problem solving,
Experiment with food, building solar
Challenge of getting by with less
a The percentage of the participants who scored either high or moderate on this variable.
238 / R. DEYOUNG AND S. KAPLAN
role of both immediate and long-term considerations in influencing the perceived
quality of individual experiences. Actions which serve to enhance the common
good are valued, as are activities through which social connections are developed,
and pursuits in which the quality of individual experience is enhanced.
The Dominant Satisfaction Themes
There were three satisfaction themes which were highly endorsed (mean value
greater than 2.0) and mentioned by over 85 percent of the participants.
Conservation ethic - This theme reflects a concern for the conservation of
resources, a sense that conservation is a duty and that individuals are responsible
for the proper use of the earth's resources. As a whole, this theme reflects an
ethic and the willingness to act in an environmentally responsible manner even if
it is somewhat inconvenient or time consuming.
Money - This theme involves a sense of satisfaction resulting from saving
money. Financial considerations, while highly endorsed by many, appear to be
sharply distinct, and unrelated to the many other types of satisfaction which
result from saving energy as well as from other activities. Even though money
was important to the participants, it was not a proxy for other satisfactions and
it does not seem to reflect the range of satisfactions which people experience
when conserving resources or pursuing their various interests.
Comfort and convenience - This theme includes a desire to live a comfortable
existence and a concern for not wasting one's time. The participants reported
satisfaction from not having to bundle up with sweaters to stay warm at home,
from the efficient use of time, from minimizing the time spent doing errands and
from minimizing the amount of time spent commuting by living close to where
Secondary Satisfaction Themes
There were eight additional satisfaction themes that were moderately
endorsed (mean value of at least 1.4 but less than 2.0) and mentioned by at least
one-third of the participants. Review of the correlation data revealed two
clusters of themes. The themes making up the clusters generally had
intercorrelations of greater than or equal to .39 with a majority above .46 and
also had few and weak correlations with themes outside the clusters. These two
clusters have been named Modern Lifestyle and Social Concern (see Table 1).
Modem lifestyle - The Modern lifestyle cluster consists of four satisfaction
themes: Independence, the Sensual Quality of Experiences, Image and Quality,
with an average intercorrelation of .43 and an Alpha value of .75.1 The
1 Cronbach's coefficient of internal consistency (Alpha) reflects the degree to which a
collection of items "hang together" . Since such items might be thought of as alternate
measures of some abstract construct, the Alpha value can be thought of as a rough measure
of construct validity  .
CONSERVATION BEHAVIOR AND SATISFACTION I 239
Independence theme expresses a sense of personal value in maintaining some
flexibility in the manner of meeting one's needs and fulfilling one's ongoing
responsibilities. This includes freedom from the influences of others and the
influence of one's material possessions.
Sensual quality ofexperiences - This cluster also involves the quality of
individual experiences. This includes such things as enjoying long car rides,
valuing the aesthetic qualities of woodstoves, and appreciating the quality of
daylight as opposed to artificial lighting. In a variety of activities, it was often
such more sensual qualities that provided the basis for satisfying experiences,
rather than the tangible outcomes of an activity. Also a part of this theme is the
satisfaction gained from vigorous exercise. Participants reported satisfaction
gained from physical activities; activities that. would stimulate one, make one
breathe hard. This theme included not only demanding aerobic activities but also
just walking about.
Image - The image theme involves a concern for one's appearance, for
expressing one's personality through clothing and physical activities (Le.,
gardening), and yet not looking too different. And finally, the Quality theme
combines an appreciation for quality in clothes, who1e.ness in food, and
durability in goods.
Social concern - The Social Concern cluster is composed of the three
satisfaction themes of Helping Others, Social Change and Community
Involvement, with an average intercorrelation of .42 and Alpha value of .69. This
cluster reflects satisfactions gained from acting responsibly in the light of larger
realities which incorporate social, environmental or ethical issues. Feeling that
one is working for the good of others has the potential for being a strong source
of satisfaction for individuals.
The central focus of the Helping Others theme is a concern for the common
good. It is not expliCitly associated with energy issues but addresses matters that
are more social in nature. There is an interest in the welfare of the world outside
of the self -a concern for the effects one's actions may have upon others. There
is also satisfaction gained from sharing information with others, preventing
others from being misinformed and seeing others' enjoyment. The Helping Others
theme is strongly related to the concept that people may most readily go ahead
with those activities that makes sense to themselves and to others.
The Social Change theme reflects satisfaction gained from helping to promote
change, stirring things up and reducing the decision making power of utilities.
There is also the sense that certain environmental regulations may help to instill
an environmental ethic among the public as in the case of bottle bills.
The Community Involvement and Social Contact theme includes satisfactions
gained from various types of involvement with the community, enjoying
opportunities to be part of what is going on. Participants also enjoyed the
informal social contacts which can accompany various activities. There are
240 I R. DEYOUNG AND S. KAPLAN
strong parallels between this and the Social Change theme and the satisfaction
gained from participation in conservation activities as reported by De Young
Challenge - The Challenge theme, mentioned by 70 percent of the
participants, is uncorrelated with the other satisfaction themes. It is intriguing
to consider the possibility that experiencing the satisfactions associated with
certain challenging activities, that coincidentally conserve resources, may prompt
the development of a broader conservation ethic in the typical individual. A
person who enjoys problem solving, learning new things or the adventure of
getting by with less, may attempt some energy-related projects around the home
and in the process gain an appreciation for the values of conservation that may
spill over into other activity.
The pattern of results is not only interesting but, in large measure, also
encouraging. The findings answer the three questions posed earlier. It seems clear
that the people who conserve are not different from other people, they are not
members of a spartan elite. Furthermore, conservation does not depend on
having a special outlook. Several of the themes (i.e., Modern Lifestyle, Money,
Comfort and Convenience) support a mainstream orientation among the
participants. While the participants are all active conservers they do not appear
to be a fringe group with regard to the population at large. In addition, the
themes are not of an overwhelmingly frugal or austere nature. One is struck by
the commonplace nature of the satisfaction themes mentioned. This suggests
that conservation behavior might be found potentially satisfying to a broader
cross-section of the population.
The themes, taken as a whole, indicate that the participants were inclined to
interpret their behavior in the larger context. Part of this larger context may
involve the ability to justify one's behavior. People seem to seek an interpretation
of their behavior that makes sense to them  and that they believe would
make sense to others  . Being able to identify a reasonable justification may
be a significant element in the ultimate decision to go ahead with a conservation
activity. It is of considerable help, then, that these justifications can come from
a variety of sources. With a multi-faceted pattern of satisfactions underlying the
practice of conservation there is a choice among alternative motives rather than
a single acceptable pattern.
Another striking aspect of the results is that some of these justifications are
quite ambivalent with regard to conservation. The themes can be grouped into
three categories: 1) those that are highly supportive of resource conservation
(i.e., Conservation Ethic), 2) those that are neutral but compatible with
conservation (i.e., Money, Social Concern, Challenge), and 3) those that either
do or could easily be invoked in favor of non-conserving behavior (i.e., Comfort
CONSERVATION BEHAVIOR AND SATISFACTION / 241
and Convenience, Modern lifestyle). Fortunately there is more than one way to
obtain many of these satisfactions. As an example, consider the Modern
lifestyle cluster. The satisfactions expressed in this cluster might seem to hold
the least promise for incorporating resource conservation concerns. In one sense
this theme focuses on the affluent lifestyle of Americans, a lifestyle characterized
by conspicuous consumption. However, here too there is a potential for
encouraging desired behavior patterns by emphasizing qualities such as durability
and the sensual qualities of environmentally appropriate products rather than
resource conservation as the bases for actions. For example, the desire for quality
might be satisfied in an environmentally appropriate manner by purchasing only
a few, high-quality and long-lasting items rather than buying large quantities of
disposable or less-durable goods.
We set out in this research to explore what linkages, if any, exist between
satisfaction and resource conservation activities. The results are encouraging;
participants derive a wide variety of satisfactions from ordinary behaviors. And
with such a vast array of satisfactions to draw upon, those interested in
encouraging conserving behaviors are provided an as yet untapped resource for
reaching a much broader audience. Of equal interest, however, is the role played
by these satisfactions in increasing the everyday quality of life. By practicing these
satisfying activities, the individual not only participates in an environmentally
responsible lifestyle but may also lead a more rewarding existence.
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