Environmental Education Research, Vol. 8, No. 3, 2002
Mind the Gap: why do people act
en vironmentally and what are the barriers to
pr o-environmental b ehavior?
ANJA KOLLMUSS & JULIAN AGYEMAN Tufts University, Medford, MA,
SUM MARY Numerous theoretical frameworks have been develope d to explain the gap
between the possession of environmental knowledge and environmental awareness, and
displaying pro-environmental behavior. Although many hundreds of studies have been
undertaken, no denitive explanation has yet been f ound. Our article describes a few of
the most inuential and commonly used a nalytical frameworks: early US linear
progression models; altruism, empathy and prosocial behavior models; and nally,
sociological models. All of the models we discuss (and many of the ones we do not such
as economic models, psychological models that look at behavior in genera l, social
marketing models and that have become known as deliberative and inclusionary
processes or procedures (DIPS)) have some validity in certain circumstances. This
indicates that the question of what shapes pro-environmental behavior is such a complex
one that it cannot be visualized through one single framework or diagram. We then
analyze the factors that have been found to have some inuence, positiv e or negative,
on pro-environmental behavior such as demographic factors, external factors (e.g.
institutional, economic, social and cultural) and internal factors (e.g. motivation,
pro-environmental knowledge, awareness, values, attitudes, e motion, locus o f control,
responsibilities and priorities). Although we point out that developing a model that tries
to inco rporate all factors might nei ther be feasible nor useful, we feel that i t can help
illuminate this complex eld. Accordingly, we propose our own model based on the work
of Fliegenschnee and Schelakovsky (1998) who were inuenced by Fietkau and Kessel
Env ironmental psychology, which developed in the US in the 1960s, looks at the
range of complex interactions between humans and the environment. It is
ISSN 1350-4622 print; 1469-5871 online/02/030239-22
2002 Taylor & Francis Ltd
DOI: 10.1080/1350462022014540 1
240 A. Kollmuss & J. Agyeman
ther efore a very broad eld with many branches. The branch that looks at the
psyc hological roots of environmental degradation and the connections between
envir onmental attitudes and pro-environmental behaviors is part of environmen-
tal psychology but does not have a separate name in English. In German th is eld
is called Umweltpsychologie .
O ver the last 30 years many psychologists and s ociologists have explored the
ro ots of direct and indirect environmental action . The answer to the questions:
‘Why do people act environmentally and what are the bar riers to pro -
envir onmental behavior?’ is extrem ely complex. By ‘pro-environmental behavior’
we simply mean behavior that consciously seeks to minim ize the negative im pact
of one’s actions on the natural and built world (e.g. minimize resource and ener gy
co nsumption, use of non-toxic substances, reduce waste production).
N umerous theoretical frameworks have been developed to explain the gap
betw een the possession of environmental knowledge and environmental aware-
ness, and displaying pro-environmental behavior. Although many hundreds of
st udies have bee n done, no denitive answers have been found. Our article
des cribes a few of the most inuential and commonly used framework s for
analyzing pro-environmental behavior. These are: early US linear progression
mo dels; altruism, empathy and prosocial behavior models; and nally, sociolog-
ical models. We then analyze the factors that have been found to have some
inuence, positive or negative, o n pro-environmental behavior such as demo-
graphi c factors, external factors (e.g. institutional, economic social and cultural
facto rs) and internal factors (e.g. motivation, environmental knowledge, aware-
ness, values, attitudes, emotion, loc us of control, respo nsibilities and priorities).
We pres ent this art icle in order to give environmental educators a feel for some
of the broade r research ndings which have informed current environmental
educat ion theory and practice. In doing so, we do not want to presc ribe or
co nstrain, but to open up a dialogue regarding the most effective ways environ-
ment al educators might help develop pro-environmental behavior at all levels in
In this article, we do not discuss recent (and very prom ising) advances in
co mmunity social marketing for sustainability (see Agyeman and Angus, forth-
co ming). Soc ial marketing techniques have been widely used in the eld of public
health, in anti-smoking campaigns, AIDS awareness campaigns, and to encourage
the treatment of leprosy. The development of community-based social marketing
spec ically for sustainability arose out of concerns about the ineffectiveness of
envir onmental campaigns that relied solely on providing information. The
pragm atic approach o f social marketin g has been offered as an alternative to
co nventional campaigns, and, in c ontrast to traditional education methods, has
been shown to be very effective at bringing about behavior change (McKenzie-
Mo hr & Smith 1999, p. 15). McKenzie-Mohr and Smith (1999) claim that the
prim ary advantage of social marketing is that it starts with people’s behavior and
wo rks backward to selec t a particular tactic suited for that behavior (McKenzie-
Mo hr & Smith 1999, p. 7). The research on community-based social marketing
indic ates that the approach has been successful in transcending the gap between
kno wledge to action that has characterized many local environmental and
sus tainability projects to date.
Sim ilarly, we do not discuss recent work by O’Riordan and Burges s (1999) and
Ow ens (2000) on deliberative and inclusionary procedure s (DIPS) which is
Mind the Ga p 241
sho wing that ‘such [information-based] approaches have repeatedly been
sho wn, by experience, and in research, to be awed, and a growing body of
opin ion points instead towards the need for more deliberative and inclusionary
pro cedures’ (Owens, 2000, p. 1141). Bloomeld et al. argue that DIPS, which
inclu des citizen’s juries and round tables, should be see n as a signicant, even
ess ential ingredient in the development of mo re responsive forms of decision
making capable of accounting for the diversity of values and opinions within
so cieties (Bloomeld et al., 1998, p. 2). The authors write that DIPS are not ‘to be
seen merely as a mechanism of achieving greater understanding, or even
co nsensus, over environmental issues within a fragmentin g civil society … but to
have “transformative” potential allowing those with no or weak voice to exer t
inuence on decision making outcomes (Bloomeld et al., 1998, p. 2).
In conclusion, we propose our own visual model based on the wo rk of
Fliegens chnee and Schelakovsky (1998) who were inuenced by Fietkau and
Kess el (1981).
Review of Selected Frameworks for Analyzing Pro-environmental Behavior
Early US Linear Models
The oldest and simplest models o f pro-environmental behavior were based on a
linear progression of environmental knowledge leading to environmental aware-
ness and concern (environmental attitudes), which in turn was thought to lead
to pro-environmental behavior. T hese rationalist models assumed that educating
people about environmental issues would automatically result in more pro-
envir onmental behavior, and have been termed (information) ‘decit’ models of
public understanding and action by Burgess et al. (1998. p. 1447).
T hese models from the early 1970s were soon proven to be wrong. Research
sho wed that in most cases, increases in knowledge and awareness did not lead
to pro-environmental behavior. Yet today, most environmental Non-govern-
ment al Organisations (NGOs) still base their communication campaigns and
st rategies on the simplistic assumption that more knowledge will lead to more
enlight ened behavior. Owens (2000) points out that even governments use this
ass umption, for example the UK government’s ‘Save It’ energy conservation
cam paign in the m id-1970s, and the ‘Are You Doing Your Bit?’ campaign which
was launched in 1998 to develop publ ic understanding of sustainable develop-
ment. This reliance on information to drive change is surprising because com-
mon sense tells us that changing behavior is very difcult. Anyone who has ever
tr ied to change a habit, even in a very minor way, will have discovered how
difcult it is, even if the new behavior has d istinct advantages over the old one.
A s mentioned, quantitative research has shown that there is a discrepancy
. 1. Early models of pro-environmental behavior.
242 A. Kollmuss & J. Agyeman
betw een attitude and behavior. Many researchers have t ried to explain this gap .
Rajecki (1982) dened four c auses:
· Direct versus indirect experience: Direct experiences have a stronger inuence on
peo ple’s behavior than indirect experiences. In other words, indirect experi-
enc es, such as learning about an environmental problem in school as opposed
t o directly experiencing it (e.g. seeing the dead sh in the river) will lead to
w eaker correlation between attitude and behavior.
· Normative inuences: Social norms , cultural traditions, and famil y customs
inuence and shape people’s attitud es, e.g. if the dominant culture propagates
a lifestyle that is unsustainable, pro-environmental behavior is less likely to
o ccur and the gap between attitude and action will widen.
· Temporal discrepancy: Inconsistency in results occur when data collection for
att itudes and data collection for the action lie far apart (e.g. aft er Chernobyl,
an overwhelming majority of Swiss people were opposed to nuclear energy;
yet a memorandum two years later that put a 10-year halt to building any new
nuc lear reactors in Switzerland was approved by only a very narr ow margin).
T emporal discrepancy refers to the fact that people’s attitudes change o ver
· Attitude-behavior measurement: Often the measured attitudes are m uch broader
in scope (e.g. Do you care about the environment?) than the measured actions
(e.g. Do you recycle?) . This leads to large discrepancies in results (Newhouse,
The l ast two items point out frequent aws in research methodology and make
it clear how difcult it is to design valid studies that measure and compare
att itude and behavior. Ajzen and Fishbein addressed these issues of meas ure-
ment discrepancies in their Theory of Reasoned Action and their Theor y of Planned
Behavior (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975; Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980).
T hey pointed out tha t in order to nd a high correlation between attitude and
behavior the researcher has to measure the attitude toward that particular
behavio r. For example, comparing attitudes toward climate change and driving
behavior usually shows no correlation. E ven people who are very concerned
about climate change tend to drive. This is because the attitude toward climate
change is not closely related to the behaviour (driving). More narrowly targeted
att itude measurements lead to a higher correlation but much of the information
is lost (Lehmann, 1999). In other word s it is rather meaningless to discover that
so meone who has a negative attitude towards walking in the rain will cho ose to
dri ve his car.
Fis hbein and Ajzen maintain that people are essentially rational, in that they
‘make systematic use of information available to them’ and are not ‘controlled
by unconscious motives or overpowering desires’, neither is t heir behavior
‘capricious or thoughtless’ (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980, introduction; see also Fish-
bein & Ajzen, 1975, p. 15). Attitudes do not determine behavior directly, rather
they inuence behavioral intentions which in turn shape our actions. Intentions
are not only inuenced by attitudes but also by social (‘normative’) pressures.
Thus ‘the ultimate determinants of any behavior are the behavioral beliefs
co ncerning its consequences and normative beliefs concerning the prescriptions
of others’ (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980, p. 239).
Mind the Ga p 243
. 2. Theory of reasoned action (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980).
T heir model has been the most inuential attitude-behavior model in social
psyc hology—probably because they developed a mathematical equation that
expres sed their model which led researchers t o conduct empirical studies.
Alt hough the model certainly has its limitations—for example the underlying
ass umption that people act rationally—it is useful becaus e of if its clarity and
sim plicity (Regis, 1990).
In 1986, Hines, Hungerford and Tomera published their Model of Responsible
Environmental Behavior which was based on Ajzen and Fishbein’s theory of
planned behavior (Hines et al., 1986–87; Hungerford & Volk 1990; Si a et al.
1985–86). They did a meta-analysis of 128 pro-environm ental behavior research
st udies and found the following variables associated with responsible pro-
envir onmental behavio r:
· Knowledge of issues: The person has to be familiar with the environmental
pr oblem and its causes.
· Knowledge of action strategies: The person has to know how he or she has to act
t o low er his or her impact on the environmental problem.
· Locus of control: This represents an individual’s perception of whether he or
s he has the ability to bring about change through his or her own behavior.
Peo ple with a strong internal locus of contr ol believe that their actions can
br ing about change. People with an external locus of control, on the other
hand, feel that their actions are insignicant, and feel that change can only be
br ought about by powerful others.
· Attitudes: People with strong pro-environmenta l attitudes were found to be
m ore likely to engage in pro-environmental behavior, yet the relationship
bet ween attitudes and actions proved to be weak.
· Verbal commitment: The communicated willingness to take actio n also
gave some indication about the person’s willingness to engage in pro-
env ironmental behavior.
· Individual sense of responsibility: People with a greater sense of personal
r esponsibility are more likely to have engaged in environmentally responsible
A lthough the framework is more sophisticated than Ajzen and Fish bein’s
(1980), the identied factors do not sufciently explain pro-envi ronmental
behavio r. The relationship between knowledge and attitudes, attitudes and
244 A. Kollmuss & J. Agyeman
. 3. Models of predictors of environmental behavior (Hines et al., 1986).
int entions, and intentions and actual responsible behavior, are weak at best.
There seem to be many more factors that inuence pro-environmental behavior.
Hin es et al. (1986–87) called these ‘situational factors’ which include economic
co nstraints, social pressures, and opportunities to choose different actions.
Altruism, Empathy, and Prosocial Behavior Models
Mo dels of altruism, empathy, and prosocial behavior are another framework for
analyzing pro-environmenta l behavior. Prosocial behavior is dened by Eisen-
berg and Miller (1987) as ‘voluntary intentional behavior that results in benets
for another: the motive is unspecied and may be positive, negative, or both’
(quot ed in Lehmann, 1999, p. 33). Altruism is a subset of prosocial behavior.
Bo rden and Francis (1978, as noted in Lehmann, 1999, p. 34) hypothesize that:
1. Per sons with a str ong sel sh and competitive orientation are less likel y to act
2. Peo ple who have satised their persona l needs are more likely to act
ec ologically because they have more resources (time, money, energy) to care
abo ut bigger , less personal social and pro-environmental issues.
T he second assumption underlies many other studies and models (e.g.
Maslo w’s hierarchy of human needs). For example, it is often claimed that
people in poorer countries care less about the environment, yet the study by
Diekm ann and Franzen (1999) shows that the issue is more complicated. Using
data from two different surveys they s howed that when people from poorer
co untries are asked to rank the most pressing problems, environm ental issues are
indeed ranked lower. Yet if the people are asked to rate the severity of different
pro blems, pro-environmental issues always rank high, no matter if the countr y
is afuent or poor. Ranking therefore reects mor e the reality of scarce economic
Mind the Ga p 245
res ources and not t he lack of environmental concern of less afuent people. In
addit ion, ‘ecological footprinting’ (Wackernagel & Rees, 1997) an d similar mea-
sur es of resource consumpt ion, such as ‘environmental space’ (McLaren et al.,
1998) show clearly that richer nations have a far greater negative environmental
impact than poorer nations. This of course does not mean that poorer nations
lim it their ecological footprint out of environmental concern but it does show
that more afuence does not lead to more ecological behavior (for an additional
example see also end note 4).
Sever al other r esearchers base their models and assumptions on theories of
altru ism, claiming that altruism is needed or at least supports pro-environmenta l
behavio r. Of note is the work of Allen and Ferrand (1999) who recently tested
the ‘actively caring’ hypothesis of Geller. Similar to the altruism theory of
Schw artz (1977), Geller hypothesized that in order to act pro-environmentally,
indiv iduals must focus beyond themselves and be concerned about the com-
mun ity at large. Geller suggested that this state of ‘actively caring’ can only
oc cur if the need for self-esteem, belonging, personal control, self-efcacy, and
opt imism have been satised. In thei r study Allen and Ferrand (1999 ) found that
self-est eem and belonging were not r elated to pro-environmental behavior but
that t here was a signicant relat ionship between personal control and sympathy,
their measure for ‘actively caring’. They did not test for optimism or self-
St ern et al.’s (1993) model is based on the altruism theory of Schwartz (1977).
This theory assumes that altruistic behavior increases when a person becomes
aware o f other people’ s suffering and at the same time feels a responsibility of
alleviating this suffering. Stern et al. expand this notion and include, next to this
‘altruistic’ orientation, which they call ‘soci al orientation’, an ‘egoistic’ and a
‘biospheric orientation’. The social orientation is concerned with the removal of
suffering of other people, the egoistic orientation is concerned with the removal
of suffering and harm from oneself, an d the biospheric orientation is concerned
with the removal of destruction and sufferin g in the non-human world. Every
pers on has all t hree orientations but in different strengths. Whereas a deep
eco logist might have a very developed biospheric orientation, a physician might
have a stronger social orientation. Stern et al. pr opose that environmental
co ncern is caus ed by a combination of these three factors:
V (egoistic orientation) 1 V (social orientation) 1 V (biospheric
They found, not surprisingly , that the egoistic orientation is the strongest
or ientation, followed by social and then biospheric concern (Stern et al., 1993,
quo ted in Lehmann, 1999). On the surface, their model therefore contradicts
Bo rden and Francis’s (1978) altruism hypothesis mentioned above since Stern et
al. (1993) claim that the stronger the egoistic orientation the stronger the
mo tivation for the behavior. Yet the egoistic orientation can only be a motivator
for pro-environmental behavior as long as the action serves the person’s needs
and wants (e.g. taking the train instead of the car to have time to relax and read).
A strong egoistic orientation is counterproductive when the desired behavior
negates a person’s needs and desires (e.g. not ying to the tropics for a vacation).
The m odels are therefore not contradictory; they just approach the issue from a
246 A. Kollmuss & J. Agyeman
Sociological Models for Analyzing Pro-environmental Behavior
Fietkau and Kess e l (1981) use sociological as well as psychological factors to
explain pro-environmental behavior or the lack of it. Their model compr ises ve
variables that inuence either directly or indirectly pro-environmental behavior.
These variables are independent from each other and ca n be inuenced and
· Attitude and values (Einstellung und Werte).
· Possibilities to act ecologically  ( Verhaltensangebote). These are external,
infr astructural and economic factors that enable or hinder people to act
· Behavioral incentives (Handlungsanreize). These are more internal factors that
c an reinforce and support ecological behavior (e.g. social desirability, quality
o f life, monetary savings).
· Perceived feedback about ecological behavior (wahrgenommene Konsequenzen). A
pers on has to receive a po sitive reinforc ement to continue a certain ecological
behavio r. This feedback can be intrinsic (e.g. satisfaction of ‘doing the right
t hing’), or extrinsic (e.g. social: not littering or recyclin g are socially desirable
act ions; and economic: receiving money for collected bottles).
· Knowledge (Wissen). In Fietkau’s model, knowledge does not directly inuence
behavior but acts as a modier of attitudes and values.
Blake (1999) talks about the attitude–behavior gap as the Value–Action Gap. He
poin ts out that most pro-environmental behavior models are limited because
they fail to take into account individual, social, and institutional co nstraints and
ass ume that humans are rational and make sys tematic use of the information
available to them. A new set of research, mostly by sociologists as opposed to
psyc hologists, has tried to addr ess these limitations. Blake uses a quote from
Red clift and Benton to summarize this new approach:
One of the most important insights which the social scientist can offer
in the environmental debate is that the eminently rational appeals on
. 4. Model of ecological behavior (Fietkau & Kessel, 1981).
Mind the Ga p 247
the part of environmentalists for ‘us’ to change our attitudes or
lifest yles, so as to advance a general ‘human interest’ are liable to be
ineffectiv e. This is not because … ‘we’ are irrational, but because the
pow er to make a signicant difference, one way or the other, to glo bal
or even local environmental change, is immensely unevenly dis-
tr ibuted. This new body of research points out that people’s values
are ‘negotiated, transitory, and sometimes contradictory’. (Redclift &
Bent on, 1994, pp. 7–8, quoted in Blake, 1999)
B lake identies three barriers to action: individuality, responsibility, and
pract icality. Individual barriers are barriers lying within the person, having to
do wit h attitude and temperament. He claims that these barriers are especially
inuential in people that do not have a strong environmental concern. Environ-
ment al concern is therefore outweighed by other conicting attitudes. However,
in our experience, even a strong environmental concern can be o vercome by
st ronger desires and needs. For example, our need to y from the US to visit our
families in Europe each year overrides our feelings of responsibility about
keeping our air travel to a minimum to minimize global warming. Blake’s
sec ond set of barriers, responsibility, is very close to the psychologist’s notion of
‘locus of co ntrol’. Peopl e who don’t act pro-environmentall y feel that they
cannot in uence the situation or should not have to take the responsibility for
it. He po ints out that in the particular community he is describing, a lack of trust
in the institution often stops people from acting pro-environmentally—since
they are suspicious of local and national government, they are les s willing to
follow the prescribed actions.
T he third barrier , practicality, Blak e denes as the social and institu tional
co nstraints that prevent people from acting pro-environmentally regardless of
their attitudes or intentions. He lists such constraints as lack of time, lack of
mo ney , and lack of information. Although his model is very useful in that it
co mbines external and interna l factors and describes both in some detail, he does
not account for social factors such as familial pressures and cultural norms nor
. 5. Barriers between environmental concern and action (Blake, 1999).
248 A. Kollmuss & J. Agyeman
do es he explore in more depth the underlying psychological factors (e.g. what
are the underlying factors of ‘not having time’?).
Analysis: commonalities, contradictions and omissions
We have discussed only a few of the many different models that have been
develo ped to explain the attitude–action gap and investigate the barriers to
pro -environmental behavior. All of the models we have discussed (and many of
the ones we did no t, such as economic models, psychological models that look
at behavior in general, social marketing models and DIPS) have some validity in
cert ain circumstances. This indicates that the question of what shapes pro-
envir onmental behavior is such a complex one that it cannot be visualized in one
sin gl e framework or diagram. Such a single diagram with all the factors tha t
shape and inuence behavior would be so complicated that it would lose its
pract icality and probably even its meaning. Yet, as we show, there are common-
alties, contradictions, and omissions that c an be found in the different models.
In the following section we discuss in more detail the specic factors that have
been established as having some inuence (positive or negative) on the models
of pro-environmental behavior which we have selected in this article.
T he distinctions and the hierarchy between the different inuential factors are
to some extent arbitrary. For example, we distinguish between the following
facto rs: demographic factors, external factors (e.g. institutional, economic, social,
and cultural factors) and internal factors (e.g. motivation, environmental knowl-
edge, awareness, values, attitudes, emotion, locus of control, responsibilities, and
prio rities). A valid argument could be made t hat environmental knowledge is a
subc ategory of en vironmental awareness (as does Grob, 1991) and that
emo tional involvement is what shapes environmental awareness and attitude.
This difculty in dening and delimiting the different factors is due to the fact
that most are broadly and vaguel y dened , interrelated, and often do not have
Two demographic factors that have been found to inuence environmental
att itude and pro-environmental behavior are gender and years of education.
Wo men usually have a less extensive environmental knowledg e than men bu t
they are more emotionally engaged, show more concern about envi ronmental
des truction, believ e less in tech nological solutions, and are more willing to
change (Fliegenschnee & Schelakovsky, 1998; Lehmann, 1999). The longer the
educat ion, the more extensive is the knowledge about environmental issues.
Yet more education does not necessarily mean increased pro-environmental
behavior (see endnote 4).
Institutional factors. Many pro-environmental behaviors can only take place if the
neces sary infrastructure is provided (e.g. recycling, taking public transportation).
The po orer such services are the less likely people are to use them. These
ins titutional barriers (e.g. lack of public transportation) can be overcome primar-
Mind the Ga p 249
ily through people ’s actions as citizens (indirect environmental actions). Because
of this, it is important to explore how envir onmental att itudes inuence indirect
envir onmental action. It might be true that environmental knowledge and
envir onmental attitude have a more powerful inuence on people’s indirect
acti ons than on people’s direct pro-environmental behaviors. (Se e detailed
dis cussion in the section on attitudes and values.)
Economic factors. Economic factors have a strong inuence on people’s decisions
and behavior. Some economic research indicates that people make purchasing
decis ion using a 50% or higher interest rate. In other words, if the person decides
betw een two pos sible items, one energy-efcient and the other not, he or she will
on ly choose the energy efcient item if the payback time for the energy saved
is very short. The economic factors that play into people’s decision are very
co mplex and only poorly understood. From our own experience, the economist’s
ass umption that people act in an economically rational fashion is very often not
tr ue. Yet people can be inuenced by economic incentives to behave pro-
envir onmentally (e.g. the Massachusetts Bottle Bill is responsible for the very
high recycling rate of bottles at over 80% compared to an overall recycling rate
of less than 10% in Boston, Massachusetts). The opposite is als o true. Until
recent ly, very low prices for heating oil in the US prevented people from t aking
energy conservation measures.
E conomic factors are clearly very important when designing new policie s and
st rategies that are meant to inuence and change people’s behavior. Neverthe-
less, predicting people’s behavior on purely economic grounds will not reveal
the whole picture. Economic factors are intertwined with social, infrastructural,
and psychological factors. How else could we explain the different effects of
pay-per-bag policies : In some communities, the bag fees did nothing to
reduce the weight o f disposed material and increased the recycling rates on ly
slig htly (Ackerman, 1997). In others, a similar bag fee led to a chain reaction:
people started unwrapping their groceries in the supermarket which in turn led
the supermarkets to redesign and reduce their packaging to a minimum level. In
these communities, the per capita reduction of garbage wa s quite signicant.
Social and cultural factors. Cultural norms play a very important role in shaping
people’s behavior. Boehmer-Christiansen and Skea (1991) explored the history of
policy reactio ns to acid rain in Germany and the UK. They sho wed that the high
cult ural value of the forests in Germany, along with its geographic position and
the Germans’ strong need for security and stability, led to a drastically different
approach to the problem. It would be very interesting to design a cross-cultural
st udy that looks at pro-environmental behavior. We would hypothesize that
cult ures in small, highly populated countries such as Switzerland and the
Net herlands tend to be more resource conscientio us than societies in large,
res ource-rich countries such as the USA.
Motivation. Motiv atio n is the reason for a behavior or a strong internal stimulus
aro und which behavior is organized (Wilkie, 1990, as quoted in Moisander,
1998). Motivation is shaped by intensity and direction (which determines which
behavior is chosen fro m all the possible options). Motives for behavior can be
250 A. Kollmuss & J. Agyeman
ov ert or hidden—conscious or unconscious. Researchers distinguish between
prim ary motives (the larger motives that let us engage in a whole set of
behavio rs, e.g. striving to live an environmental lifestyle and selective motives
(the motives that inuence one specic action), e.g. Should I bike to work today,
even though it rains, or do I drive? (Moisander, 1998). Barriers, on the other
hand, stie certain behavior. Us ually internal barriers to pro-envi ronmental
behavior are non-environmental motivations that are more intense and directed
different ly (e.g. I will drive to work because I’d rathe r be com fortable than
envir onmentally sound). In this example, the primary mo tives (environmental
values) are overridden by the selective motives (personal comfort).
A s this example indicates, we hypothesize that primary motives, such as
altru istic and social values, are often covered up by the more immediate,
selec tive mo tives, which evolve aroun d one’s own needs (e.g. being comfortable,
sav ing money and time) . Similarly, P reuss di stinguishes between an ‘abstract
wil lingness to act’, based on values and knowledge and a ‘concrete w illingness
to act’, based on habits (Preuss, 1991).
Environmental knowledge. Most researchers agree that only a small fraction of
pro -environmental behavior can be directly lin ked to environmental knowledge
and environmental awareness. There are a few studies that claim otherwise (e.g.
Gr ob, 1991 and Kaiser et al., 1999), yet these studies test only very specic
behavior that does not seem to be generalizable. At leas t 80% of the motives for
pro -environmental or non- environmental behav ior seem to be situational factors
and other internal factors (Fliegenschnee & Schelakovsky, 1998).
T his argument is further strengthened by the study of Kempton et al. (1995).
They surveyed different group s in the US, ranging from strong environmental-
ists to those they thought were strong anti-environmentalists. Kempton found
the average knowledge about environmental issues to be low. Surprisingly, the
lack of knowledge was equally strong among enviro nmentalists and non-
envir onmentalists. His study therefore implies that environmental kno wledge
per se is not a prerequisite for pro-environmenta l behavior.
It might be necessary to distinguish between different levels of knowledge.
Clearly, peopl e have to have a bas ic knowledge about environmental issues and
the behaviors that cause them in order to act pro-environmentally in a conscious
way. Whereas Kempton et al.’s study indicated that most people do not know
enough about environmental issues to act in an environmentally responsible
way, other studies have shown tha t very detailed technical knowledge does not
seem to foster or increase pro-environmental behavior (Diekmann & Preisen-
do erfer, 1992; Fliegenschnee & Schelakovsky, 1998).
It is interesting to note that other incentives (e.g. economic advantages) and
cult ural values can motivate people to act pro-environmentally without doing it
out of enviro nmental c oncern. Ecological economists like to take advantage of
this fact. By impos ing taxes on environmentally harmfu l activities, people will
auto matically move away from these behaviors and look for less damaging
altern atives. For example, in countries with high gaso line tax, people tend to
dri ve signicantly less than in countries with very low taxes (Von Weizaecker
& Jesinghaus, 1992). Yet some people caution that such unconscious pro-
envir onmental behavior c an easily be reversed or changed to a more unsustain -
able pattern because it is not based on some fundamental values (Preuss, 1991).
Mind the Ga p 251
For instance, in China, people traveling in trains were used to disposing of their
food an d drinking utensils by throwing them out of the window. Formerly, this
habit made perfect sense, since the drinking cups and the packaging were out of
clay and other organic materials. More recently, these have been replaced by
st yrofoam and plastics. China now has a serious littering problem because
people ar e still disposing o f these new, non-degr adable materials in the same
Values. Values are res ponsible for shaping much of our intrinsic motivation. The
quest ion of what shapes our values is a complex one. Fuhrer et al. (1995)
pro posed the following hypothesis: A person’s values are most inuenced by the
‘microsystem’, which is comprised of the immediate social net—family, neigh-
bor s, peer-groups, etc. Values are inuenced to a lesser extent by the ‘exosystem’
such as the media and political organizations. Least stron g, but nevert heless
impo rtant, is the inuenc e of the ‘macrosystem’, the cultura l context in which
the individual lives (Fuhrer et al., 1995, as quoted in Lehmann, 1999).
O ne way to explore the determining factors that shape environm ental values
is to study the life experiences that have shaped the beliefs and value s of active
envir onmentalists (see Environmental Education Research special issues on
sign i cant life experiences in Volumes 4(4) and 5(4)). A few researchers have
approac hed the topic from this side and have studied environmentalist’s life
C hawla interviewed numerous professional environmentalists in the USA and
in Norway about the experiences and people who shaped and inuenced their
decis ions to become environmentalists. Furthermore, she review ed previous
st udies that had been done on formative life experiences of environmentalists. In
her study, she explored retrospec tively what factors inuenced people’s environ-
ment al sensitivity. She denes environmental sensitivity as ‘a predisposition to
take an interest in learning about the environment, feeling concern for it, and
acti ng to conserve it, o n the basis of formative experiences’ (Chawla, 1998). N ot
sur prisingly, she nds that there is no single ex perience that sensitizes people’s
awareness but a combination of factors. Among the most frequently mentioned
(decr easing in relevance) are:
· Childhood experiences in nature
· Experiences of pro-environmental destruction
· Pro- environmental values held by the family
· Pro-environmental organizations
· Role models (friends or teachers)
During childhood, the most inuential were experiences of natural area s and
family; during adolescence and early adulthood, education and friends were
ment ioned most frequently; and during adulthood, it w as pro-envi ronmental
or ganizations (C hawla, 1999).
It is important to note that Chawla did not explore the factors that foster direct
pro -environmental behavior but indirect pro-environmental actions. Her inter-
view ees were very active environmental professionals, yet their commitment to
indir ect environmental activism does not necessarily mean that these people
exhibit ed increase d direct pro-environmental behavior. Nevertheless her studies
252 A. Kollmuss & J. Agyeman
are valuable in that they show how important an emotional connection to the
natur al environment seems to be in fostering environmental awareness and
envir onmental co ncern.
Attitudes. Attitudes are dened as the enduring positive or negative feeling
about some person, object, or issue. Clo sely related to attitudes are beliefs, which
refer to the information (the knowledge) a person has about a person, object, or
iss ue (Newhouse, 1991).
E nvironmental attitudes have been found to have a varying, usually very
sm all impact on pro-environmental behavior. This is unexpected because we
tend to assume that peo ple live according to their values. Diekmann and
Preis endoerfer (1992) explain the discrepancy between environmenta l attitude
and pro-environmental behavior by using a low-cost/high-cost model.
T hey propose that people choose the pro-environmental behaviors that de-
mand the least cost. Cost in their model is not dened in a str ictly economic
sense but in a broader psychological sense that includes, among other factors,
the time and effort needed to undertake a pro-environmental behavior. In their
st udy they show that environmental attitude and low-cost pro-environmental
behavior (e.g. recycling) do correlate signicantly. People who care about the
envir onment tend to engage in activities such as r ecycling but do not necessary
engage in activities tha t are more costly and inconvenient such as driving or
ying less. In other words, a positive environmental attitude can directly
inuence low-cost pr o-environmental behavior . These ndings might be less
dis appointing than they might seem at rst sight. Diekmann and Preisendoerfer
(1992) point out that people with hig h levels of environmental awareness migh t
not be willin g to m ake bigger lifestyle sacrices, but they seem to be more
wil ling to accept political changes that will enhance pro-environmental behavior
such as higher fuel taxes or mor e stringent building codes (Diekmann &
Franzen, 1996; Lehmann, 1999).
A ttitudes can indirectly inuence our pro-environmental behavior. A study of
co lleg e students’ willingness to engage in pro-environmental behavior found
. 6. Low-cost high-cost model of pro-environmental behavior (Diekmann & Preisendoerfer).
Mind the Ga p 253
that those who believe technology and growth will solve environmental prob-
lems were less likely to make personal sacrices. These ndings indicate that
people with a str ong belief in growth and technological solutions might not see
the need and will be less willin g to engage in pro-environmental behavior with
the implicit lifestyle changes (Gigliotti, 1992, 1994). Other studies have conrmed
these ndings (Grob, 1991). Many barrier s are responsible for t he gap betw een
envir onmental attitudes and pro-environmental behavior. Nevertheless, values
and attitudes clearly play an important role in determining pro-environmental
Environmental awareness. In this article, we dene environmental awareness as
‘knowing of the impact of human behavior on the environment ’. Environmental
awareness has both a cognitive, knowledge-based component and an affective,
percept ion-based component (discussed in the next section on ‘emotional in-
vo lvement’). Environmental awareness is constrained by several cognitive and
emo tional limitations. Cognitive limitations of environmental awareness include:
(1) Non-immediacy of many ecological problems. Mo st environmental degradation is
not immed iately tangibl e (Preuss, 1991). We c annot perceive nuclear radi-
atio n, the ozone hole, or the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the
atmo sphere. Even changes that would theoretically be noticeable, for exam-
ple the loss of species, often go unnoticed by the layperson. W e can only
experience the effects of pollution and destruction (e.g. smellin g the rotten
od or of a water body that suffers from eutrophication caused by agricultural
run-o ff). This implies a time lag: very often, we only perceive change s once
the human impact has already caused severe damage. Also, more subtle
changes and changes in remote areas escape our awareness.
Bec ause most environmental degradation is not immediately tangible, the
infor mation about environmental damage has to be translated into under -
st andable, perceivable information (language, pictures, graphs). Most of the
time this information will further our intellectual understanding without
making a link to our em otional involvement (Preuss, 1991). It is the rare
except ion that a vivid, provocative image can be found to explain a scientic
co ncept that at the same time engages peopl e emotionally (a good example
of this is the ‘ozone hole’). The reliance on secondary infor mation about
enviro nmental destruction removes us emotionally from the issue and often
leads to non-involvement (Preuss, 1991; Fliegenschnee & Schelakovsky,
1998). The need for emotional involvement also explains why campaigns to
prot ect big mammals—aptly nam ed ‘charismatic mega-fauna’—enjoy much
bro ader public support than more abstract issues such as clim ate change.
They are much more immediate and ‘real’ than climate change , which is only
really knowable through mathematical models.
(2) Slow and gradual ecologica l destruction. Another cognitive barrier is the often
very gradual, slow pace of environmental change (Preuss, 1991). Human
beings are very good at perceiving drastic and sudden changes but are often
unable to perceive slow, incremental changes. We are, in many respects like
the frogs in the famous experiment: when placed into hot water, they
imm ediately jumped out but when put into cool water that was slowly
heated, they did not react and boiled to death.
254 A. Kollmuss & J. Agyeman
(3) Complex systems. Most environmental problems are intricate and immensely
co mplex. Yet we are often unable to comprehend such complex systems and
tend to simplify t hem and think linearly (Preuss, 1991; Fliegenschnee &
Schelakov sky, 1998). This prevents us from a deeper understanding of the
co nsequences of natural destruction. It might also lead to underestimating
the extent of the problem. Overall, our cognitive lim itations to understand-
ing environmental degradation seriously compromises our emotional en-
gagement and our willingness to act.
Emotional involvement. We dene emotional involvement as the extent to which
we have an affective relationship to the natural world. Chawla’s (1998, 1999)
wo rk shows tha t such an emotional connect ion seem s to be very important in
shaping our beliefs, values, and attitudes towards the environment. Further-
mo re, we see emotional involvement as the ability to have an emotional react ion
wh en confronted with environmental degradation. In other words, it is one’s
emo tional investment in the pro blem. Research has shown that women tend to
react mo re emotionally to environmental problems (Gro b, 1991; Lehmann, 1999).
Gr ob (1991) hypothesizes (and we agree with him) that the stronger a person’s
emo tional reaction, the more likely that person will engage in pro-environmental
W hat makes us care? Why is it that some people care and o thers do not? T he
answ ers are extremely diverse, complex, and poorly understood. We all have
areas that we are more passionate about than others. The question of why we are
emo tionally involved in one thing but not another is a very profound one. The
follo wing paragraphs cannot do justice to the enormous breadth and depth of
the work that has been done in the eld s of ethics, psychology, and sociology in
an attempt to explore such questions.
(1) Emotional non-investment
(a) lack of knowledge and awareness. As we argued in the previous section,
because of the non-immediacy of ecological destruction, emotional involve-
ment requires a certain degre e of environmental knowledge and awareness.
In many cases, emotional involvement is a learned ability to react emotion-
ally to complex and sometimes very abstract environmental problems.
Clearly, there are different degrees of abstraction: whereas most people
unders tand and act emotionally to pictures of oil-covered seabirds, far fewer
will feel saddened by the sight of a typical rhododendron-lawn-and-
cedar-c hip landscape surrounding the average New England home. Lack of
know ledge about the causes and effects of ecological degradation can
therefo re lead to emotional non-involvement (Preuss, 1991; Fliegenschnee &
Schelakov sky, 1998). Unfortunately, this does not mean that just providing
this knowledge would be sufcient to create such emotional involvement.
(b) Resistance against non-conforming information. Festinger (1957) states in his
theo ry of dissonance that we unconsciously seek consistency in our beliefs
and mental frameworks and selectively perceive information. Information
that supports our existing values and mental frameworks is readil y accepted
wher eas information that contrad icts or und ermines our beliefs is avoided or
not perceived at all. Festinger’s theory implies that we tend to avoid
infor mation about en vironmental problems because they contradict or
Mind the Ga p 255
thr eaten some of our basic assumption of quality of life, economic pros-
perity, and material needs.
(2) Emotional reactions. Even if we are experiencing an emotional reaction to
enviro nmental degradation, we might still not act pro-environmentally.
Faced with the effects and long-term implications of envir onmental degra-
dation we can feel fear, sadness/pain, anger, and guilt. The emotional
reacti on is stronger whe n we experience the degradation directly (New-
hous e, 1991; Chawla, 1999). We hypothesize that fear , sadness, pain, and
anger are more likely to trigger pro-environmental behaviors than guilt. A
decis ive factor fo r action is locus of control (see below). Strong feelings
to gether with a sense of helplessness will not lead to action.
The primary emotional reactions we experience when exposed to environ-
ment al degradation are distressing. They will lead to secondary psychologi-
cal r esponses aimed at relieving us from these negative feelings. Very often
tho se secondary responses prevent us from pro-environmental behavior.
Psyc hologists distinguish between different defense mechanisms. Thes e
include denial, rational distancing, apathy, and delegation.
Denial is the refusal to accept reality. The person lives believing in a
‘bright dream’ (Mindell, 1988) and lters incoming information to t his or
her version of reality (e.g. climate sceptics have to ignore or reinterpret m ost
of the r esearch tha t comes out of the Intergovernmenta l Panel on climate
change (IPCC), a panel of over 2500 reputable climate scientists). Denial will
prevent a person from pro-environmental behavior because the person
refuses to acknowledge the problem.
R ational distancing is another way of protecting oneself from painful
emo tions. The person who rationalizes is perfectly aware of the problems but
has stopped to feel any emotions about it. This defense mechanism is
especially common among scientists and environmentalists who are fre-
quently exposed to ‘bad news’ . We would hypothesize that people who
have emotionally dis tanced themselves are less likely to engage in pro-
enviro nmental behavior, because their internal motivation to do so is much
Apat hy an d resignation are often the result of a person feeling pain,
sadnes s, anger, and helplessness at the same time. If the pers on has a strong
feeling that he or she cannot change the situation (see locus of control), he
or she will very likely retreat into apathy, resignation, and sarcasm. A person
might stop informing himself or herself about environmental is sues and
focus on different aspects of life. Such a person might still perform some
pro-env ironmental actions out of a feeling of moral obligation but is very
unlikely to become very proactive.
Delegation is a means to remove feelings of guilt. The person who
delegates refuses to accept any personal responsibility and blames others
fo r environmental destruction (e.g . the industries, the multi-nationals, the
polit ica l establishm ent ). People who delegate are unlikely to take any
pro-env ironmental behavior that asks fo r personal sacrices.
Locus of control. As dened earlier, locus of control represents an individual’s
percept ion of whether he or she has the ability to bring about change through
his or her own behavior (Newhouse, 1991). People with a strong internal locus
of control believe that their actions can bring about change. People with an
256 A. Kollmuss & J. Agyeman
ext ernal locus o f control, on the other hand, feel that their actions are in-
sign i cant, and feel that change can only be brought about by powerful others
(see paragraph on delegation). Such people are much less likely to act ecologi-
cally, since they feel that ‘it does not make a difference anyway’.
Responsibility and priorities. Our feelings of responsibility are shaped by our
value s and attitudes and are i nuenced by our locus of control. We prioritize our
res ponsibilities. Most important to people is their own well-being and the
well-being of their family (se e Stern et al.’s (1993) model). When pro-
envir onmental behaviors are in alignment with these personal priorities, the
mo tivation to do them increases (e.g. buying organic food). If they contradict the
prio rities, the actions will less likely be taken (e.g. living in a smaller house, even
tho ugh one could afford to live in a bi g o ne).
Many conicting and competing factors shape our daily decisions and actions.
Similar ly, there ar e several factors that inuence our decisions towards pro-
envir onmental behavior that we have not elaborated on. We have omi tted a
dis cussion on our desires for comfort and convenience, two factors that certainly
play an important role in shapin g our pro-environment al behavi ors. We have
not discussed the inuence of habits . If we want to establish a new behavior, we
have to practice it (e.g. Fliegenschnee & Schelakovsky, 1998). We might be
perfect ly willing to change our behavior but stil l not do so, because we do not
pers ist enough in practicing the new behavior until it has become a habit. Last
but not least, we did not discuss the inuence of personality traits and character
on pro-environmental behavior.
A lthough we have already pointed out that d eveloping a model that incorpo-
rates all the factors behind pro-environmental behavior might neither be feasible
nor useful, we do nd diagrams that serve as visual aides in clarifying and
catego rizing such factors helpful. We therefore conclude with our own graphic
illus tration of a possible model. As with the other models we have introduced,
it has its advantages and shortcomings. We do not claim that this model is more
so phisticated or inclusive than any of the other models. However, in designing
it, we were inuenced by many different authors, mostly Fliegenschnee and
Schelako vsky (1998) who in turn based their diagram on the earlier discussed
mo del of Fietkau and Kess el (1981).
A s with Fietkau and Kessel (1981), we do not attribute a direct relationship to
envir onmental knowledge and pro-environmental behavior. We see environ-
ment al knowledge, values, and attitudes, together with emotional involvement
as making up a complex we call ‘pro-environmental consciousnes s ’. This complex
in turn is embedded in broader personal values and shaped by personality traits
and other internal as well as external factors. We put social and cultural factors
into the group of external factors even though it might be argued that social and
cult ural factors could be seen as a separate category which overlap s with
int ernal and external factors. We also pondered if our model would differ at
different stages in people’s lives, and we agreed that it would not, but that the
different factors inherent in it, and the synergies between them, would play
greater or lesser roles during the development proc ess . In addition, as we
Mind the Ga p 257
. 7. Model of pro-environmental behaviour (Kollmuss & Ag yeman).
poin ted out earlier, the longer the education, the more extensive is the knowl-
edge about environm ental issues. Yet more education does not necessarily mean
incr eased pro-environmental behavior.
T he arrows in Figure 7 indicate how the different factors inuence each
ot her and, ultimately, pro-environmental behavior. Most are self-explanatory.
The two narrower arrows from internal and external factors direct ly to pro-
envir onmental behavior indicate environmental actions that are taken for other
than enviro nmental reasons (e.g. consuming less because of a value system that
pro motes simplicity or because of external factors such as monetary constraints).
The biggest positive inuence on pro-environmental behavior, indicated by the
larger arrow, is achieved when internal and ex ternal factors ac t synergistically.
T he black boxes indicate possible barriers to posit ive inuence on pro-
envir onmental behavior. The model lists only a few of the most important
barrier s. In the diagram, the largest of them represents old behavior patterns.
This is partly for graphical reasons—the barrier has to block all three arrows—
but it is als o because we want to draw attention to this aspect. We believe that
old habits form a very strong barrier that is often overlooked in the literature on
pro -environmental behavior.
Notes on Contributors
AN JA KOLLMUSS received her BA from Harvard Extension and her MA in
Env ironmental Policy fr om Tufts University. She c urrently works as the out-
reach coordinator for the Tufts Climate Initiative, educating students , faculty,
and staff about global warming and climate change mitigation strategies.
Correspondence: Department of Urban and Environmental Policy, 97 Talbot
Aven ue, Tufts University, Medford, MA 02155, USA. Email: anja.kolmuss@
258 A. Kollmuss & J. Agyeman
JULIAN AGYEMAN is Assistant Professor of Environmental Policy and Plan-
ning at Tufts University, Boston-Medford. His interests are in social marketin g
for sustainability, education for sustainability, community involvement in local
envir onmental and sustainability policy, environmental justice and the develop-
ment of sustainable communities. He is founder, and co-editor of the inter-
natio nal journal Local Environment and his book, Just Sustainabilities: development
in an unequal world, is due out later this year.
 Since we will analyze work in English and German publications, it is important to point out
the subtle differences in meaning of the English environment and its German translation,
Umwelt. Environment is dened as: ‘The totality of circumstances surrounding an organism
or a group of organisms’ (American Heritage Dictionary, 1992, Boston, MA, Houghton-
Mi fin). It is a very broad concept that does not have an explicit connection to the protection
of the natural world. Umwelt, on the other hand, is almost exclusively used to describe
n atural environments and their destructio n. It is a more narrow term that has a much
stro nger emotio nal component than environment, which is mor e abstract and scientic.
Umweltbewusstsein (environmental awareness) has therefore a more emotional and ethical
compo nent to it in German than it has in English, whereas the term environmental awareness
emph asizes the cognitive awarenes s of environmental problems. Umweltbewusssein might
more accurately be translated as ‘environmental caring’.
 Indirect environmental actions include donating money, political activities, education al
ou treach, environmental writing, etc. These activities, although extremely important,
d o not have a direct impact on the environment. Direct environmental actions include
recyclin g, driving less, bu ying organic food, etc. These actions have a direct (admittedly
somet imes very small) impact on the environment. We focus our study mostly on direct
pro-en vironmental behavior.
 Man y of the tools and techniques that are used in community-based social marketing, such
as norms, commitment, modeling, an d social diffusio n, al l have at their core the inter-
actions of individuals in a community. Norms develop as people interact and develop
g uidelines for their behavior (McKenzie-Mohr & Smith, 1999, p. 97).
 We have made the assumption, that where an author uses ‘ecologically’, it is synonymous
wi th ‘en vironmentally’.
 Pay per bag is a system in which garbage will only be collected if i t is placed in
pre-purchased bags. The theory is that if people have to purchase bags, they will cut down
on their wastes, and recycle more.
 Interestin gly, in their study they found that driving correlates negatively with environmen-
tal attitude. This means that people drive more the mor e they care about the environment .
T his seemingly contradictory result can be explained when inuences on environmental
att itudes are explored. The more educated and afuent the people in the study were the
more lik ely that they had a d eeper environmental knowledge and a heightened sense of
envi ronmental awareness. At the same time, more afuent people tended to be more
mob ile, in other words, travel more.
 Ration al distancing is not always negative. It can be extremely important for people
wo rking in disaster areas. It allows th e person not to be overwhelmed by the misery but
react and plan cool-headedly.
 We do note want to imply that everybody has the same inuence or impact on environ-
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