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Creating and Using XR for Environmental Communication: Three Exploratory Case Studies



Despite growing investment in environmental media campaigns, the link between awareness and action remains inadequate. One promising approach involves using extended reality (XR) technologies-augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR)-to provide audiences with direct interactions with environmental dangers. The current work presents three interdisciplinary case studies highlighting how brands, non-governmental organizations, and academic institutions are leveraging XR for environmental communication.
Creating and Using XR for Environmental Communication:
Three Exploratory Case Studies
Barbara Buljat Raymond*, Daniel Pimentel, Kay Poh Gek Vasey
*Université Côte d’Azur, CNRS, GREDEG; Faculty of Economics and Business, University of Rijeka; Balkan Institute of Science and
Innovation of the Université Côte d'Azur; University of Oregon; Meshminds
Despite growing investment in environmental media campaigns,
the link between awareness and action remains inadequate. One
promising approach involves using extended reality (XR)
technologies – augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) – to
provide audiences with direct interactions with environmental
dangers. The current work presents three interdisciplinary case
studies highlighting how brands, non-governmental organizations,
and academic institutions are leveraging XR for environmental
Keywords: XR technologies, augmented reality (AR), virtual
reality (VR), environmental communication, pro-environmental
behavior (PEB).
Studies continue to show an unprecedented degradation of the
environment, an issue exacerbated by human activity [1]. Despite
the magnitude of environmental threats, organizations struggle to
find an effective way to motivate pro-environmental behaviour
(PEB): the abstract nature of environmental data and the gap
between the causes and consequences of environmental problems
may be an obstacle for people to understand their seriousness [2].
Recently, attention from the industry and academia has been drawn
to XR technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual
reality (VR), for making environmental communication more
immersive, engaging, and convincing.
Global leaders in environmental communications, such as the
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World
Wildlife Fund (WWF), have recognised this tr end and have begun
to incorporate immersive vi rtual experiences into thei r soci al media
campaigns to motivate community movements (e.g. see the WWF’s
campaign “Take a Photo With the Leopard”). Besides public
dialogue, institutions have also been experimenting with another
mechanism for motivating PEB – body transfer (BT) in VR [3], to
let people experience “living in someone else’s shoes”.
The scientific community has increasingly invested in studying
the impact of AR/VR for addressing environmental sustainability.
For example, immersive storytelling has been used to teach marine
science [4], simulate the impacts of plastic pollution [5] and
embody endangered animals [6]. However, the research in this area
is still in its infancy. This paper contributes to the debate and
provides an interdisciplinary investigation into the use of
immersive technologies for addressing an urgent environmental
problem: plastic pollution. In the subsequent sections we highlight
three case studies wherein AR- and VR-based experiences were
designed and distributed for the purpose of raising awareness of the
problem and catalysing individual action. In doing so, we seek to
demonstrate the potential of AR and VR for advancing
environmental conservation efforts.
2.1Endangered animals in AR
In this case study, we used a Design Science Research [7] approach
and a focus group method to obtain end users’ feedback about an
AR system showing a sea animal endangered due to plastic
pollution (Figure 1A). Participants (N=7) were master's students
(Mage=23.7, SD =0.76) at one European faculty of economics. We
analyzed the data inductively according to qualitative research
guidelines that ensure scientific rigor [8].
First, seeing endangered animals i n AR elicited emphatic
response from some participants, which may result in an emotional
trigger that drives PEB. Second, participants supported the concept
of using AR to bring environmental issues “psychologically
closer”, by attaching them to familiar and personally relevant
places (e.g. their favourite beach). Third, visual fidelity and
graphical representation of virtual objects may play an important
role in such interventions. Although participants reacted with shock
("Oh, poor thing!", "Almost like realistic", "Too good", "It's cool"),
they concluded that improved, more realistic visuals are necessary
to be effective and generate stronger empathy. In conclusion, while
our findings suggest that AR could improve traditional
environmental communication, its design has to match users’
mental expectations in order to effectively motivate PEB.
2.2VR Embodiment of Endangered Animals
The goal of the second case study was to examine the feasibility
and pro-environmental implications of embodying threatened
wildlife in VR (animal embodiment). We conducted a mixed
methods field study at a large marine science center in the
Southeastern United States. Participants evaluated an educational
VR simulation “Project SHELL”, in which they embodied a
threatened Loggerhead Sea turtle as it encounters various
environmental threats (Figure 1B). First, three senior staff members
provided qualitative feedback about the simulation. Then, we
conducted a within-subjects field experiment (N=12, Mage=15,
SD=.95) to assess participants’ perceptions of the simulation, as
well as, its effect on environmental attitudes. Body transfer was
enabled by synchronizing users’ movements with a virtual sea
turtle, and by haptic feedback corresponding to in-game threats.
Broadly, the results suggest that, even with a short intervention,
BT with threatened wildlife can be achieved through VR (MBT=3.71,
SD=.52), and can contribute to connectedness with nature (INS)
(before (M=4.25, SD=1.48) after (M=4.66, SD=1.3), t(11)=-1.82,
p< .05). Moreover, observational data was useful to get insight into
post-pandemic VR usage in public spaces. As students were
required to wear masks during the entirety of the camp, a common
issue was screen fogging, inhibiting visibility. This may have
impeded illusory BT considering that visual quality is an important
antecedent to presence-related constructs [9]. Discussions with the
science center’s staff emphasized the fact that while accessing
†; ‡
2023 IEEE Conference on Virtual Reality and 3D User Interfaces Abstracts and Workshops (VRW)
979-8-3503-4839-2/23/$31.00 ©2023 IEEE
DOI 10.1109/VRW58643.2023.00270
immersive learning content is important, it is all for nothing if staff
do not have the capacity and resources to facilitate the experiences
2.3AR Interactions with Environmental Dangers
A promising strategy to motivate PEB is to provide audiences with
impacts of their consumption behaviors in real time. In the third
case study, we created an AR experience to test the efficacy of this
approach. Spe cifically, the SEA circular project and The
MeshMinds Foundation, in collaboration with UNEP, launched the
social media AR campaign “100 Days to #BeatPlasticPollution”.
Four AR experiences and games (Figure 1C) were available as
Instagram camera effects. We conducted a between-subjects
experiment (2 groups: control and experimental) to investigate the
extent to which such AR experiences could raise environmental
awareness, intentions, and actions [10]. Two surveys were used to
assess impact of a 5.5 week-long intervention over a 3 month
period. Participants (N=40, aged 13-25, 23 female), were students
from multiple universities.
There were no significant differences between the two groups on
any of the measures assessed before or after the intervention (all p’s
> .05), except the self-reported beliefs that individual actions can
mitigate plastic pollution, that was higher in the intervention group
F(1, 32) = 7.75, p < .01. Specifically, participants who interacted
with the AR experiences reported significantly greater beliefs in
their individual capacity to mitigate plastic pollution (M=4.56,
SD=.62) compared to the control group (M=3.88, SD=. 81).
Environmental awareness increased for both groups, though the
difference was only significant for participants in the experimental
group (F(1,30) = 6.57, p = .01) Moreover, beliefs that individual
actions influence plastic pollution significantly increased after t he
intervention for the experimental group, F(1,30) = 5.95, p = .02.
Despite the urgency of the global environmental crisis,
environmental communicators struggle to find an effective way to
motivate pro-environmental behaviors. One way to make
environmental communication more engaging and persuasive
could involve XR technologies. Immersive AR and VR experiences
can leverage affordances such as presence and embodiment to
facilitate di rect experiences that influence environmental
awareness and behavior. Three distinct international studies tested
the efficacy of XR-based environmental conservation strategies
using varied methodological approaches. Collectively, the results
suggest that AR and VR experiences that depict environmental
threats, either onto the self or others, can contribute to short- and
long-term pro-environmental outcomes, namely attitudes and
intentions. This investigation presents modest contributions. First,
the synthesis of three interdisciplinary case studies generates new
knowledge about the design, development, distribution and impact
of XR technologies for promoting individual and collective PEBs.
Second, it provides concrete examples of how brands,
organizations, and educational institutions are incorporating XR
storytelling into their communication activities to engage their
audiences, which could be useful for policy makers and
communicators. We encourage scholars and practitioners to further
explore the potential of XR applications for addressing important
societal issues such as environmental sustainability, and spotlight
the unique features of each XR platform which may differentially
increase pro-environmental outcomes through varied mechanisms.
[1]IPCC, 2022: Summary for Policymakers. Cambridge University
Press, Cambridge, UK and New York, NY, USA, pp. 3-33,
[2]Van der Linden, S., Maibach, E., & Leiserowitz, A. (2015). Improving
public engagement with climate change: Five “best practice” insights
from psychological science. Perspectives on Psychological Science,
10, 758-763. doi: 10.1177/1745691615598516
[3]Steuer, J. (1992). Defining Virtual Reality: Dimensio ns Determining
Telepresence. Journal of Communication.
[4]Fauville, G., Queiroz , A. C. M., Hambrick, L., Brown, B. A ., &
Bailenson, J. N. (2021). Participatory research on using virtual reality
to teach ocean acidification: a study in the marine education
community. Environmental Education Research, 27(2), 254–278.
[5]Buljat, B. (2022) "Augmented Reality For Nudging Green Behavior:
Design, Evaluation And Implementation". ECIS 2022 Research
Papers. 56 .
[6]Pimentel, D., Kalyanaraman, S. The effects of embodying wildlife in
virtual reality on conservation behaviors. Sci Rep 12, 6439 (2022).
[7]Hevner, A.R.; March, S.T.; and Park, J. (2004) Design research in
information systems research. MIS Quarterly, 28, 75–105.
[8]Gioia, D. A., Corley, K. G., & Hamilton, A. L. (2013). Seeking
Qualitative Rig or in Inductive Research: Notes on the Gioia
Methodology. Organizational Research Methods, 16(1), 15–31.
[9]Zou, W., Yang, F., Zhang, W., Li, Y., & Yu, H. (2018). A Framework
for Assessing Spatial Presence of Omnidirectional Video on Virtual
Reality Device. IEEE Access, 6, 44676–44684.
[10]Vasey, K., Bos, O., Nasser, F., Tan, A., Li JunTing, B., Tat Khoo, E.,
& Marsh, T. (2019). Water Bodies: VR Interactive Narrative and
Gameplay for Social Impact. In The 17th International Conference on
Virtual-Reality Continuum and its Applications in Industry (pp. 1-2).
Figure 1: Screens hots of immersive experiences fr om the
case studies 1(A), 2(B) and 3(C).
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
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