Not all people are equally as invested in protecting the environment, and many won’t be convinced by arguments such as the beauty of nature, or the future of their children that needs to be preserved. But there is a greater variety of motives that can push people to participate in conservation activities.
A recent paper in environmental psychology shows that the desire to develop reputation and a stronger sense of belonging within a community could rank among such motives.
The author, Stacey Mac Donald, is currently a researcher for The Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies at Leiden, as well as participating in other conservation-aimed organizations, notably as a project advisor at World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
Local norms and values
“I look at nature conservation on the three Caribbean islands and I was interested in what drives people to engage in such activities”, says Mac Donald. “I was interested to know if people who live here or recently came to live here on these islands also engage in these kinds of conservation activities to position themselves within the island’s community.
Despite the narrow aim the results of the research led to a general conclusion, that some people will be more willing to engage in conservation activities in order to belong to a community, despite having no interest in the environment. According to Mac Donald, this community could be defined as any group such as a neighborhood, a group of friends, a club, or the people of a small town or island, that someone would want to be a part of, or grow closer to. “It’s less about the size and more your desire to belong that can have an impact.”
She continues by saying that the community of interest needs to be invested in conservation activities for this effect to take place. “What is important to consider is that the type of activities people engage in relating to conserving the environment in order to belong need to be sensitive to local norms and values. Those are the main conditions for their efforts to truly be accepted and recognized.”
Mac Donald explains, for example that if a neighborhood does not care about preserving the local environment, then newcomers are less likely to be stimulated to do so either in order to be welcomed in this neighborhood.
Since the aim in these cases is to be seen and accepted by the community, the types of activities chosen are also specific. “People who truly want to be part of the community or to connect with the local community really choose a different, more visible type of conservation behavior than those that do it simply because they really care about the environment.”
To complement this statement Mac Donald provided the comparison of using less water compared to a street cleaning. The former is rarely seen by people beyond one’s family, while clearing the streets of garbage with people from the neighborhood definitely brings attention to oneself, and helps develop a sense of belonging with the neighborhood or activity participants.
According to Mac Donald, her results could prove useful to her and others in future conservation projects.
“It’s important to get people with more egocentric and less environment-oriented motives invested as well, as conservation is a group effort. When you’re working with an organization that is trying to recruit more people to preserve the environment, with this knowledge you can promote the added benefit of belonging to a community by joining. If you want to do something about the world we live in, it’s not about what the nature is doing, but what we are doing as people, and the decisions we take.”