The role of education in changing behaviour for sustainability

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Information about The role of education in changing behaviour for sustainability
News & Politics

Published on February 24, 2014

Author: ndufty



Behaviour is what people do. People perform a host of environmentally appropriate and inappropriate behaviours every day.
Governments around the world have made numerous legal agreements that commit their countries to take responsibility for a suite of actions to change and move society towards sustainability. Such progress to sustainability depends on the behaviour of people in all walks of life, requiring changes in their way of thinking, living and working.
These background notes provide a theoretical framework for developing education programs that lead to behaviour change for sustainability.

Background notes for a workshop facilitated by the author at the 2004 NSW Environmental Education Conference, Gosford, NSW, Australia THE ROLE OF EDUCATION IN CHANGING BEHAVIOUR FOR SUSTAINABILITY By Neil Dufty, Senior Consultant, Molino Stewart Pty Ltd Behaviour is what people do. People perform a host of environmentally appropriate and inappropriate behaviours every day. Governments around the world have made numerous legal agreements that commit their countries to take responsibility for a suite of actions to change and move society towards sustainability. Such progress to sustainability depends on the behaviour of people in all walks of life, requiring changes in their way of thinking, living and working. There are several theoretical models that grapple with how people change behaviour. For example, Prochaska and DiClemente (1986) have formally identified the dynamics and structure of staged behaviour change for individuals. They propose that behaviour change occurs in the following five distinct stages through which people move in a cyclical or spiral pattern: 1. Pre-contemplation 2. Contemplation 3. Preparation 4. Action 5. Maintenance Rogers (1983) developed a stage-based model to explain how new ideas or innovations are disseminated and adopted by communities. Rogers identified five distinct stages in the process of diffusion of any new initiative or innovation: 1. Knowledge 2. Persuasion 3. Decision 4. Implementation 5. Contemplation

Rogers identified five audience types for the diffusion of change: Innovators – lead the way for others and will be the first to adopt innovation Early adopters – open to new ideas that provide personal benefits Early majority – will accept proven and moderate tasks Late majority – uncomfortable with risk but will follow the mainstream Laggards – will act to block progressive change There are several ways to achieve behaviour change using one or more environmental management tools including education. According to Young et al. (1996, p. 5), prospects for changing behaviour will always be greater ‘if direct regulatory approaches are overlain with a web of mechanisms that create a financially attractive and voluntary atmosphere that encourages cooperation and the sharing of information’. Figure 1 shows the main options for behaviour change related to stormwater management using four tiers in a triangle. The lower tiers, including education, are best to address diffuse pollution sources where appropriate community behaviour is critical. The upper tiers are best suited for point source pollution issues such as improving sewage treatment plants. Point Source Specific groups Regulation Planning Grants & Incentives Education & Communications Diffuse Community Figure 1: Some non-structural stormwater management tools to change behavi our The focus on behaviour change to achieve sustainability has led to a re-think of approaches to environmental education. Monroe, Day and Grieser (2000, p.3) argue that ‘knowledge alone doesn’t help or harm the environment. Human attitudes don’t harm or help the environment. Human behaviours, on the other hand, have greatly harmed, yet hold a great deal of hope for helping the environment. Those of us who work for environmental sustainability must address human behaviour’.

Similarly, Neiswinder and Shepard (2002, p.267) state that to be successful environmental education ‘programs must go beyond making people aware of the problem and rather should focus on changing critical behaviours’. The NSW government through its NSW Environmental Education Plan 2002-05 has embraced the move from traditional environmental education to that which targets behaviour change leading towards sustainability. The Plan notes that ’in NSW the focus of environmental education programs has shifted in recent years, due to a deeper understanding of the causes of environmental problems and how to prevent them’. It concludes that these changes in the direction of environmental education may be described as moving towards ‘education for sustainability’. Implications of this shift in environmental education focus are summarised in Table 1. Table 1: Differ ences between ‘tr aditional’ environmental education and ‘education for sustainability’ (EFS) ASPECT Problem Solution Connectedness Time frame Goals Education methods Learners Implementation Legitimacy TRADITIONAL APPROACH Pollution/end of the pipe Environmental protection Humans separate from ecosystems Present/short term Awareness and knowledge Predominantly information-based Audiences/target groups Mainly top down Predominantly technical expertise NEW EFS APPROACH Pollution/source reduction Sustainability solutions Humans as part of ecosystems Future/long term Changed behaviours, practices and structures Participatory and experiential learning, community development and capacity-building Participants/stakeholders Through partnerships/networks Based on different ways of knowing Source: Learning for Sustainability: NSW Environmental Education Plan 2002-05 page 15 Environmental education programs can be developed using components of the new EFS approach outlined in Table 1 yet struggle to be effective because enabling factors (or ‘enablers’) such as appropriate community capacity, resourcing and institutional arrangements are not in place. For example, a government agency may be wishing to change a farming community’s behaviours in relation to protecting riparian zones. The setting up of a local Landcare group with appropriate resourcing and training may enable the education program to be more effectively implemented.

These enablers are ‘catalysts’ for environmental education programs to achieve behaviour change for sustainability (see Figure 2). The enabling factors may need to be built, modified, extended or better coordinated to ensure the effectiveness of the program. Additionally, according to some experts, ‘knowledge of sustainability’ is an important factor in a community’s uptake of behaviours leading towards sustainability. Institutional arrangements Sustainability knowledge Networks Education Programs Resourcing Behaviour change ENABLERS Partnerships Infrastructure Leadership Information sharing Figure 2: Some factors that enable education program s to achieve community behavi our change for sustainability Another feature of the EFS approach derived from Table 1 is the need for community participation in the planning, implementation and evaluation of environmental education programs. There has been increasing concern about the use of traditional ‘top-down’ approaches to environmental education particularly by government agencies and local councils (Baker 2002, p.2). This approach involves communities receiving information mainly through one-way dissemination e.g. agency or council media releases, publications. It can alienate the ‘recipient’ from the decision-making process thus inhibiting sustainable behaviour change. Elcome and Baines (1999) have developed a continuum (Figure 3) that shows a range of community participation levels in environmental education programs. No influence over outcomes Informing Consulting Total influence over outcomes Deciding Together Figure 3: Communit y participation levels Acting Together Supporting Community Decisions

Organisations should seek to include the more participative approaches to environmental education programs. Allen, Kilvington and Horn (2002, p. 9) suggest the ‘increased user involvement not only helps keep research and information transfer relevant, and encourages stakeholders to take ownership of outcomes. It also provides key people in the wider community who have to work together with new ideas and perspectives, which they will share with others thus paving the way for improved user thinking and change’. With the appropriate levels of enablers, participation in environmental education programs and other behaviour change activities can lead towards community empowerment. Empowerment enables communities to decide on and set their own pathways towards sustainability. Page and Czuba (1999, p. 10) stress that ‘to create change we must change individually to enable us to become partners in solving the complex issues facing us. In collaborations based on mutual respect, diverse perspectives, and a developing vision, people work towards creative and realistic solutions. This synthesis of individual and collective change is our understanding of the empowerment process.’ REFERENCES Allen, W, Kilvington, M., & Horn, C. (2002). Using Participatory and Learningbased Approaches for Environmental Management to help achieve Behaviour Change. Wellington, NZ: Landcare Research Report. Baker, E. (2002). Preparing for Evaluation: Lessons from capacity building for natural resource management. Paper presented to the 2002 Australasian Evaluation Society International Conference. Elcome, D., & Baines, J. (1999). Steps to success – working with residents and neighbours to develop and implement plans for protected areas. Switzerland: IUCN Commission on Education and Communication. Monroe, M.C., Day, B.A., & Grieser, M. (2000). GreenCom Weaves Four Strands. In Day, B.A. & Monroe, M.C. (Eds.) Environmental Education and Communication for a Sustainable World: Handbook for International Practioners. Washington D.C.: Academy for Educational Development. Neiswinder, C., & Shepard, R. (2002). Elements of Successful Stormwater Outreach and Education. University of Wisconsin Extension Paper. Madison USA: University of Wisconsin. NSW Council on Environmental Education (2002). Learning for Sustainability: NSW Environmental Education Plan 2002-05. Sydney: NSW Government. Page, N., & Czuba, C.E. (1999). Empowerment: What is it? Journal of Extension, Vol 37, No 5, October 1999.

Prochaska, J.O., & Di Climente, C.C. (1986). Towards a comprehensive model of change, In Miller, W.R., & Heather, N. (Eds.). Treating addictive behaviours: Processes of change. New York: Free Press. Rogers, E.M. (1983). Diffusion of Innovations, New York: Free Press. Taylor, A., & Wong T. (2002). Non-structural Stormwater Quality Best Management Practices – A Literature Review of their Value. CRC Technical Report. Canberra, ACT, Cooperative Research Centre for Catchment Hydrology Young, M.D., Gunningham, N., Elix, J., Lambert.J. Howard, B., Grabosky, P., & McGrone, E. (1996). Reinbursing the Future: An Evaluation Of Motivational, Voluntary, Price-based, Property-right and Regulatory Incentives for the Conservation of Biodiversity. Canberra: Division of Wildlife and Ecology, the Australian Centre for Environmental Law and Community Solutions.

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