Academic journal article Journal of Rural Social Sciences

Promoting Participation in Sustainable Living Educational Programming Events among Non-Environmentally-Motivated Individuals: The Importance of Key Informant Involvement*

Academic journal article Journal of Rural Social Sciences

Promoting Participation in Sustainable Living Educational Programming Events among Non-Environmentally-Motivated Individuals: The Importance of Key Informant Involvement*

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Many social science researchers agree that overconsumption of resources and consumer goods is a major problem in Western culture today, particularly in the United States. Thus, promoting sustainable behavior among the public in rural and urban areas alike is important. Although existing research offers suggestions for promoting sustainable behaviors among environmentally-motivated audiences, a void remains with respect to encouraging non-environmentally-motivated individuals to adopt more sustainable behaviors. In response, I conducted a formative experiment aimed specifically at: 1 ) fostering participation among non-environmentally- motivated individuals in sustainable living educational programming events, and 2) promoting subsequent behavior change among those participants in the direction of more sustainable lifestyles. This article focuses on the first goal, and specifically on the role of key informant involvement in achieving increasing levels of participation for each of the four iterations comprising this project. This strategy has the potential to improve participation in similar programming among various target audiences, including those in the rural areas familiar to JRSS readership.

Over the past several decades, consumption of goods and resources in the United States and other Western nations has risen to unsustainable levels (McKenzie-Mohr and Oskamp 1995; Oakley, Chen, and Nisi 2008; Simon-Brown 2004). Such conspicuous consumption has been described by Etzioni (1998) as both addictive and obsessive. These unsustainable levels of consumption lead to many negative impacts. At the environmental level, those include: stresses and strains on natural sinks (Mebratu 1998); pressure on forest, soil, and water resources (Simon- Brown 2004); and climate-change impacts, such as rapid sea level rise, drier climates, and increased "frequency and severity of storms" (McKenzie-Mohr and Oskamp 1995:3). At the individual level, impacts include widespread dissatisfaction (Reisch 2001); health problems such as nutritional inadequacy, chronic disease, and obesity; and unprecedented levels of consumer debt and bankruptcy (Cohen 2005).

In response, Fien, Neil, and Bentley (2008) have cited a transition to sustainable consumption as one of today's central challenges. Beyond countering the negative collective impacts associated with unsustainable consumption, sustainable consumption carries with it many positive implications for individuals, including improvements in: subjective well-being, happiness, and life satisfaction (Brown and Kasser 2005). This well-being is also positively influenced by increased satisfaction in the realms of family life, friendships, work, and leisure (Etzioni 1998; Zavestoski 2002), which frequently accompanies more sustainable lifestyles. Overall, research supports the suggestion by Oakley, Chen, and Nisi (2008) that sustainable practices contribute to improved quality of life. Thus, the importance of persuading individuals to live more sustainably is clear.

Existing research and social psychological theories (e.g., value-belief-norm theory) offer suggestions for promoting sustainable (or at least pro-environmental) behaviors among individuals who are environmentally motivated. Indeed, even individuals with alternative motivations may be successfully encouraged to participate in specif ic p ro-en v i ron men ta 1 behaviors, through community-based social marketing campaigns. That process, however (according to its proponents), requires the promotion of one behavior at a time. Thus, the extant research does little to provide practical solutions for promoting overall sustainable lifestyles among a broad range of individuals with varying backgrounds, attitudes, and motivations.

In response to this gap in the literature, I conducted a formative experiment designed to promote sustainable behavior specifically among non-environmentally- motivated individuals by: 1) increasing their participation in sustainable living educational programming events; and 2) obtaining behavior change commitments from event participants in the direction of greater sustainability. …

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