Adult Environmental Motivation
Learning Interviews with Opinion Leaders and Members of the General Public
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Adult Motivation for
Environmentally Sensitive Practices:
A Learning Interview


Waikato Horizons










once a man stood still to watch the flowers
and listen to the singing of the birds
as he walked on years had passed


Abstract 7


1. Introduction 9

The State of the Environment, Ecology, and Economy 10

The State of the Environment 10

Ecology 12

Economy 14

Motivation 16

Motivation and Happiness 16

Adult Motivation and Change 21

Environmental Motivation and Ethics 25

Environmental Education 30

Environmental Education in School Settings 31

Environmental Education of the General Public 37

Environmentally Sensitive Behaviour 39

Environmentally Responsible Behaviour 40

Environmentally Sensitive Practices 43

Basic Questions, Aims 47

Methodology 48

On the Quality of Qualitative Research 48

Participatory Research 49

Interviewing 51

Summary of Introduction 56

2. Method 58

Participants 58

Table 2.01 Participants: 94 contacts 58

Table 2.02 Participants: 94 contacts according to sex 59

Materials 60

Introductory Letters and Follow-up Telephone Schedules 60

Interview schedules 61

Feedback Questionnaires 62

Setting 63


Procedure 63

Development and Planning of the Research Concept 63

Questionnaire Development 64

Sampling Method 65

Approaches to Potential Interview Partners 66

Interview Procedure 69

Interview Reports 71

Feedback from and to Interview Partners 72

Data Analysis 72

3. Results 74

Responses to the Interview Invitations 74

Approval and Refusal Figures 74

Table 3.01 Approvals and refusals of 94 contacts 74

Table 3.02 Results of 102 interview invitations according to approach method 75

Table 3.03 Results of 63 interview invitations to commoners, according to approach method and sex 75

Approval and Refusal Responses 76

Interview Responses 77

Feedback 81

Environmentally Sensitive Practices, Motivation, and Change 82

Environmentally Sensitive Practices, Motives, and Catalysts 82

Change of ESPr's, Related Emotional and Environmental Impact 84

Environmental Concerns and Possibilities for Change 86

Review of the Findings on Environmental Motivation and Change 90

4. Discussion 92

Environmentally Sensitive Practices, Motivation, and the Environment 93

Environmentally Sensitive Practices 93

Environmental Motivation and Change 95

Methodology 97

Sampling of, and Approaches to Potential Interview Partners 97

Interviews, Feedback, and Data Analysis 100

Further Research 104

Conclusion and Outlook 104

5. SUMMARY 105

6. References 106

7. Glossary 114


8. Referent appendices 116

List of Referent Tables 116

8.01-C Responses to interview invitations - interview partners, commoners 117

8.01-L Responses to interview invitations - interview partners, leaders 118

8.02-C Personal and professional data, why accepted the interview invitation - commoners 120

8.02-L Personal and professional data, why accepted the interview invitation - leaders 121

8.03-C Responses to interview invitations - brief contacts, commoners 123

8.03-L Responses to interview invitations - brief contacts, leaders 126

8.04-C Interview and feedback dates, feedback and comments - commoners 127

8.04-L Interview and feedback dates, feedback and comments - pilot, leaders 130

8.05-C Environmentally Sensitive Practices (ESPr's) - commoners 134

8.05-L Environmentally Sensitive Practices (ESPr's) - leaders 136

8.06-C Environmental concerns, further motives, personal change - commoners 140

8.06-L Environmental concerns, further motives, personal change - leaders 142

8.07-C Environmental priorities, urgency, possibilities for change - commoners 145

8.07-L Environmental priorities, urgency, possibilities for change - leaders 147

8.08-C Effect of the ESPr's, commitment, basic motivation in life - commoners 150

8.08-L Effect of the ESPr's, commitment, basic motivation in life - leaders 151

8.09-C Life goals, decision-making freedom, happiness-environment dependency - commoners 152

8.09-L Life goals, decision-making freedom, happiness-environment dependency - leaders 153

8.10-C Example of an interview report - commoners 155


9. Appendices 164

List of Appendices 164

9.01 ILPC Introductory letter (pilot) to commoners 165

9.02 ILC Introductory letter to commoners 166

9.03 ILCa Introductory letter to commoners, adapted 167

9.04 ILCb Introductory letter to commoners, adapted 168

9.05 ILCc Introductory letter to commoners, adapted 169

9.06 ILPL Introductory letter (pilot) to leaders 170

9.07 ILL Introductory letter to leaders 171

9.08 Introductory letter to leader L17 172

9.09 IP Initial Phone Call (pilot) (follow-up telephone schedule) 173

9.10 IT Initial Telephone follow-up (telephone schedule) 175

9.11 QL Question List (pilot) 176

9.12 QD Question Details - (pilot) 178

9.13 alternative responses for Question Details (pilot) items B.1 - B.3 192

9.14 IG Interview Guide 193

9.15 QDPF Question Details (pilot) feedback 207

9.16 IC Interview Comments sheet 208

9.17 RPI Review of the pilot interviews 210

9.18 IRPC/L Accompanying letter for interview report (pilot) 211

9.19 IRC Accompanying letter for interview report - commoners 212

9.20 IRL Accompanying letter for interview report - leaders 213

9.21 Stage sketch: 'A Dutch Scene' 214









photocopied on recycled paper


The continuing degradation of environmental quality asks for changes in our behaviour. Research on motivation for Environmentally Sensitive Practices may yield insights that could help to devise successful environmental policies. This thesis focuses on adult motivation for the protection of the environment, and the environmental benefits of our protective practices. The factual state of the environment, our excessive energy use as a major cause of environmental degradation, and basic human motivation for contentment and happiness, are addressed as a baseline for the discussion of environmental motivation and Environmentally Sound Behaviour. Quite a number of surveys and studies exist on environmental attitudes as a theoretical construct. To avoid the discrepancy between attitude and actual behaviour, this study focuses on self-reported environmental practices. Participants were a selected sample of 23 top executives in administration and commerce ('leaders'), and a random sample of 19 ordinary citizens ('commoners') in Hamilton, New Zealand (population 100,000). Semi-structured free-flowing 1.5 hour interviews were conducted. The interview schedule contained questions on the origins, catalysts, and prompts for Environmentally Sensitive Practices, and examples of environmental topics.

The accounts of environmental actions and perceptions showed no basic difference in environmental motivation of commoners and leaders. Most interviewees acknowledged global environmental concepts and realities. Some top leaders showed a conspicuous lack of understanding of the limits to growth, the dubious utility of future technological solutions, and the immediacy of environmental degradation. The global context and impact of one's local activities were recognised, but this led to important changes in environmental practices in exceptional cases only. The motivational patterns of commoners and leaders appeared similar, based on adherence to prevailing habits, and societal rules and expectations, which in turn corresponds with hierarchical structures in society. Most commoners and leaders seemed to be fatalistic about the development, and not really believe that what they do makes a difference. Typically, the interviewees expressed the opinion that people, including their children and grandchildren, have to be educated to care for the environment. Both commoners and leaders were aware of the necessity to do something about the environment now, but also appeared to expect that someone else starts first, and in that case they seemed prepared to follow.

These findings suggest that environmental motivation should be fostered by empowering education, both of ordinary people and leaders in society. Individual empowerment through a change in societal structures may encourage us to act autonomously, face environmental realities in a global context, and set inspiring examples for our children.


My approach to this study is based on the insight that there is a political nature in all I do. In adopting an important motto of feminism, 'the personal is political' , I acknowledge that all my activities and 'passivities' influence my environment. My conduct affects my well-being and that of others, as well as the state of my natural environment. Therefore my work can never be neutral, and I will be explicit about my choices and values.

The protection of the environment seems essential for our survival on Earth. I believe that the urgency of the issue was brought about by excessive human activity and exploitation of the non-human part of nature. The hierarchical relationships between men and women, adults and children, the haves and the have-nots, and between the different races add to the complexity of the problem. Interhuman domination and exploitation is often directly connected with the exploitation and degradation of nature.

When I write in the first person singular or plural, I suggest that both 'I' and 'we' are involved. It is also an attempt to bridge the academic 'us'/'them' separation.

I have two grown-up children, who live in Switzerland. I am from Holland, immigrated to Aotearoa/New Zealand in 1987, first stayed for five months, then came again in 1990.

I say 'Thank you!' to all who have inspired and encouraged me on my way.

The weekly letters with newspaper cuttings from Waltraud Ott were a great support.

My supervisor, Dr. Michael D. Hills, understood when I was stubborn in my double-dutch language. May he represent all staff of this University and elsewhere, who answered my questions, commented, and helped me forward.

Marion Pountney furnished my first home in Hamilton. Pimporn Chandee, Craig Ford, Tima Tuvuki, and others helped with the finishing touches on this thesis. May they represent all students and people with whom I could talk, and who helped and inspired me when I needed it: at the word processor, in the International Students Club, in the Cruelty Free Shop, in the Green Apple coffee lounge, wherever in town.

Thank you, Ruby Olive Willcocks, age 86, personifying the 'anonymous participant'.

My final thanks and wishes go to all children, whose sparkling eyes and laughs I enjoy, and to my brother Willem.

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  • Annexe: "A Dutch Scene"
    Thesis project
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