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Equal responsibility, unequal ability : allocation of environmental responsibility in pro-environmental behavior research

Page-Hayes, Sydney LU (2015) In Master Thesis Series in Environmental Studies and Sustainability Science) MESM02 20151
LUCSUS (Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies)
Abstract
Neoliberalism, as a loosely defined set of political beliefs, calls for more individual freedom and autonomy, resulting in increased responsibility for each person to address major societal issues. ‘Individualization’ is the process by which responsibility for addressing major environmental issues such as climate change is placed on individuals. In this thesis I investigate whether individualization as a neoliberal concept is present in pro-environmental behavior (PEB) research through a comprehensive examination of abstracts from articles in the field. I further explore whether increased individualization present in PEB research hinders the usefulness of the field’s contribution to
sustainability knowledge by exploring a number of... (More)
Neoliberalism, as a loosely defined set of political beliefs, calls for more individual freedom and autonomy, resulting in increased responsibility for each person to address major societal issues. ‘Individualization’ is the process by which responsibility for addressing major environmental issues such as climate change is placed on individuals. In this thesis I investigate whether individualization as a neoliberal concept is present in pro-environmental behavior (PEB) research through a comprehensive examination of abstracts from articles in the field. I further explore whether increased individualization present in PEB research hinders the usefulness of the field’s contribution to
sustainability knowledge by exploring a number of barriers and critiques.

I performed an examination of article abstracts (n=487) published from 2011-2015 found through a keyword search for ‘pro-environmental behavior’ via the internet search engines Web of Science and Scopus. Depending on how environmental responsibility was framed in the abstract text, I categorized each abstract as ‘individualizing’, ‘non-individualizing’ or ‘neutral’. An overwhelming majority (72%) of articles were categorized as ‘individualizing’, with ‘non-individualizing’ and ‘neutral’ resulting in 2%
and 26% respectively. The most common PEB research in the abstracts included simple, relatively apolitical activities such as recycling, private car use and electricity usage. Also of note was the tendency of the researchers to focus on consumption as a means of addressing major sustainability problems.

Individualization is a well-accepted concept in PEB research but its presence can have a number of negative implications for PEB attempts by researchers to make meaningful contributions to sustainability. With increased individualization, cognitive barriers to PEB are exacerbated as private choices become politicized and increased pressure is put on individuals to act. Moreover, instead of focusing on changes that can be made more easily by producers, researchers expect consumers at the end of the production chain to ameliorate the problems created in large part by producers. Conflicts between sustainability and neoliberal goals are marginalized as environmental goals are framed as
compatible with the idea of infinite growth and mass resource extraction. The few studies that have attempted to measure the effectiveness of pro-environmental behaviors in reducing environmental impacts (such as carbon footprint) have found very little correlation between individual PEB and lowered environmental impacts, probably due to other high-impact behaviors, and contextual and structural constraints. I recommend that future PEB research focus on individuals and other actors with the power and capability to make the needed behavioral changes to address sustainability issues. (Less)
Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:
author
Page-Hayes, Sydney LU
supervisor
organization
course
MESM02 20151
year
type
H2 - Master's Degree (Two Years)
subject
keywords
individualization, pro-environmental behavior, environmental responsibility, academic research, neoliberalism
publication/series
Master Thesis Series in Environmental Studies and Sustainability Science)
report number
2015:012
language
English
id
5471373
date added to LUP
2015-06-17 16:05:47
date last changed
2015-06-18 14:04:26
@misc{5471373,
  abstract     = {Neoliberalism, as a loosely defined set of political beliefs, calls for more individual freedom and autonomy, resulting in increased responsibility for each person to address major societal issues. ‘Individualization’ is the process by which responsibility for addressing major environmental issues such as climate change is placed on individuals. In this thesis I investigate whether individualization as a neoliberal concept is present in pro-environmental behavior (PEB) research through a comprehensive examination of abstracts from articles in the field. I further explore whether increased individualization present in PEB research hinders the usefulness of the field’s contribution to
sustainability knowledge by exploring a number of barriers and critiques. 

I performed an examination of article abstracts (n=487) published from 2011-2015 found through a keyword search for ‘pro-environmental behavior’ via the internet search engines Web of Science and Scopus. Depending on how environmental responsibility was framed in the abstract text, I categorized each abstract as ‘individualizing’, ‘non-individualizing’ or ‘neutral’. An overwhelming majority (72%) of articles were categorized as ‘individualizing’, with ‘non-individualizing’ and ‘neutral’ resulting in 2%
and 26% respectively. The most common PEB research in the abstracts included simple, relatively apolitical activities such as recycling, private car use and electricity usage. Also of note was the tendency of the researchers to focus on consumption as a means of addressing major sustainability problems.

Individualization is a well-accepted concept in PEB research but its presence can have a number of negative implications for PEB attempts by researchers to make meaningful contributions to sustainability. With increased individualization, cognitive barriers to PEB are exacerbated as private choices become politicized and increased pressure is put on individuals to act. Moreover, instead of focusing on changes that can be made more easily by producers, researchers expect consumers at the end of the production chain to ameliorate the problems created in large part by producers. Conflicts between sustainability and neoliberal goals are marginalized as environmental goals are framed as
compatible with the idea of infinite growth and mass resource extraction. The few studies that have attempted to measure the effectiveness of pro-environmental behaviors in reducing environmental impacts (such as carbon footprint) have found very little correlation between individual PEB and lowered environmental impacts, probably due to other high-impact behaviors, and contextual and structural constraints. I recommend that future PEB research focus on individuals and other actors with the power and capability to make the needed behavioral changes to address sustainability issues.},
  author       = {Page-Hayes, Sydney},
  keyword      = {individualization,pro-environmental behavior,environmental responsibility,academic research,neoliberalism},
  language     = {eng},
  note         = {Student Paper},
  series       = {Master Thesis Series in Environmental Studies and Sustainability Science)},
  title        = {Equal responsibility, unequal ability : allocation of environmental responsibility in pro-environmental behavior research},
  year         = {2015},
}