Concern for the Natural Environment and its Effect on Pro-environmental Behaviour amongst the British Public

  • Rebecca Rhead

Student thesis: Phd


Reports from the IPCC have been consistent in their findings: climate change is happening and human activity is the cause. The temperature of the earth's climate has been steadily rising since the industrial revolution, with profoundly negative consequences for the natural environment. Britain is amongst the top 10 global contributors towards climate change, producing more CO2 per capita than China, and yet little is known about the relationship the British public have with the natural environment. Drawing upon DEFRA's 2009 Survey of Public Attitudes and Behaviours Towards the Environment, a nationally representative sample of the UK, this study aims to (1) explore environmental attitudes in the DEFRA sample; (2) identify the types of environmental concern that exist in the UK and; (3) examine how environmental concern is associated with pro-environmental behaviours. The overall goal is to develop a better understanding this attitude-behaviour relationship. The thesis has 3 main findings.First, environmental concern is formed of three environmental attitudes: (a) a cognitive appraisal of plant and animal welfare (ecocentric attitude); (b) welfare of the human race (human-centric attitude); and (c) a prioritisation of the self, alongside dismissal of environmental problems (denial).Second, members of the British public can be assigned to one of four groups based on their environmental concern: Pro-environment, Neutral, Disengaged and Paradoxical (the latter 2 groups are apathetic towards environmental issues though in different ways).Third, when examining behaviour variation across these environmental concern groups, it was found, unsurprisingly, that membership of the pro- environmental group is strongly predictive of pro-environmental behaviour. What was surprising was that pro-environmental concern predicts a variety of behaviours, both easy and challenging (i.e. easy behaviour such as recycling household waste as well more challenging behaviour such as an increase use of public transportation over driving), whereas previous studies have typically found such behaviours to be unaffected by attitudes. Membership of the Neutral group also predicts pro-environmental behaviours, although this relationship is weaker and exists for fewer measures of behaviour. Disengaged and Paradoxical forms of concern are not significant predictors of behaviour. Upon examining the effect of socio-economic status (SES) on group membership and this attitude-behaviour relationship, it was found that SES does not moderate the attitude-behaviour relationship, but it does influence group membership. Respondents with higher SES were more likely to belong to neutral or pro-environment groups.After reviewing these findings, it is concluded that environmental attitudes do clearly predict behaviour, but a large portion of the UK population do not possess environmental attitudes strong enough to do so (the Disengaged and Paradoxical groups amount to 36% of the population). Future studies should focus on these apathetic groups in an attempt to understand them, determine effective methods of engagement and identify factors that increase the probability of members transitioning out of these groups.
Date of Award31 Dec 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorMark Elliot (Supervisor) & Paul Upham (Supervisor)


  • Environment, Attitudes, Behaviour, VBN, DEFRA
  • Survey Data, Moderation, Mediation, Factor Analysis, BSEM

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