The Relationship Between Environmental Issue Involvement and Environmentally-Conscious Behavior: an Exploratory Study

ABSTRACT - The effect of environmental issue involvement on both overall and specific types of environmentally-conscious behavior, including consumer behavior, is examined. Where information is easily gathered and there is not an initial capital investment, involvement and behavior are significantly correlated. On the other hand, involvement is not significantly correlated to behavior when that behavior results in private benefits to the individual. Finally, where there are initial capital costs and specialized knowledge required, the behavior is performed fairly infrequently by all groups but somewhat more frequently by high involvement groups.


Linda R. Stanley, Karen M. Lasonde, and John Weiss (1996) ,"The Relationship Between Environmental Issue Involvement and Environmentally-Conscious Behavior: an Exploratory Study", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, eds. Kim P. Corfman and John G. Lynch Jr., Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 183-188.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, 1996      Pages 183-188


Linda R. Stanley, Colorado State University

Karen M. Lasonde, Colorado State University

John Weiss, Colorado State University


The effect of environmental issue involvement on both overall and specific types of environmentally-conscious behavior, including consumer behavior, is examined. Where information is easily gathered and there is not an initial capital investment, involvement and behavior are significantly correlated. On the other hand, involvement is not significantly correlated to behavior when that behavior results in private benefits to the individual. Finally, where there are initial capital costs and specialized knowledge required, the behavior is performed fairly infrequently by all groups but somewhat more frequently by high involvement groups.

The 1990s are being called the decade of the environment, and consumer interest in the environment appears to be high. According to Wasik (1992), most open-ended surveys find that 70-90% of consumers are willing to do their part for the environment; 50% have claimed they would make green purchases. Producers of consumer goods are responding to this demand. The Marketing Intelligence Service reports that between 1985 and 1990, over 700 "green" products were introducedCa rate 20 times higher than all other regular product introductions, and 20% of all new household items in 1990 boasted they were environmentally friendly (Schorsch 1990).

Although environmental issues are just now becoming an important aspect in business decision making, environmental issues have appeared in the marketing literature since the early 1970s. The literature during that time included examining concern for the causes of air pollution (Kassarjian 1971), the use of non-phosphate detergents (Kinnear and Taylor 1973), and consumption activities (Webster 1975). [For a more complete list of environmental marketing references see Lasonde (1994).] During the early 1980s, conservation behaviors of consumers became a focus. Research during this time covered such areas as the motivations for everyday conservation behaviors (De Young 1985-1986), the personal satisfactions derived from conservation activities (De Young 1986), the determinants of ecologically responsible consumption patterns (Balderjahn 1988), the characteristics of participants engaged in conservation behaviors (Granzin and Olsen 1991), and the types of conservation behaviors in which consumers can engage (Ritchie and McDougall 1985).

Research interest in environmental consumption behavior seemed to wane especially in the mid to late 1980s, but a resurgence of marketing and consumer behavior interest in environmental issues has recently occurred. The Journal of Public Policy and Marketing devoted a special issue in Fall 1991 to environmental issues with a broad variety of topics explored. Additional research in the 1990s on environmental marketing issues includes measuring environmental consciousness (Burnett, Bacon, and Hutton 1993, Troy 1993), measuring the effects of moderating variables on environmental buying behavior (Moore 1993) and scale development to measure such things as consumers' attitudes toward the environment (Rolston and di Benedetto 1994) and the "green gap" between an ideal green product and what is available (Michael and Smith 1993).


Overall, the environmental marketing literature has not provided either consistent results concerning relationships between variables or effective segmentation schemes. Little is still known about who engages in what types of environmental behavior and for what reasons. One reason why this might be true is because many of these studies have researched particular types of environmental behaviors, such as purchasing laundry detergents, recycling, disposing of garbage, and voting. Even where more general measures of environmental consciousness have been developed and used, the research still focused on product buying behavior of individuals.

However, there are many environmental behaviors that an individual may choose to engage in; buying environmentally is only one of them. Some individuals will choose to engage in as many environmental behaviors as they have the opportunity to; some will choose several behaviors to perform, one possibly being "green" buying; others will choose to perform no environmental behaviors. Most environmental behaviors take some investment at least initially in time, money and/or physical and mental effort. For example, buying "green" products may cost more; recycling takes time; and in general, most environmental behaviors are at least perceived to be more expensive and to take more time. Therefore, even individuals who appear to have positive attitudes toward the environment or environmental behaviors may not engage in specific environmental behaviors since they may be choosing a portfolio of behaviors based on perceived benefits and costs. This suggests that it may be appropriate to study a broad range of environmental behaviors to gain further understanding into these behaviors. If individuals choose from a portfolio of environmental behaviors, then different types of environmental behaviors will show different relationships to variables that are likely to impact individuals' ability and motivation to evaluate the costs and benefits and actually perform the behavior.

In this paper, we develop a broad scale of environmental behavior that encompasses many different types of behaviors, including purchase, consumption, and disposal. We then test whether the types of behaviors measured by the scale are differentially related to a variable that is likely to impact the evaluation of costs and benefits. We chose involvement in environmental issues as this variable. First, we would expect that an overall measure of environmental behavior would be positively related to involvement in environmental issues. [Although a clear consensus has yet to be reached in completely defining the meaning of the involvement construct, most researchers agree that the level of involvement can be understood by the degree of personal relevance or importance that a decision or issue holds in the mind of the consumer (Park and Young 1986, Celsi and Olson 1988). Therefore, it can be expected that high issue related relevance should lead to formation of beliefs and then attitudes which are more likely to be acted upon than low issue related relevance.] But more importantly involvement is likely to impact individual's perceptions of the costs and benefits of behaving in an environmentally-conscious manner because of the key role that information plays in evaluating and performing environmental behavior.

An evaluation of perceived benefits and costs will be, in part, dependent upon an individual's knowledge about the true costs and benefits of the behavior. Through information processing individuals learn about opportunities to behave environmentally and then evaluate these opportunities. Those more involved with environmental issues may be more likely to evaluate the true merits of any particular behavior, and therefore, may engage in a different set of environmental behaviors than those who are less involved in environmental issues.

Actually performing a behavior often requires that an individual at least initially invest in information search and processing to gain the task knowledge necessary to carry through the intention. Those who are more highly involved in environmental issues may be more likely to engage in those behaviors that require some sort of specialized knowledge or where barriers to action are information based. An individual may have an attitude that recycling is good, but if they do not believe that environmental issues are important or personally relevant then they are less likely to seek the information that will be required in order to engage in recycling. [The importance of information is seen in a study by De Young (1989) that examined the difference between recyclers and non-recyclers. His results suggested that recyclers and non-recyclers were similar in their pro-recycling attitudes, extrinsic motivation, and the degree to which they viewed recycling as a trivial motivation, and the degree to which they viewed recycling as a trivial activity. They differed significantly, however, in the degree to which they required additional information about recycling.]


Because this study is exploratory in nature, a convenience sample of approximately 400 Principles of Marketing students was used. Nonprobability sampling of college students produced a relatively homogenous sample that allows exploratory research to reveal a more general theoretical understanding (Calder, Phillips, and Tybout 1981).

Survey Instrument

The first section utilized the 20-item Personal Involvement Inventory (PII) developed by Zaichkowsky (1985). Respondents' levels of involvement in environmental issues were measured by asking them "to judge concern for environmental issues such as solid waste, resource depletion, air/water pollution, chemical additives and harm to nature". These five environmental issues were taken from Troy (1993) as the five dimensions that define the construct of consumer environmental consciousness. Much research on environmental consciousness has focused on very specific environmental concerns, such as packaging and recycling, but this study required a comprehensive definition of consumer environmental consciousness such as that proposed by Troy (1993). In order to measure respondents' involvement with the construct of environmental consciousness, the five issues were listed on the top of the involvement scale to ensure that each respondent was rating their involvement based on the same definition. [This section of the survey was pretested in two different forms. One form listed the five environmental issues at the top of a single involvement scale. The second form had five individual involvement scales with a single environmental issue at the top of each scale. The pretest showed that the "high profile" environmental issues, such as air/water pollution, were highly skewed towards high involvement. This shows that the individual involvement scales were capturing small elements of involvement with certain environmental issues. However, for this study, a more general measure of involvement with environmental consciousness, as defined by all five issues together, was needed.]

The purpose of the second section of the survey was to measure a broad range of respondents' environmental behaviors. We did not find an already developed scale because available scales were either borrowed from other disciplines, outdated in comparison to environmental behavior today, or focused on environmental products or on a specific environmental behavior.

To develop a scale to measure environmental behavior, Churchill's (1979) paradigm for developing better measures was used. A list of 46 questions was developed and pretested. Table 1 lists the environmental behaviors (in shortened form). The questions came from the five areas that define environmental consciousness, as well as three dimensions of behaviorCpurchase, consumption and disposal. A workbook, A Global Action Workbook, that describes a comprehensive action plan for households wishing to behave environmentally was also used to ensure that the set of environmental behavior items was exhaustive. The questions, placed on a 7-point Likert scale, asked respondents how often they perform a variety of environmental behaviors. Respondents were given benchmarks for each number on the scale, e.g. 1=never, 2=almost never, 3=occasionally, 4=half the time, ... 7=always. [The environmental behavior scale was pretested on a sample of 87. Reliability analysis produced a coefficient alpha of .86, which shows good internal consistency (Churchill 1979). Many of the questions were edited further because of questions raised by respondents while the survey was being given. The frequency distributions from the pretest statistics showed that answers to some questions were skewed to one side of the scale or the other, while others were more normally distributed. This reveals that the questions ask about a variety of environmental behaviors ranging from those that are commonly performed to those that are only performed by a few. Also included among the environmental behavior questions were three social desirability question. A common problem often mentioned in the environmental literature is respondents over-reporting their environmental behavior because acting environmentally is the socially desirable thing to do (Crowne and Marlowe 1964). if survey respondents in this study demonstrate a social-desirability response set it may not be possible to conclude anything from their survey responses because they are not true responses.]


The final survey yielded 301 usable responses. Responses were considered unusable is they were incomplete. Summary statistics and frequency distributions were calculated for each of the 20 items on the involvement scale. Items were scored 1 for low involvement and 7 for high involvement. Means for the 20 items range between 4.53 and 6.16, and standard deviations are all less than 1.60. Reliability analysis on the involvement scale yielded a Cronbach's alpha of .95. This is consistent with Zaichkowsky's (1985) alphas of .95 to .97 for the same scale measuring involvement with four products.

An overall distribution of respondents' involvement with environmental issues was tabulated by summing each respondent's answers for the 20 items into a new variable called INVOLVE. Totaling the 20 items gives a score that can range from 20 to 140. The actual sample range was 23 to 140; 14 respondents had scores of 140. The frequency distribution for INVOLVE is skewed to the right with a mean of 111, showing that the respondents are highly involved with environmental issues.





Environmental Behavior Scale

Means and standard deviations for each of the 46 items on the environmental behavior scale are presented in Table 1. The 7-point Likert scale was coded 1 for a response of "Never" and 7 for a response of "Always". The means for the environmental behavior questions ranged from 1.57 for installing toilet dams to 6.00 for avoiding pouring oil and toxics down the drain. These means suggest that the scale includes a diversity of behaviors that range from those that are rarely performed to those that are frequently performed. [The statistics for the social desirability questions showed no evidence of social desirability bias.] The results of the reliability analysis on the environmental behavior scale yielded a Cronbach's alpha of .90, showing high internal consistency of the scale. Deletion of any of the items did not alter the alpha by more than .01.

The environmental behavior items were factor analyzed using principal components analysis, varimax rotation for factor extraction and mean substitution for missing values. To obtain a reasonable and interpretable number of factors, factor solutions were attempted by forcing a specified number of factors to be extracted. A six-factor solution was determined to best fit the data because of the factors' interpretability and the summary statistics.

The exploratory nature of this study enables us to retain items that may provide good information, even though the statistics do not look as strong as would be desired. However, items were eliminated for the following reasons: a factor loading less than .35, low item to total correlation, or poor fit logically into a factor. This reduced the original number of 46 environmental behavior items by 9 and left 37 items. [Turning down the thermostat on your water heater, was moved from factor 1, purchase behaviors, to factor 6, efficiency behaviors, because it loaded greater than .36 on both factors, but was a more logical fit into factor 6. Because this research is exploratory, it is more useful to try to determine the causes for multiple loadings, rather than eliminate items that contribute information.] The Eigenvalues ranged from 10.20 to 1.49, and 41.7 percent of the variance in the data was explained by the six factors. The six factors, with their corresponding items and the items' factor loadings are presented in column 3 of Table 1.

In creating the questions for the environmental behavior section of the survey, the activities of purchase, consumption, and disposal were used as the basis to define environmental behavior. Factor 1 reflects purchase behaviors; factor 2 reflects recycle/disposal behaviors. Factors 3 through 6 reflect consumption behaviors similar to those used by Ritchie and McDougall (1985), which they called curtailment, maintenance, and efficiency. Factor 3, maintenance behaviors, are behaviors that ensure equipment is working properly, such as keeping the tires on your car inflated and keeping your engine tuned. Factor 4, curtailment behaviors, are behaviors that show reduced living patterns, such as using less heat, air conditioning, and water. Factor 5, transportation/curtailment behaviors, shows changes in transportation use, such as avoiding driving on high pollution days. And finally, factor 6, efficiency behaviors, are one-time, structural modifications that consumers are engaging in, such as installing toilet dams.

The environmental behavior items were then summed in three ways: (1) the 37 remaining items were summed for each respondent into a variable called BEHAVE37, (2) all 46 environmental behavior items were summed for each respondent into a variable called BEHAVE46, and (3) the items in each of the six factors were summed for each respondent into variables called PURCHASE, RECYCLE, MAINTAIN, CURTAIL, TRANSPORT, and EFFICIENT. Summary statistics for these new variables are in columns 1 and 2 of Table 2. Note that the mean responses for all but one of the summed behavior variables are less than 4.42, suggesting that the mean respondent performs these behaviors less than half the time.


INVOLVE was correlated with each of the summed behavior variables. These correlations appear in column 3 of Table 2. The correlations of INVOLVE with the overall behavioral variables, BEHAVE37 and BEHAVE46, are .39 and .42, respectively. These are significantly different from zero at r<.000 and relatively high, especially for the early stages of research. The correlations of INVOLVE with each of the six variables representing the different factors range from .10 to .38. The factor, PURCHASE, had the highest correlation with INVOLVE (.376); RECYCLE had the next highest correlation (.325); CURTAIL had the third highest correlation (.315). The only correlation (.096) not significantly different from zero was for the factor, MAINTAIN.



Respondents were categorized into three involvement groups, indicative of low involvement, medium involvement, and high involvement according to Zaichkowsky (1985). [Subjects whose involvement scores fell into the bottom 25 percent of the overall distribution were classified as having low involvement with the product. Subjects whose scores fell into the middle 50 percent were classified as having medium involvement, and subjects whose involvement scores were in the top 25 percent were classified as having high involvement.] Behavior means were calculated for each involvement group across all behavior variables. These results are in Table 3. Analyses of variance showed a significant difference among the behavior means at the three different levels of involvement for each behavior variable. T-tests were used to compare the behavior mean for one level of involvement with the behavior mean for another level of involvement. It was found that the means for different levels of involvement were significantly different except for TRANSPORT at medium and high involvement (r<.06), EFFICIENT at medium and high involvement (r<.11), EFFICIENT at low and medium involvement (r<.19), and MAINTAIN at low and medium involvement (r<.866). The largest percentage difference between behavior means at low and high involvement were for RECYCLE (30.4%) and PURCHASE (28.6%) while the smallest percentage difference was for MAINTAIN (12.7%).


The distribution of respondents' scores of their involvement with environmental issues shows that most individuals in this sample are relatively highly involved. This is probably to be expected since this is a student group. University students tend to more aware of environmental issues because they are more exposed to them. For example, the student newspaper often carries articles of an environmental nature, there are environmental student groups that hand out information on campus, and students are required to take a pre-approved environmental course before graduating. This finding is also consistent with research that has found younger persons hold greater attitudinal concern for environmental issues (for example, see Buttel and Flinn 1978).

On the other hand, the mean responses for all but one of the summed behavior variables were less than the midpoint of the scale, suggesting that the mean respondent only performs these sets of behaviors less than half of the time. The highest mean response was for the factor, CURTAIL; the mean respondent performed these behaviors over half of the time. This may reflect, in part, the cost savings that immediately accrue to an individual who performs these behaviors. The mean respondent also performed the sets of behaviors in RECYCLE and MAINTAIN about half the time. The survey city has a city-wide curbside recycling program and the university has recycling bins for newspaper and aluminum all over campus and recycling bins for other items at the student center, making these behaviors relatively easy. On the other hand, some of the behaviors in MAINTAIN are done not just for environmental reasons, but to save money in the long-run, for example, keeping a car tuned up or installing weatherstripping. These things may help explain the relatively high mean response for MAINTAIN. The mean respondent performed the sets of behaviors in PURCHASE and TRANSPORT occasionally (less than half of the time), which may indicate their relative inconvenience, often higher cost, and lack of availability. Finally, the set of behaviors in EFFICIENT was performed, on average, almost never. These behaviors represent investments by the individual and some are likely to be difficult for renters, 83.8% of the sample.

The correlations show that involvement with environmental issues is significantly related to overall environmental behaviors. In addition, it is correlated to some but not all individual sets of behaviors. These results are also borne out by the significant differences between the behavior means at the three different levels of involvement. Involvement with environmental issues appears to have the greatest effect on purchase behaviors and recycle behaviors and minimal effect on maintenance behaviors. For the overall behavior variables, BEHAVE37 and BEHAVE46, the difference between the high involvement group's and the low involvement group's behavioral means is 1, which although is a significant difference is not overwhelmingly large.

The variables with the greatest difference in behavioral means between high and low involvement individuals, RECYCLE and PURCHASE, are both variables that have little economic benefit in performing them (and may actually have an economic cost). In addition, they do require some information about how to perform them. This information often comes in the guise of what can be done to benefit the environment and is often fairly accessible. On the other hand, the variable with the least difference, MAINTAIN, is likely to have economic and other private benefits in performing the behaviors associated with it. In addition, the information required to perform these behaviors is often not associated with environmental issues at all. EFFICIENT also had a relatively low correlation with involvement and relatively low means across the three involvement levels. Behaviors within this factor often require very specialized knowledge to perform and an initial expenditure that respondents may be unwilling to pay (in exchange for costs savings that will accrue over time). This would be especially true for this sample because of the large number of renters.


Where information is more easily gathered and is associated with environmental issues and where there is not an initial capital investment associated with the behavior, involvement and behavior appear to be significantly correlated. On the other hand, involvement does not appear to be significantly correlated to behavior when that behavior results in significant private benefits to the individual. Finally, where there are initial capital costs and specialized knowledge required, the behavior is performed fairly infrequently by all groups but somewhat more frequently by high involvement groups.

If information is a key variable in the performance of environmental behaviors, then how the consumer attends to this information will be relevant to understanding how and why a consumer makes environmental behavior decisions. Some have argued that many consumer decisions do not involve extensive search for information or a comprehensive evaluation of choice alternatives (Olshavsky and Granbois 1979). That is, low involvement decisions are made differently than those that are higher in involvement. Others have suggested that high involvement with consumer decisions will lead the consumer to search for more information and spend more time and effort making an appropriate choice (Clarke and Belk 1978). If this is the case, an appraisal of the consumer's level of involvement with environmental issues may tell us what sort of search and evaluation patterns we can expect from consumers with different levels of involvement.


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Linda R. Stanley, Colorado State University
Karen M. Lasonde, Colorado State University
John Weiss, Colorado State University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23 | 1996

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