Third sector organisations' role in pro-environmental behaviour change

Working paper 81 (May 2012)

Third sector organisations’ role in pro-environmental behaviour change – a review of the literature and evidence

A range of actors, including government, third sector organisations (TSOs) and academics, have claimed recently that third sector organisations can play an important role in supporting people to adopt pro-environmental behaviour. These claims often refer to TSOs’ potential to innovate, their proximity to citizens and their trustworthiness, as well as the role of collective action and small-group interventions.

This paper reviews these claims and examines the evidence on the role of TSOs in pro-environmental behaviour change. We find that there is indeed some evidence that participation in environmental third sector initiatives can facilitate change in people’s day to day lives, particularly when it comes to ‘low hanging fruits’ such as increasing recycling or switching off appliances. TSOs’ have been successful at changing behaviour within local, small group settings, as well as in providing alternative infrastructures - such as sustainable housing projects, community farms, food or renewable energy co-operatives – that enable behaviour change.

However, the review also identifies a range of challenges that TSOs experience in their work, including engaging the broader public around climate change or other environmental issues, scaling up practice change to a wider audience, and a lack of resources to sustain successful initiatives.

We argue that there is a need for further discussion on a range of issues related to empirical research in this area, including the methodological challenges of examining behaviour change and the more differentiated assessments that take organisational form, nature of intervention and type of targeted behaviour into account.

Research contacts:

Milena Büchs, Rebecca Edwards and Graham Smith