Workplace Pro-environmental Behaviour Campaigns– which messages stick?


Do the pro-environmental behaviour messages and programmes undertaken by business influence the actions of their staff-members in other contexts? Do pro-environmental messages stick to the place or the person?

These were the knowledge gaps investigated in a 6-month pilot project undertaken in partnership by an interdisciplinary team of researchers from the University of York, Abertay University, and artists from York and Dundee. The project was funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) as part of the Connected Communities programme.

Initial meetings included group and individual creative diagramming, which were followed up by longitudinal engagement with participants. Cultural probe prompts for ongoing responses and reactions to our questions were utilised. Participants were encouraged to produce travel maps, photos, diaries and to send us postcards and mobile phone messages through the creative prompts. In response we received a wealth of rich data, including links to songs on recycling, collages, poems, and images. We analysed these using network diagrams, Venn diagramming, and wordles and text analysis of themes to unpack the information in relation to our research questions.

Community artists in York and Dundee used raw materials from the prompts, analysis visualisations, and creative engagement events as inspiration for the development of art installations to communicate our findings in a different format. These will be exhibited in York by the City Council in relation to the Tour de France Grand Depart and in Dundee linked to the Abertay University’s ‘Curate the Campus’ initiative.

Our mixed methods approach encouraged long term engagement from participants and allowed us to tap into rich information on behaviour. Key findings from this pilot indicated that participants receive a distinct subset of pro-environmental messages from work. For example, in local and national government and elsewhere employers stress energy saving, recycling and sustainable transport – things that would save the business money or infrastructure. However, people typically undertook more pro-environmental actions at home than at work. This was partly down to participants having more control and sense of empowerment at home, linked to greater motivation for direct personal benefit, through saving money or reducing the use of resources.

Our approach revealed depth, subtlety and complexity in the enablers and barriers to undertaking pro-environmental actions. Our findings also showed that some workplace initiatives have the power to influence behaviour in other contexts – the simplest example included cycle to work schemes leading to sustainable travel being undertaken more regularly for non-work related journeys.

The findings highlight how many of our participants would like to do more for the environment at work but need support from their employers in order to do so. Our findings indicate the need for employers to stress wider benefits of pro-environmental actions in the workplace, such as protecting wildlife or saving resources for the next generation. They also need to empower staff to undertake more actions in relation to workplace pro-environmental behaviour messages, supporting their initiatives when feasible. Providing clear policies and supporting and motivating staff with effective infrastructure, for example providing easily accessible recycling bins or workplace utility statements highlighting energy savings, can also encourage workers to bring the pro-environmental behaviours that they already undertake at home into the workplace. This could bring clear benefits for business, for workers, and long-term environmental sustainability.

The project website describes our mixed-methods approach, the initial findings generated by our research and contains a wealth of imagery, videos and comments.

Steve Cinderby