Meeting environmental challenges: the role of human identity

January 2009
Tom Crompton and Tim Kasser for WWF-UK

As our knowledge and experience of the immense social, environmental and economic crises worldwide continues to grow, we are beginning to recognise the gulf between what needs to be done in order to protect life on our planet, and what is currently being done by the environmental movement. Despite massive steps forward, often against huge odds, the authors of this report argue that the main strategies pursued by environmental campaigners are not enough to truly achieve systemic and durable change. Tom Crompton, founder of Common Cause, and the internationally renowned social psychologist, Tim Kasser, examine particular aspects of human identity and how they are associated with environmental problems, before identifying strategies to mitigate the extent to which these aspects are encouraged in our culture, and how alternative aspects of our nature could be promoted and celebrated.

this if...

  • You want to bring a deeper understanding of human psychology to your environmental campaigning or communications.
  • You find yourself feeling frustrated with the lack of progress towards solving the huge challenges of our time - be they social or environmental.
  • You wish to step back and reflect on the current strategies most widely employed by the environmental movement in seeking change

Key Takeaways

  1. The extent to which someone prioritises values such as money, power, status and image, suggests how likely they are to hold negative or positive attitudes towards the environment, as well as the likelihood that they will engage in pro-environmental behaviours.
  2. Some campaign tactics employed by environmental organisations may inadvertently reinforce the values which are environmentally problematic and so exacerbate environmental problems in the longer term.
  3. The values that are environmentally problematic are often supported or encouraged by the broader social context in which we live.
  4. Environmental organisations would be well served to adopt strategies to try and address or ‘disable’ the particular parts of society that encourage extrinsic values, and instead promote intrinsic values which are more environmentally beneficial. 

Toolkit resources

Why fundraise?

Is there a way to fundraise without being in direct competition with other charities?

Do you feel like a fraud?

Are your communications engaging people as citizens or consumers?

Free gifts and supporter journeys

Exploring some of the challenges posed by the pressures of short-term fundraising

Reasons to volunteer

Reflecting on intrinsic motivations to volunteer

Value surveys and maps

More information on the two values surveys that Common Cause draws on in its work

Material tested in our experiments

Further information on the texts used in the study with WWF and Scope

Summary of published research

A summary of results from research into priming values

Other resources
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Common Cause: The Case for Working with our Cultural Values

Weathercocks and signposts: the environment movement at a crossroads

Where now for the environment movement? weathercocks and signposts ten years on

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