Eco-responsible Behavior: Where Are We? Part II

By Virginie Francoeur, Ph.D.

The forests lead the people, the deserts follow them – François-René de Chateaubriand.

On a planetary scale, the health and subsistence of our human population rest firmly on the viability of our ecosystems. Globalization has weakened our natural environment.

 The biggest causes of this degradation are anthropic – in other words, provoked by humans. Research on human behavior and activity has to be carried out given the overexploitation of our natural resources, the increase in atmospheric pollution and the growth of our carbon footprint.

The Ecology of Work     

A lot of progress has been made in the last few years in studying ecological behavior in the workplace. It is interesting to note, based on government statistics, that the impact of the non-domestic sector (for example, services, the public sector and industry) is much greater than that of the residential sector.

Paradoxically, the non-domestic sector, as a milieu for research and investigation, continues to be largely neglected when compared to the residential milieu. The pertinence of studying workplaces can be explained by the obstacles to the adoption of eco-responsible practices, which aren’t the same as they are in the residential sector. This poses major additional challenges.

For many years, research has established that individuals are susceptible to acting differently depending on the context in which they find themselves. Common explanations often involve economic reasons. For example, in the workplace, energy bills are usually paid by the employer and not by the employees, who may be much more frugal at home.

Research has also shown that it’s not enough to put into place organizational practices to get employees involved in “ecologization”. In effect, even if policies and practices of environmental management are a necessary condition for inducing ecologically viable practices among employees, they aren’t sufficient to get employees to follow the desired behavior. Said otherwise, the presence of an environmental policy doesn’t systematically mean that individuals will follow that policy, or change their work habits.

Let’s Mobilize

The mobilization of a majority of employees is crucial, since they’re on the front line. Using their knowledge is essential if we are to practice the adequate use of resources to preserve our ecosystems. Supervisors, guarantors of quality of life at work, also have an important role to play in terms of support, training and awareness-raising when it comes to environmental management.

Recent studies on this behavioral perspective accent the importance of paying attention to individual behavior. Notably, employees should be induced into voluntarily adopting actions that are environmentally friendly. The need to stress these practices comes from that fact that today they represent an undeniable strategic imperative to assure the social legitimacy of organizations, reduce the costs related to environmental impacts, and respond to the new expectations of citizens.  The importance of changing workplace behavior is also explained by the fact that the biggest part of our life happens there. We work about 100,000 hours over the course of a normal lifespan. Organizations have to be part of the solution. However, some are tempted to adopt an environmental discourse based solely on marketing strategies just to polish their brand, without really caring about the well-being of the environment.

To reverse this tendency, it’s urgent that we ask what are the obstacles and the levers of change for an ecological transition in the workplace. How can we support employees in the adoption of eco-responsible behavior?

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