Motivation and emotion/Book/2022/Environmental volunteering motivation

Environmental volunteering motivation:
What motivates environmental volunteering?


Figure 1. Environmental volunteers.

Environmental volunteering is important as if people are not motivated to participate in environmental volunteering, the environment will continue to deteriorate at a rapid rate (Adamo et al., 2021). This chapter will discuss environmental volunteering and the what, why and how people can be motivated to volunteer. This book chapter will be focusing on two key pro-environmental motivators and they are personal norms and subjective norms. Personal norms using underlying theory of the norm activation model (NAM) and subjective norms using extrinsic motivation and value-belief-norms theory (VBN). These theories and concepts can be applied to individuals, groups and communities by using targeted motivational techniques. By understanding motivational theory, individuals, groups or organisations can better approach people to encourage pro-environmental behaviour. Furthermore, environmental volunteering has co-benefits of social connectivity and health promotion in which can be used as techniques to appeal to people and also help motivate them (the target audience) to participate in environmental volunteering.

Focus questions:

  • What is environmental volunteering?
  • Why is environmental volunteering important?
  • What motivates environmental volunteering?
  • What benefits are there to environmental volunteering?

Environmental volunteeringEdit

[Provide more detail]

What is environmental volunteering?Edit

Volunteering is the act of choosing to participate in unpaid work for a movement, group or organisation and environmental volunteering refers to the action of volunteering for an environmentally focused cause to help maintain and safeguard the environment[factual?]. There are two key types of volunteering and they are formal and informal, both in which are unpaid work. Formal volunteering can be described as contributing help to an organisation whereas informal volunteering is often described as just “helping out” someone typically of closer acquaintance (e.g., picking up rubbish from your neighbour's yard) (Wilson & Musick, 1997; Rochester, 2006).

Why is environmental volunteering important?Edit

A healthy, sustainable environment is fundamental for humans and all living species to survive. According to Adamo et al. (2021) the majority of environmental hazards, damages and problems which have occured humans have been responsible for. This includes the primary contribution to pollution, greenhouse gases, and deforestation which are major causes of global warming, climate change and the expanding hole in the earth’s ozone layer and this has a significant impact on wildlife, humans and the ecosystem. Environmental volunteering overall promotes social connectivity and health and it is further important for nature conservation and increasing environmental knowledge (Sloane & Pröbstl-Haider, 2019).

Pro-environmental behaviours and examplesEdit

Pro-environmental behaviours are actions an individual can make to contribute towards safeguarding the environment or reducing environmental harm and they may be private or public actions (Balunde et al., 2019). Examples of pro-environmental behaviours include recycling, composting, reducing waste and electricity consumption or participation/volunteering in environmental movements. Environmental volunteering also involves participating in actions which benefit the environment and therefore, pro-environmental behaviours are reflected within the core of environmental volunteering.[factual?]

How to motivate environmental volunteeringEdit

It is important to understand the underlying theories and concepts of motivation such as personal norms, norm activation model, subjective norms and extrinsic motivation and value-belief-norm theory. Identifying the motivations of environmental volunteering is helpful as organisations, groups or individuals can consider how to best interact and develop appropriate programs to be able to better increase the number of volunteers recruited and retaining volunteers over time (Bruyere & Rappe, 2007).

Personal normsEdit

Figure 2. Norm activation model.

Personal norms are feelings which motivate a person's intentions and behaviours and can be used to encourage environmentally friendly behaviour and volunteering (Schwartz & Howard, 1981). The norm activation model (NAM) shown in Figure 2 explains that pro-environmental and altruistic behaviour is an associated reaction from three key components including ascription of responsibility (AR), adverse consequence (AC) and personal norms (PN) (Schwartz, 1977).

For example: Gary cares about living in a healthy environment and future. Gary see’s[grammar?] an advertisement from a pro-environmental organisation looking for environmental volunteers. The advertisement stated, ‘Your ecosystem and local wildlife is suffering from litter! Can you help us preserve the environment?’ and used personal norms to encourage environmental volunteering. See the table below presenting how this fits in with the NAM.

AC AR PN Prosocial intentions and behaviour
Not picking up litter will damage the ecosystem and harm wildlife. Some people have been littering. Gary wants to Preserve the ecosystem and protect wildlife. Gary's intention is to help preserve the ecosystem and protect wildlife by picking up litter.

A study conducted by Jansson & Dorrepaal (2015) investigated whether personal norms, problem awareness and social norms were connected and how the factors attributed towards personal climate change norms. Jansson & Dorrepaal (2015) found that personal climate change norms are significantly influenced by problem awareness and social norms which suggests they are important factors for the engagement of prosocial/environmental behaviour to occur. Moreover, results demonstrated that moral attributes of care, fairness and authority are key elements with the norms for climate change. Limitations identified in the study include the potential of participants' responses having self-selection bias and due to the study design being cross-sectional and correlational, results/conclusions can only demonstrate correlation. Overall, the findings of this study demonstrate the importance of two key attributes (problem awareness and social norms) which can be used as strategies to increase ecological behaviour particularly towards climate change and can be related to further environmental issues. For example, an organisation wants volunteers to plant trees to help reduce global warming. To promote personal norms they use the techniques of increasing awareness of the impacts of deforestation through targeted campaigns and additionally, they create a social norm by mentioning the large number of previous and current volunteers.

Figure 3. Intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation.

Subjective normsEdit

People's behaviour towards the environment can also be influenced by subjective norms or people who are the closest to them. Some of whom according to are peers, family, teachers parents and local communities[grammar?] (Law et al., 2013). Furthermore, subjective norms are extrinsic factors that constitute the rules or standards which tell members of a group or society how to behave based on values-belief-norms theory (VBN) (Stern, 2000). VBN theory of environmentalism explains that values, beliefs and norms impact environmentally friendly behaviour (Stern, 2000). Extrinsic norms in particular can be applied to influence someone’s participation in volunteering and thus, pro-environmental behaviour is influenced by the social roles and requirements of social environments and culture. According to past research, adolescents are more likely to volunteer if their best friend and parents volunteer (Van Goethem et al., 2014). The influence of parents on volunteering is greater than that of friends (Smentana, 2006). In addition to reinforcing social norms and informing individuals regarding their perceptions, effectiveness and behaviours, social support and role models can also promote pro-environmental activities such as environmental volunteering.


Choose the correct answers and click "Submit":

1 Environmental volunteering does not help to safeguard or maintain the environment:


2 Extrinsic motivation is doing something because you want to with no external pressure:


3 Both personal norms and subjective norms can motivate environmental volunteering:


Benefits of environmental volunteeringEdit

Figure 4. Social connectivity promotes teamwork.

Environmental volunteering not only benefits the environment however there are many co-benefits such as social connectivity and health promotion in which benefit people on an individual level, group or community level as well as future generations.

Social connectivityEdit

Environmental volunteering promotes social connectivity (Seymour et al., 2020). This can be observed as volunteers typically work in a small or large groups where they can connect with new people and create new friends as they work together to help the environment.

Health promotionEdit

Spending time in nature can co-benefit the environment as well as people's physical and mental health (patrick et al., 2022). For example, an individual participates in environmental volunteering where they walk through nature for a few hours on a sunny day picking up litter. In this example, the individual exercise has been undertaken, vitamin D from the sun has been received and the individual feels a rewarding feeling making them happy.


Environmental volunteering involves people choosing to do unpaid work which benefits the environment and is important for creating a sustainable, safe environment for current and future generations. Key underlying theories of what motivates environmental volunteering includes the norm activation model, moral framework theory and value-belief-norm theory. Environmental volunteering can be motivated by both personal and social norms which can lead towards positive effects on the environment, social connectivity and mental and physical health.

  Safeguarding and maintaining the environment is crucial for human survival and has personal and external benefits.

Take home reflection question

Have you previously or are you currently engaging in pro-environmental behaviours and/or environmental volunteering? If not, consider how you motivate yourself or someone else to engage in these behaviours.

See alsoEdit


Adamo, A. N., & Sissakian, V. (2021). Review of Climate Change Impacts on Human Environment: Past, Present and Future Projections. "Engineering, 13"(11), pp. 605–.

Balunde, A., Perlaviciute, G., & Steg, L. (2019). The relationship between people’s environmental considerations and pro-environmental behaviour in Lithuania. "Frontiers in Psychology".

Bruyere, B., & Rappe, S. (2007). Identifying the motivations of environmental volunteers. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 50(4), pp. 503-516.

Güntert, S. T., Strubel, I. T., Kals, E., & Wehner, T. (2016). The quality of volunteers’ motives: Integrating the functional approach and self-determination theory. The Journal of Social Psychology, 156(3), pp. 310–327.

Jansson, J. & Dorrepaal, E. (2015). Personal Norms for Dealing with Climate Change: Results from a Survey using Moral Foundations Theory. "Sustainable Development, 23"(6), pp. 381-395.

Law, B. M. F., Shek, D. T. L., & Ma, C. M. S. (2013). Validation of Family, School, and Peer Influence on Volunteerism Scale among Adolescents. "Research on Social Work Practice, 23", pp. 458-466.

Oudeyers, P., & Kaplan, F. (2009). What is intrinsic motivation? A typology of computational approaches. Frontiers in Neurorobotics.[Volume?]

Patrick, Henderson‐Wilson, C., Ebden, M., & Smith, J. (2022). Exploring the co-benefits of environmental volunteering for human and planetary health promotion. Health Promotion Journal of Australia, 33(1), pp. 57–67.

Rochester, C. (2006). Making sense of volunteering. "The Commission of the Future of Volunteering", 1-39.

Schwartz, S. H. (1977). Normative Influence on Altruism. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (pp. 221-279). "Academic Press".

Schwartz, S. H. & Howard, J. A. (1981). A Normative Decision-Making Model of Altruism. In: P. J. Rushton & R. M. Sorrentino (Eds.), "Altruism and Helping Behavior: Social, Personality, and Developmental Perspectives" (pp. 189-211). Lawrence Erlbaum.

Seymour, V., King, M., & Antonaci, R. (2020). Exploring those characteristics which may help to foster and support people’s social-ecological resilience: an environmental volunteering case study. Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, 10(4), pp. 438–456.

Sloane, G., & Pröbstl-Haider, U. (2019). Motivation for environmental volunteering - A comparison between Austria and Great Britain. Journal of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism, 25, pp. 158–168.

Smetana, J. G., Campione-Barr, N., & Metzger, A. (2006). Adolescent Development in Interpersonal and Societal Contexts. "Annual Review of Psychology, 57", pp. 255-284.

Stern, P. C. (2000). Toward a Coherent Theory of Environmentally Significant Behavior. "Journal of Social Issues, 56", pp. 407-424.

Udo, G., Bagchi, K. & Maity, M. (2016). Exploring Factors Affecting Digital Piracy Using the Norm Activation and UTAUT Models: The Role of National Culture. "J Bus Ethics, 135", pp. 517–541.

Van Goethem, A. A. J., Van Hoof, A., Van Aken, M. A. G., De Castro, B. O., & Raaijmakers, Q. A. W. (2014). Socialising Adolescent Volunteering: How Important Are Parents and Friends? Age Dependent Effects of Parents and Friends on Adolescents’ Volunteering Behaviours. "Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 35", pp. 94-101.

Wilson, J., & Musick, M. (1997). Who cares? Toward an integrated theory of volunteer work. "American Sociological Review, 62", 694-713.

External linksEdit