This was originally published on and is being shared for academic and community colleagues’ personal use only. It should not be distributed for any other purpose.

Insatiable human wants have motivated people to invent survival and adaptation strategies for centuries. Unfortunately, several of these strategies have harmed the immediate environment.

Consumer choices and corporate activities are increasingly causing environmental hazards and challenges. Environmental sustainability is intrinsically linked to the health of the global economy and human population.

This means that understanding the patterns, relationships, systems, and core causes of environmental hazards is now more critical than ever. Environmental education is a powerful instrument for preventing the escalating issues of the 21st century. Understanding and applying behavioral models and theories is one technique that can help achieve this goal.

Changing existing practices in organizations, services, and systems requires individual, and group behavior changes. To change behavior, one must first understand its context (Atkins et al., 2017). Behavioral theories explicitly define the structural and psychological mechanisms hypothesized to regulate behavior and behavior change, making them essential for examining implementation issues and informing implementation strategies.

Several behavioral change models have been developed over the last 40 years that identify individuals’ beliefs, attitudes, and values as determinants of behavior, according to Hargreaves (2011).

Pro-environmental behavior is defined as conscious acts taken by a person to reduce the negative influence of human activities on the environment or improve the environment’s quality (Jensen, 2002; Lee et al., 2013). As shown by Hargreaves (2011, p.81), “if only pro- or anti-environmental attitudes could be found and corrected, the models suggest, the behavior could be changed.”

As a result, behavioral models designed to change behavior concerning the environment must first identify the ideas, attitudes, and values that underpin illogical actions (motivations and intentions for such acts), considering the diverse demographics found in every community.

Understanding demographics’ behavior (motivations and intentions) is critical to establishing effective behavior modification strategies. Integration of various behavioral and environmental theories could be pretty beneficial in solving present environmental challenges. The models and theories discussed in this study include the following: Theory of Planned Behavior, Self-determination theory (SDT), and Social Cognitive Theory (SCT).

Theory of Planned Behavior
The Planned Behavior Theory (Ajzen, 2002, 2015) emphasizes intention to act and objective situational circumstance as direct causes of pro-environmental behavior. Action skills and knowledge of action strategies and issues are part of the intention (locus of control, attitudes, and personal responsibility).

The Planned Behavior Theory evolved from the Theory of Reasoned Action. It proposes that three belief constructions drive human behavior. The key tenet of the theory is that links between influences on behavior and their effects are recorded by one of the model’s components or relationships. This model is helpful in this study because it explains how information, attitude, behavioral intention, and actual behavior influence Pro-environmentalism.

Social and demographic factors such as socioeconomic status and values are assumed to affect attitudes and perceived behavioral control indirectly. For example, strengthened biospheric values may result in a favorable attitude towards cycling and a negative attitude towards driving, as these values focus on the environmental impact of actions. Rural residents may also be less likely than urban residents to take the bus due to poor public transportation services.

The TPB has successfully explained numerous environmental behaviors such as not driving, using unbleached paper, reducing meat consumption, and using energy-saving light bulbs (Bamberg and Schmidt 2003; Harland et al. 1999). Predictive factors included attitudes and perceived behavioral control. When combined with other motivational predictors, the TPB’s predictive power increases significantly. Personal norms, for example, predict pro-environmental intentions and behaviors beyond TPB factors (Bamberg and Schmidt 2003).

Self-determination theory (SDT)
Self-determination theory (SDT) is a theory of human motivation, development, and well-being based on research (Deci & Ryan, 2008). SDT focuses on essential issues like personality development, self-regulation, universal physiological needs, life goals and aspirations, energy and vitality, nonconscious processes, the relationship between culture and motivation, and the impact of the social environment on motivation and well-being (Deci & Ryan, 2008, pp.182). Díaz et al. (1990) say that when people internalize, they become more accessible and better control their behavior. This means that when someone internalizes their motivation, they can act on their own based on their motivations.

Moreover, when these internalized motivations are pro-environmental, like “do not liter,” a Pro-environmental behavior is born. They believe this promotes pro-environmental behavior and sustainable consumption of environmental resources. However, Osbaldiston & Sheldon (2003) argues that most human behaviors, including pro-environmental behaviors, are not intrinsically motivated. Hence, interventions to promote pro-environmental behavior should develop intrinsic and internalized motivations.

The internalization of behavior would significantly promote pro-environmental behavior and sustainable consumption of environmental resources. When used with TPB, SDT can promote self-determined motivation since the evidence is available (See Darner, 2009; Green-Demers et al., 1997; Séguin et al., 1999) indicates that a variety of pro-environmental behaviors correlate most highly with self-determined motivation. When pro-environmental behaviors become more externally regulated, they become less frequent; hence, SDT can reveal how certain values or norms can be internalized to promote Pro-environmentalism.

The whole idea of using SDT to promote pro-environmental behaviors is that “when people understand which behaviors are pro-environmental, why they should engage in those behaviors, and how to engage in those behaviors, they feel more competent about the environment and are more likely to engage in pro-environmental behaviors” (De Young, 2000).

Social Cognitive Theory Perspective
The social cognitive theory explains how people work, explained by a model of triadic reciprocity components (cognitive and other personal characteristics such as emotional moods and physical qualities, external environmental impacts, and overt conduct) that influence one another bi-directionally triadic reciprocal causation paradigm. The self-efficacy mechanism plays a big part in SCT. Bandura says that people act based on what they think they can do and how it will affect them (Bandura, 1982) (Internalized motivation).

The reciprocal interactions between personal factors, the environment, and behaviors do not work simultaneously. A sense that people will be successful when they reach their goals motivates them during the goal-setting process and affects how they make career decisions. In environmental psychology, self-efficacy is how someone thinks he or she can make a positive change in the environment.

If people do not think they can do something, no matter how good the reward is, they will not do it and will not keep going when things get complicated. A study by Bandura (1997) shows that people who do not believe they can do something are more likely to be dissatisfied with themselves and their work, making them less interested in a task. In environmental psychology, self-efficacy is how someone thinks he or she can make a positive change in the environment.

For example, Meinhold and Markus (2005) found that perceived self-efficacy was a good way to predict environmental behaviors. When SCT is used in environmental psychology, it says that people who have positive contextual conditions and high environmental self-efficacy judgments will have more outcome expectations and set more difficult goals, and they will also be more likely to do things that are good for the environment than people who do not think they can do that.


There is no best fit method to understand and cause behavior change. Hence, social scientists can use one or more behavior change techniques. Each technique is unique and offers various tools to understand or cause a behavior change to a particular demographic set. The TPB has been beneficial in environmental activism.

TPB assumes that behavior is the product of purpose. Having a good attitude towards the appropriate behavior, supporting subjective standards, and feeling in control of the behavior increases the likelihood of environmental intents and behaviors. TPB focuses on attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control (PBC) involved in decision-making, determining intention formation and behavioral enactment (Carfora et al., 2017).

Promoting pro-environmentalism using SCT is a brilliant idea! SCT predicts that people with high environmental self-efficacy will have greater expectations, set more ambitious goals, and do more for the environment than those who do not feel they can. SDT focuses on motivation and its impact on demographics (Deci & Ryan, 2008). In addition, the SDT explains how individuals might internalize environmental values.

SDT is crucial to both theories because it helps researchers internalize motivations and pro-environmental values in people. Internalization of behavior would considerably increase environmental stewardship and sustainable resource use. A combination of TPB and SDT or SCT and SDT might be utilised depending on the purpose of a pro environmental intervention.


  1. Ajzen, I. (2002). Perceived behavioral control, self-efficacy, locus of control, and the theory of planned behavior. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 32(4), 665–683.
  2. Ajzen, I. (2015). The theory of planned behaviour is alive and well, and not ready to retire: a commentary on Sniehotta, Presseau, and Araújo-Soares. Health Psychology Review, 9(2), 131–137.
  3. Atkins, L., Francis, J., Islam, R., O’Connor, D., Patey, A., Ivers, N., Foy, R., Duncan, E. M., Colquhoun, H., Grimshaw, J. M., Lawton, R., & Michie, S. (2017). A guide to using the Theoretical Domains Framework of behaviour change to investigate implementation problems. Implementation Science, 12(1), 1–18.
  4. Bandura, A. (1982). Self-efficacy mechanism in human agency. American Psychologist, 37(2), 122–147.
  5. Bandura A. Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York, NY: Freeman; 1997.
  6. Carfora, V., Caso, D., Sparks, P., & Conner, M. (2017). Moderating effects of pro-environmental self-identity on pro-environmental intentions and behaviour: A multi-behaviour study. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 53, 92–99.
  7. Darner, R. (2009). Self-determination theory as a guide to fostering environmental motivation. Journal of Environmental Education, 40(2), 39–49.
  8. Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2008). Self-determination theory: A macrotheory of human motivation, development, and health. Canadian Psychology, 49(3), 182–185.
  9. De Young, R. (2000). Expanding and evaluating motives for environmentally responsible behavior. Journal of Social Issues, 56, 509–526.
  10. Díaz, R. M., Neal, C. J., & Amaya-Williams, M. (1990). The social origins of self-regulation. In L. C. Moll (Ed.), Vygotsky and education: Instructional implications and applications of sociohistorical psychology (pp. 127–154). New York: Cambridge University Press.
  11. Green-Demers, I., Pelletier, L., & Ménard, S. (1997). The impact of behavioral difficulty on the saliency of the association between self-determined motivation and environmental behaviors. Canadian Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 29, 157–166.
  12. Hargreaves, T. (2011). Practicing behaviour change: Applying social practice theory to pro-environmental behaviour change. Journal of Consumer Culture, 11(1), 79–99.
  13. Jensen, B. B. (2002). Knowledge, action and pro-environmental behaviour. Environmental Education Research, 8(3), 325–334.
  14. Lee, T. H., Jan, F. H., & Yang, C. C. (2013). Conceptualizing and measuring environmentally responsible behaviors from the perspective of community-based tourists. Tourism Management, 36, 454–468.
  15. Meinhold JI, Malkus AJ. Adolescent environmental behaviors. Can knowledge, attitudes, and self-efficacy make a difference? Environment and Behavior2005;37: 511-532.
  16. Osbaldiston, R., & Sheldon, K. M. (2003). Promoting internalized motivation for environmentally responsible behavior: A prospective study of environmental goals. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 23, 349–357.
  17. Séguin, C., Pelletier, L. G., & Hunsley, J. (1999). Predicting environmental behaviors: The influence of self-determined motivation and information about perceived environmental health risks. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 29, 1582–1604.