3.1. Description of Sample Characteristics
The study participants included 361 students aged 18 to 67; the average age was 29 (SD = 8.6). The sample characteristics are presented in Table 1
shows that most participants were women (75%), similar to the percentage of female students in the general student population at the college (77%). Most participants were born in Israel (77%) and omnivorous (91%). Half of them are single (49%) and 46% are in a relationship. More than half of them rear or previously reared an animal (55%). Two thirds study in the Faculty of Social Sciences, 15% in the Faculty of Health Sciences (psychology, sociology, criminology, social work, etc.), 11% in the Faculty of Engineering, and 8% in the Faculty of Management.
3.2. Level of Knowledge
The distribution of responses to the statements that examined the level of knowledge with respect to environmental damage cause by the livestock industry is presented below (Table 2
To construct the variable “level of knowledge about the damages caused to the environment by the livestock industry”, we counted the number of correct answers provided by each participant. The variable ranged from 0–13. The mean value of the knowledge variable was 3.33 (SD = 2.38).
The distribution of responses to statements that examined attitudes are presented below (Table 3
) after combining categories as follows: answers 1 and 2 were combined into the category ‘weakly agree,’ answer 3 remained ‘moderately agree’ and answers 4 and 5 were combined into the category ‘strongly agree’.
For the purpose of constructing the attitudes variable we calculated the mean response of each participant, without the ‘I don’t know’ option, and after reversing the scale for questions 9 and 12. The mean value of the variable was 3.28 (SD = 0.80).
The distribution of responses to the statements, after combining categories, is presented below (Table 4
For the purpose of constructing the variable we calculated the mean response for each participant, without the ‘I don’t know’ option. The mean value of the behavior variable was 2.41 (SD = 0.71).
3.5. The Relationships between Knowledge, Attitudes, and Behavior
We found positive and strongly significant relationships between level of knowledge and attitudes (r = 0.33, p < 0.001), between level of knowledge and behavior (r = 0.36, p < 0.001), and between attitudes and behavior (r = 0.49, p < 0.001). In other words, the higher the level of knowledge, the more pro-environmental were the attitudes and behavior. More pro-environmental attitudes were related to more pro-environmental behavior. Therefore, the hypotheses are confirmed.
3.6. Attitudes Mediating the Relationship between Knowledge and Behavior
According to the method of Baron and Kenny [44
], three linear regressions were performed (Figure 1
): firstly, we examined the predictive ability of knowledge on behavior (A). Secondly, we examined the predictive ability of knowledge on attitudes (B). Thirdly, knowledge and attitudes were included as independent variables, with behavior as the dependent variable (C). As shown in Figure 1
, in the first regression (path A) we found that the knowledge variable predicted behavior (β
= 0.36, p
< 0.001), explaining 13% of variance in behavior. In the second regression (path B) we found that the knowledge variable predicted attitude (β
= 0.33, p
< 0.001), explaining 11% of variance in attitudes. In the third regression (path C) we found that the knowledge and attitude variables explained 28% of variance in the behavior variable. When we added the attitude variable, the amount of variance explained increased to 23% and the power of the corrected regression coefficient (β
) of the knowledge variable decreased (β
= 0.23, p
< 0.001). The attitude variable was found to significantly predict behavior (β
= 0.42, p
> 0.001), thus we can conclude, according to Baron and Kenny [44
] that the attitude variable partly mediates the relationship between knowledge and behavior. In other words, if we controlled for the effect of attitude, there was still a relationship between knowledge and behavior, but it was weaker. Similarly, the change in the percent variance explained was significant (R2
change = 0.29, p
< 0.001), therefore, confirming our hypothesis.
3.7. Rearing Animals
Significant differences were found between participants who rear/reared animals and participants who do not/did not, in the level of knowledge (t(355) = 3.78, p < 0.001), attitudes (t(354) = 3.04, p < 0.01), and behavior (t(329) = 2.33, p < 0.05) on issues related to environmental pollution caused by the livestock industry. Participants who rear/reared animals had more knowledge (mean = 3.29 vs. 2.62 among participants who do not rear animals), more positive attitudes (mean = 3.40 vs. 3.14 among participants who do not rear animals), and more pro-environmental behavior (mean = 2.49 vs. 2.30 among participants who do not rear animals), therefore, confirming our hypothesis.
3.8. Differences between Genders
No differences were found between genders in the level of knowledge, but significant differences were found between genders with respect to attitudes (t(354) = 2.45, p < 0.05) and behavior on topics related to environmental pollution caused by the livestock industry (t(333) = 3.26, p = 0.001). Women had more positive attitudes (mean = 3.34 vs. 3.10) and pro-environmental behavior (mean = 2.47 vs. 2.20) than men.
3.9. A Linear Regression Model to Predict Pro-Environmental Behavior
The results of the hierarchical (multiple) linear regression models to predict pro-environmental behavior, where gender and rearing animals were covariables, are presented below (Table 5
). The models included variables that were significantly related to behavior in the univariate analyses.
In the final model, which included all of the variables that were significant in the previous models, the ability of all variables to predict pro-environmental behavior was maintained. It is clear that attitudes were the best predictor of behavior (β = 0.28, p < 0.001). They were followed by beef consumption (β = −0.25, p < 0.001) and meat substitutes (β = 0.19, p < 0.001). The combined model shows that knowledge, consumption of milk products, organic vegetables and eggs also predicted behavior (β = 0.14, p < 0.01; β = −0.12, p < 0.01; β = 0.12, p < 0.01; β = −0.10, p < 0.5, respectively). The variance explained by the final model was approximately 44% (p < 0.001).
The present study examined the level of knowledge, attitudes and behavior of students on topics related to environmental pollution caused by the livestock industry. It was found that participants’ attitudes towards damage caused to the environment by the livestock industry are moderately pro-environmental, and the level of knowledge on the subject is low. Moreover, students do not demonstrate pro-environmental behavior in this context. These findings are in line with a number of studies conducted in Europe and the U.S., which showed that some consumers are concerned about production of animal foods but their knowledge on this topic is very limited, and most continue to consume animal products without any intention of reducing consumption [20
The greatest strength in this relationship was found between attitudes and behavior, followed by the relationship between level of knowledge and behavior and finally between level of knowledge and attitudes. In recent years, environmental issues have attained an increasingly significant place on the media’s agenda. Studies in environmental education have found a clear relationship between acquiring knowledge during an educational activity and an increase in positive attitudes towards the environment [20
]. Many studies have strengthened this finding and shown that environmental knowledge is needed to drive responsible environmental behavior, and that it is a prerequisite for action [28
]. The survey conducted by Rickinson [49
] also showed that environmental knowledge is indeed an important component in the prevalence of supportive environmental behavior and is a prerequisite for formulating attitudes towards environmental problems. However, knowledge is not the central component affecting behavior [25
]; indeed, the findings of the present study show that the strength of the relationship between attitudes and behavior is greater than the strength of the relationship between knowledge and behavior.
It was also found that attitudes partially mediate the relationship between the level of knowledge and behavior. In other words, if we account for the effect of attitudes, there will still be a relationship between knowledge and behavior, but it will be weaker. According to Pe’er et al. [25
], knowledge is indeed critical but knowledge alone cannot adequately predict responsible environmental behavior. The emotional component, which is related to attitudes and values, is necessary for driving the transformation of knowledge into responsible environmental behavior. In other words, the environmental behavior of the individual may change due to changes in values, beliefs and pro-environmental norms. The theory of reasoned action (TRA) of Fishbein and Aizen [29
], which connects beliefs, attitudes, intentions, and behavior, can provide an explanation for this finding. Fishbein and Aizen claimed that the intention to conduct behavior is the best predictor of its occurrence, and it depends on the attitudes and norms held by the individual. The individual’s knowledge and positive attitudes, alongside social norms that call for environmental conservation, will create a socialization process that strengthens environmental values. These will create motivation and intentions to act to reduce damages caused to the environment by the livestock industry.
As hypothesized, it was found that participants that rear/reared animals demonstrated more knowledge, attitudes, and pro-environmental behavior than others. These findings are supported by a number of studies showing that pet owners demonstrate more empathy towards animals and greater opposition to cruelty towards them [32
]. In addition, in some studies the proportion of pet owners was higher among a group of meat-avoiders [39
] and that the main cause of vegetarian nutrition was animal welfare [36
The study did not find differences between genders in the level of knowledge, but nevertheless significant differences between genders were found for attitudes and behavior. Women had more positive attitudes and pro-environmental behavior than men. Dietz et al. [50
] reported similar findings, and explained that in their opinion, parenthood leads to greater environmental concern among women than among men. Stern et al. [51
] found that women expressed more positive attitudes towards environmental quality, stronger intentions regarding the need for pro-environmental behavior, and stronger opinions about the destructive consequences of deteriorating environmental quality, than men. Tobler et al. [24
] found that women were much more willing than men to give up meat. The authors offered the explanation that meat, and in particular red meat, is linked to strength and power, which makes it difficult for males to change their attitudes and reduce their consumption.
Finally, a hierarchical (multiple) linear regression model was built to predict pro-environmental behavior, wherein gender and animal rearing were covariates. The model included variables that were found to be significantly related to behavior in the univariate analyses. In the final model it was found that knowledge, attitudes, consumption of beef and dairy products (inversely correlated), meat substitutes, organic vegetables, and eggs predict pro-environmental behavior. The explained variance of the final model was 44%.
If this is the case, environmental behavior is a function of increasing knowledge, sensitivity, skills, approaches and values held by the individual towards the environment. Nevertheless, there is sometimes a gap between social and environmental values that a person aspires to believe in and his/her consumer conduct [30
], as was also shown in the study by [24
]. A possible reason for this could be that many people do not know what to do in order to behave in a pro-environmental way or that pro-environmental behavior involves a conflict between the individual’s immediate need to the long-term environmental interest [52
]. Preferring the present over the future is a ‘classic’ sustainability problem, since intentional sustainable behavior necessitates long-term thinking and giving preference to future benefits over present, short-term benefits [53
4.1. Limitations of the Study
The present study was conducted only at Ashkelon Academic College, and may not be a representative sample. The study is a cross-sectional study, and due to a lack of means, other factors linked to pro-environmental behavior were not examined. Similarly, the research questionnaire written by the researchers (following validity by experts) was used for the first time in this study. It is possible that the knowledge questions were difficult, and putting them at the beginning of the online questionnaire may have deterred participants (approximately 150 students stopped filling out the questionnaire after the knowledge questions). Another limitation of the study may be the social desirability bias of the participants. Meaning, participants may have marked answers they thought the researchers wanted to receive. Finally, the study used an online questionnaire, and it may be that the subject was of concern for those who participated, creating a selection bias. We assume that since the average knowledge, attitudes and behavior were relatively low, these last two limitations did not lead to significant bias in the results, if at all.
Students have almost no knowledge about the environmental impacts of the food they consume, and in particular, animal products, indicating that campaigns to raise awareness of this issue are likely to be effective, especially since we found that knowledge is positively related to attitudes and behavior. We recommend including an introductory course in environmental studies (from the perspective of climate change and the relationship between health and the environment) in the study programs of all departments, with an emphasis on health subjects. Moreover, this issue is not adequately emphasized in public health schools in Israel; indeed, discussion of the impacts of the livestock industry is fundamental due to aspects related to human nutrition as well as aspects related to the many damages caused by this industry to the environment, as described in this study.
Future research to examine the level of knowledge, attitudes, and behavior needs to be conducted on a representative sample of other populations, such as school children, adult populations, health and medical professionals, and more. A more in-depth study could include focus groups and interviews in to better examine the knowledge and awareness of consumers with respect to food choices.
In this study we found that students have almost no knowledge about the environmental impact of the food they consume, their attitudes are moderately pro-environmental yet they are not strict about pro-environmental behavior. Students with higher levels of environmental knowledge demonstrated more pro-environmental attitudes and behavior; attitudes mediate the relationship between level of knowledge and behavior with respect to environmental pollution caused by the livestock industry. In addition, participants that rear/reared animals demonstrated more knowledge and pro-environmental attitudes and behavior, and women demonstrated more pro-environmental attitudes and behavior than men.
Future campaigns on environmental education should place emphasis on the contribution of the individual to impacts on the environment, consumer habits relevant to the environment and the environmental and health benefits of consuming plant-based foods and organic food. Agriculture, and in particular animal husbandry, produces significant pollution and it will be possible to influence consumer’s food choices if they understand the environmental impacts of the livestock industry. Reducing consumption of animal products will probably be promoted most effectively by describing the health benefits of this action, as well as the ethical aspects of preventing cruelty to animals.
Different initiatives around the world are now being promoted, such as Meatless Monday, increasing awareness to nutritional values found in other products than livestock industry products and awareness campaigns. All these practices should be evaluated in order to promote best practices to tackle this pressing issue.