At present, environmental protection and restoration are some of the major challenges faced by our society. Several governments have undertaken the task of addressing much of this challenge by establishing policies and standards to regulate the impacts of human activity. Environmental protection and restoration efforts, however, depend not only on the schemes implemented by regulatory bodies, but also on the daily choices made by individuals—how they behave toward the environment, what they consume, or what they are willing to give up. Therefore, studying pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors—as well as the factors that determine them—is a fundamental part of understanding the true potential to foster more sustainable development.
The process of social and economic development that Chile has experienced over recent decades has had a significant impact on the development and implementation of environment policies aiming at addressing environmental impacts from different economic sectors. However, institutional and normative efforts aiming at promoting social responsibility and strengthening pro-environmental behavior among citizens have not developed at the same pace. For example, infrastructure for household recycling is very limited at a national level. At the date of the present study, approximately 170 recycling points for plastic, cardboard, paper and glass were located in Santiago, which were concentrated in a few municipalities.
Today, the task of protecting the environment is being addressed not only by the industrialized economies of Europe and North America, but it has also become a transcendental subject matter for Latin American countries, whose economic and social development have generated societies increasingly concerned about their environment. That said, there are only a few studies in Latin America focused on knowing and understanding the environmental attitudes of its citizens.
1.1. Pro-Environmental Attitudes Studies in Latin American Countries
Based on the notion that environmental concern is a post-material attitude, it has been argued that developing nations, such as Latin American countries, would express lower concern about environmental issues than the industrialized countries of Europe and North America [1
]. Nevertheless, intercultural studies show completely different relationships [3
]. Dunlap and Mertig [4
] studied environmental attitudes in 24 countries, including industrialized and developing countries—such as Mexico, Uruguay, Chile and Brazil—among others. When these authors correlated the national GNP per capita with the level of support for specific environmental protection measures among the 24 countries, they found a strong negative correlation. Dunlap and Mertig [4
] conclude that residents of poorer nations not only tend to see environmental problems as most serious but are also more supportive of efforts to ameliorate them. The foregoing clearly suggests that the traditional belief that environmental concern is a luxury afforded only by the wealthy is cross-culturally unfounded [3
]. One explanation for these differences is that culture plays an important role in determining environmental attitudes [5
]. These results have led to the development of a number of cross-cultural studies, which have allowed for the validation and extension of theories and models trying to explain and predict the population’s environmental attitudes and behaviors (see studies by Schultz and Zelezny [7
], De Groot and Steg [8
], and Milfont et al
Despite the above, the development of local studies specifically designed to understand the environmental attitudes and behaviors of Latin American populations is scarce. Most research has focused on environmental behaviors of Mexican and Chilean communities. One of the first studies was developed by Corral-Verdugo [10
], who researched the direct and indirect effects produced by several variables (demographic, situational, and dispositional factors) on reuse and recycling behaviors in a group of Mexican families. By using structural models, he found that conservation competencies and motives to reuse/recycle were the most important direct predictors. Subsequently, Corral-Verdugo and Armendariz [11
] studied the environmental beliefs of a Mexican community by assessing and comparing two scales with opposing views traditionally used to measure environmental beliefs: the New Environmental Paradigm (NEP—in this view, human beings are part of the natural world and are governed by the same rules as the rest of nature) and the Human Exception Paradigm (HEP—in this view, humans are conceived as being superior and apart from nature). Their results suggest that the community was more committed to preserving the environment (NEP view) than to a utilitarian view of nature (HEP view).
Other sets of studies have been conducted with Chilean populations. Menzel and Bögeholz [12
] researched the level of commitment among Chilean and German teenagers to preserve biodiversity. Using a regression analysis, they reported that the personal norms variable was the best predictor of environmental behavior. Cordano et al.
] compared the three main theories of pro-environmental behavior (the Theory of Reasoned Action, the Norm-Activation Theory, and the Value-Belief-Norm Theory) and cultural differences among business students in Chile and the United States. Through a regression analysis, they found that each theory was able to account for a significant level of variation in behavioral intention (R2
values between 0.50 and 0.55) and that the norms variable recorded the strongest relationship with behavioral intention.
The paragraphs above help to illustrate the lack of studies conducted in Latin America focusing on understanding the environmental attitudes and behaviors of its citizens. Considering the cultural differences, this lack of studies could condition the success or failure of future local policies and programs focused on achieving more environmentally responsible societies; achieving a more detailed understanding of why individuals undertake pro-environmental behaviors is important for policy makers and researchers seeking solutions to environmental problems that require behavioral change [14
In order to fill this gap, the purpose of this research was to study the environmental behaviors of a Latin American community and identify the factors that determine them.
1.2. Attitudinal Factors Influencing Environmental Behaviors
Several studies have researched the factors that influence environmental behavior, using different theoretical models that seek to explain and predict people’s pro-environmental behavior. These theories are concerned with the ability to understand environmental behavior via a causal model. According to Stern [15
], there are four kinds of causal variables that influence environmental behavior: attitudinal factors (which include norms, beliefs and values), contextual forces, personal capacities, and the habits and routines of each subject. Among the most accepted theories that analyze the different attitudinal variables influencing environmental behavior we find the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) and the Value-Belief-Norm (VBN) Theory. Proposed by Ajzen [16
], the TPB is based on the assumption that individuals make rational decisions and choose options they perceive as having the most benefits and fewer costs. As such, this theory proposes that an individual’s behavior is directly explained by behavioral intention, which is in turn influenced by three variables: attitude, subjective norms and perceived behavioral control. The latter also directly affects the individual’s behavior.
The TPB has been successfully used to understand various behaviors: understanding the use of public transport [17
], modeling the changes in modes of transport after an intervention [18
], predicting the behavior of speeding drivers [19
], and explaining environmental behavior [20
], among others.
Although this theory has successfully predicted a broad variety of behavioral outcomes, it has also been criticized for failing to incorporate moral judgments [20
On the other hand, the VBN model, shown in Figure 1
, is based on the assumption that individuals adopt a pro-environmental attitude if they perceive a moral obligation to protect themselves, other members of society, or the ecosystem in general [22
]. The VBN model was proposed by Stern [23
] to evaluate the pro-environmental behavior of individuals by linking the Norm-Activation Model with the New Ecological Paradigm (NEP) proposed by Dunlap and Van Liere [24
]. The model proposes that personal values influence the development of the general beliefs held by an individual regarding the environment (NEP). These beliefs cause the individual to be aware of the consequences that their behavior could unleash on the environment, as well as accept some level of responsibility (see Figure 1
). This cognitive process would trigger the activation of a sense of moral obligation (personal norms) to protect the environment. Thus, this final variable in the model activates pro-environmental behavior [25
]. According to Stern [15
], personal values related to the environment fall within a three-tiered classification: biospheric, social/altruistic and egoistic.
VBN model for environmental behavior [15
VBN model for environmental behavior [15
model has been successfully applied to explain recycling behavior [26
], explain the willingness to pay for a suburban park [27
], evaluate behavior supporting sustainability policies in a multinational pharmaceutical company [28
], evaluate land management behavior of property owners and their moral obligation to protect local diversity [29
], explain pro-environmental consumption behavior [30
] and conservation behavior [20
], and to study the variables that promote a commitment to protect biodiversity in young people [12
], among others.
One of the environmental behaviors that has been most studied in papers is recycling. Aguilar-Luzón et al
] studied glass recycling behavior in a sample of 275 university students. The results showed that the personal norms and altruistic value orientations were the variables that explained the greatest proportion of glass recycling behavior. The VBN model has also proven successful in explaining acceptability decisions. Steg et al.
] examine the factors that influence the acceptability of energy policies intended to reduce domestic CO2
emissions. The results show that there is a causal chain in the model, in which each variable relates significantly with the following variable.
For purposes of the present study, the VBN model will be used insofar as it incorporates values (altruistic, biospheric, and egoistic), morals (personal norms) and environmental awareness (NEP) as behavioral predictors. Given that the VBN model has been widely studied and validated in specialized literature [12
], it has been hypothesized that the relationships between the variables shown in Figure 1
will be kept unaltered; that is, that the causal chain in the model will remain statistically significant (p
1.3. Socio-Demographic Factors Influencing Environmental Behavior
A breadth of literature has focused on studying the influence of socio-demographic factors on pro-environmental behavior, with the most influential being age, gender, education level and income [21
The relationship between gender and pro-environmental behavior has been studied intensely in recent years. Generally speaking, women demonstrate greater concern for the environment [34
]. For example, Hunter et al.
] concluded that compared to men, women are more committed to pro-environmental behaviors such as recycling, buying organic products and reducing automobile usage. Similarly, Blocker et al.
] observed that women show greater concern for environmental degradation, are more in favor of rights of living beings, and follow a lifestyle that is more environmentally friendly.
A broad variety of studies have indicated that age is an important predictor of pro-environmental behavior. While some have concluded that older people are more concerned in the environment than younger ones [34
], others have found that younger people demonstrate a greater sense of obligation to the environment [33
]. For example, Jones et al.
] concluded that age was the strongest predictor of environmental concern, with young adults as the most interested group. It would seem that the relationship between age and environmental behavior depends on the specific behavior under study. Diekmann et al.
] found a negative relationship between age and recycling (older people are less willing to participate in recycling activities), but a positive relationship between age and ecological automobile use (older people are more willing to use automobiles less frequently).
The positive relationship between education level and environmental awareness has been widely recorded in specialized literature [21
]. More educated people tend to be more concerned for the environment and more willing to adhere to pro-environmental behaviors.
Studies of the link between income and environmental behavior have led to diverse conclusions. While some investigations have shown that income is negatively related to environmental concern [33
], others have concluded that concern grows as income rises [35
Finally, a higher socioeconomic status is associated with high income and more education. As such, socioeconomic status is, in general, positively associated with a higher level of environmental concern. One possible explanation for this relationship is that people with greater resources have already met their basic needs and, as a result, can concentrate on other types of needs [36