Eco-Apps: Design to Influence Environmentally Friendly Behavior

Eco-Apps: Design to Influence Environmentally Friendly Behavior

Eli Typhina
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/ijesma.2015010101
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The search for mechanisms to encourage pro-environmental behavior has ranged from marketing to community events. This study continues the search by exploring how the language and features programmed into mobile social networking applications influence users to experience nature and share those experiences. To guide data analysis, the study uses the social influence network theory and adapts components of influence from the field of online social networking. One hundred posts, spanning almost two years, were analyzed from the Sierra Club's mobile Facebook page, Foursquare's Outdoors Raleigh search, and #Litterati's Instagram feed. Results point to the language and features that can help mobile application developers, government agencies, and environmental advocates to better design mobile apps for pro-environmental behavior. The author concludes with a call for more novel data uploading options outside of text, such as uploading video, creating music to represent nature experiences, or use of external sensors with mobile devices.
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Environmental scholars and activists have searched for ways to engage people in pro-environmental behavior and improved environmental consciousness. Some advocate for green marketing, claiming that it allows people to make small changes through their purchasing habits that will eventually improve the planet (ecoAmerica, 2013). Others argue that the marketing approach only propagates environmental degradation and that we should instead engage people in public discourse and collective decision-making that could lead to changes in laws that impact societal norms (Brulle, 2010). A common process used by government agencies to collaboratively engage citizens in environmental decision making is called environmental public participation (Akbulut & Soylu, 2012; Kasemir, 2003). This approach also has pitfalls; often events are held at times and in locations inaccessible by many constituents, and promotional material consists of scientific jargon unrecognizable to the average citizen.

Research from environmental psychology has found that individuals’ emotions for nature, such as affinity or love, empathy, anger, and sadness, correlate to pro-environmental behavior and consiousness (Allen & Ferrand, 1999; Cialdini, Brown, Lewis, Luce & Neuberg, 1997; Gosling & Williams, 2010; Kals, Schumacher, & Montada, 1999). Kals, Schumacher, and Montada (1999) found the factors leading to affinity toward nature included the amount of time people spend outdoors and how much they communicate about these experiences with others. The complication with this approach is trying to find a way to connect people readily to their physical surroundings and to others they can communicate their experiences to.

Mobile technology, such as smartphones and tablets, and mobile social networking applications, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Foursquare, provide an opportunity to overcome many of the pitfalls mentioned. Instead of marketing green products, these apps deliver networked connections to people on the go, almost anywhere, at any time, using language that is easy to understand by users. Mobile apps provide a way to mobilize expressions of self and accrual of information that has shown to prompt positive behavior in one’s community (Yamamoto, Kushin, & Dalisay, 2013). The social networking that takes place on mobile phones also opens users up to more diverse groups of people who can provide more social support than what is typically available via geographically organized social groups (Hampton, Lee, & Her, 2011).

This paper aims to explore the possibility of social apps to influence people to go outdoors and to communicate their experiences of being outdoors with others via social communities accessible on their mobile devices. This article begins with a review of influence within social networks and components of online social networking leading to peer-to-peer influence. The uniqueness of using social apps in a mobile context is explained, and hypotheses to explore the possibility of mobile app influence are proposed. The methods section presents the data collection and analysis process, as well as the mobile software interfaces studied (i.e. Sierra Club’s Facebook page, the “Outdoors” Raleigh, NC search on Foursquare, and the #Litterati group on Instagram). Next, the results of the study are presented with excerpts and examples from the data. Finally, the discussion and conclusion sections provide suggestions for how mobile application features and text can be designed to influence users to connect to nature and share their experiences with others.

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