Workplace Culture as a Driver for Social Change: Influencing Employee Pro-Environmental Behaviors

Workplace Culture as a Driver for Social Change: Influencing Employee Pro-Environmental Behaviors

Deanne Turnbull Loverock (Royal Roads University, Canada), Richard Kool (Royal Roads University, Canada) and Ingrid Kajzer-Mitchell (Royal Roads University, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3917-9.ch001
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An individual's employer can be a strong authority within an influential milieu. This chapter examines the impact employers committed to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) can have on their staff, as measured by the type and extent of Pro-Environmental Behaviors (PEBs) practiced by staff at work and at home. Empowered internal stakeholders self-report that they adopt pro-environmental behaviors at work, find that they become habits, and report that they pass these new behaviors on to their family and members of the community. Tracking the development and diffusion of PEBs demonstrates the efficacy of CSR in action, confirming the workplace as an important leverage point that governments, businesses, and NGOs can use to encourage rapid social change.
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The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment declared that “human actions are depleting Earth’s natural capital [and] putting such strain on the environment that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted” (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005, section 2). Most of the environmental problems we are witnessing are rooted in human behavior (DuNann Winter & Koger, 2004; Vlek & Steg, 2007), therefore changing individual behavior is central to achieving a more sustainable future.

Encouraging the adoption of pro-environmental behavior (PEB), “behavior that consciously seeks to minimize the negative impact of one’s actions on the natural and built world” (Kollmuss & Agyeman, 2002, p. 240), is a major challenge. Due to inertia, denial, and dislike of sacrifice, those in the developed world find it hard to reduce their environmental impacts (Oskamp, 2000). People do not voluntarily change their behaviors if there is no obvious benefit to them (De Young, 2000), yet may engage in PEBs because of the personal, internal contentment they gain. De Young claims that to be effective, environmentally responsible behavior must be durable, intrinsic, include a component of personal-satisfaction, be generalizable and allow someone to feel competent while performing the behavior.

Rogers has argued that the fastest rate of adoption of behavior change “stems from authority decisions” (2003, p. 29). Employers can be a source of strong positive authority and leadership (Li & Hung, 2009) and the potential role of the organization in achieving a sustainable society has been well documented in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) and management literature (e.g. Holmes, 1976; Jennings & Zandbergen, 1995; Matten & Crane, 2005; Shrivastava, 1995). Organizations willing to commit to CSR approaches frequently adopt a stakeholder approach (e.g. Freeman, 1984), assuming more social and political responsibilities that go beyond legal requirements (Scherer & Palazzo, 2011); this willingness can be creatively leveraged in public-private partnerships that focus on reducing the effects of human behavior on the environment.

This study investigates whether the pro-environmental workplace behaviors desired by employers can become habits for their employees, and if those employees then model these behaviors to friends and family thus diffusing these practices into the community.

There is limited literature about how employee pro-environmental actions in the workplace are affected by employer directives or modeling, and little research focused on whether PEBs expected of staff create habits that are practiced at home and in their communities (Unsworth, Dmitrieva, & Adriasola, 2013). This lack of research overlooks the potentially habit-forming influence of an environment where many spend at least 35%1 of our waking lives. It also overlooks the role of employees as primary organizational stakeholders (Clarkson, 1995) upon whose continuing participation in CSR activities any sustainability-oriented organization depends upon.

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