Sense of Community and Environmental Commitment. The Power of Environmental Organisations

An empirical Study

Bachelor Thesis, 2016

50 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1.1 Factors influencing environmental behaviour
1.2 Sense of Community, Empowerment and Participation
1.3 Interrogation and Hypotheses
1.3.1 COSOC - Effects of demographic characteristics
1.3.2 Participation - Effects of demographic characteristics

2. Methods and Procedure
2.1. Participants
2.2. Instruments
2.2.1 Community Organisation Sense of Community (COSOC)
2.2.2 Psychological Empowerment (PE)
2.2.3 Community Participation (CP)
2.3 Procedure
2.3.1 Distribution
2.3.2 Preliminary Analysis
2.3.3 Subscales
2.4 Results
2.4.1 Correlation between COSOC, PE and CP
2.4.2 Gender
2.4.3 Age
2.4.4 Size of place of residence
2.4.5 Size of organisation
2.4.6 Type of employment
2.4.7 Education level
2.4.8 Working hours per week

3. Discussion
3.1 Socio-demographic effects
3.1.1 Gender
3.1.2 Age
3.1.3 Size of place of residence
3.1.4 Size of organisation
3.1.5 Type of employment
3.1.6 Education level
3.1.7 Working hours per week
3.2 Limitations and Implications

4. References

5. Appendix


The challenges of tackling the menacing impacts of the advancing destruction of the natural environment receives increasing attention from researchers, indicating that it is important to discover factors that motivate people to foster pro-environmental behaviour in their daily life. This study examined community characteristics to provide insight why people commit themselves to community organisations focusing on environmental protection. Employees and volunteers of natural conservation organisations in Germany completed a survey containing instruments measuring organisational Sense of Community (COSOC), Pychological Empowerment (PE) and Community Participation (CP). Results indicated that COSOC predicted participatory behaviour of the organisation members, mediated by PE and that these community strengths are interrelated. The examination of potential effects of demographics found age, education, type of employment and working hours per week influencing COSOC. Regression analysis indicated gender, size of the place of residence and working hours per week effecting CP. Methodological limitations and further implications are discussed.

1. Introduction

Environmental protection and climate change rank among the most important issues of our times. Despite the wellknown potential effects of climate change there are still essential differences in terms of environmental behaviour and -attitudes of the population. A significant number of studies explore constructs that influence individual behaviour and attitudes related to the natural environment in order to increase the public interest in environmental problems and respective consequences (e.g. Baldassare & Katz, 1992; Barr, 2007; Bragg, 1996; Dunlap, Van Liere, Mertig & Jones, 2000; Marcus, Omoto & Winter, 2011; Oreg & Katz-Gerro, 2006; Stern, 2000) They aim on motivating people to get involved in local environmental issues and to influence politics by exercising their civil rights.

However there is still a large gap between the perception of being an environmentalist and the respective behaviour (Bragg, 1996; Krause, 1993), despite the belief, that global environmental problems can be mastered by changing the individual everyday life (Barr, 2007). Since a long time researchers and practitioners try to figure out predictors of positive and negative environmental behaviour and methods to alterate it. It is likely, that the field of environmental behaviour is not only quite complex to find a few predictors, it is also connected with countless interrelated factors, such as environmental knowledge, perceptions, beliefs, intrinsic motivation, values, norms and traditions, compassions and many more (e.g. Barr, 2007; Hines, Hungerford & Tomera 1987; Kollmuss & Agyeman, 2002; Neugebauer, 2004). Particularly the insight of individual responsibility for the condition of the natural environment is assumed to be a strong predictor of pro­environmental behaviour (Freytag, 2012). Environmental knowledge, environmental attitudes and environmental behaviour are described as the 3 components of the multidimensional construct environmental consciousness (Neugebauer, 2004), however so far there is no agreement on a consistent definition (Spada, 1990 in Neugebauer, 2004).

By now governments, organisations and initiatives developed approaches to tackle environmental problems (Osbaldiston & Schott, 2011) at least since climate change has become obvious in the eyes of the public. However by realising the number of 7.35 billion people living on earth by the end of 2015 (Statista GmbH, 2016) one could guess, that the focus should tend more towards individual pro-environmental behaviour (Osbaldiston & Schott, 2011) as a bottom up approach. Using the human natural inclination of curiosity and learning should be more effective than driving people to be concerned about environmental problems by imposing rules from above (Kaplan, 2000; Nisbet, Zelenski & Murphy, 2009).

The number of people being unsatisfied with global, national or regional activitities is increasing and with it the willingness to participate in change movements, but also to alterate their own individual behaviour in terms of everyday life (Osbaldiston & Schott, 2011). Considering findings connecting individual activities in the nature with wellbeing and life satisfaction (Baldassare & Katz, 1992; Barr, 2007; Kellert, 1997 in Nisbet et al., 2009) it is likely to accept the need of the exploration of factors having a positive effect on individuals by changing their environmental behaviour. Recently research shifted towards breaking down pro-environmental behaviour into several behaviour patterns, such as recycling, waste prevention, consumer habits, sports and leisure activities, traffic behaviour, involvement in environment protection and many more (Neugebauer, 2004), but so far Environmental Psychology has focused very little on natural conservation.

1.1 Factors influencing environmental behaviour

It seems likely to assume, that classic personality factors influence pro-environmental behaviour. Though positive relations especially for Openness and weak or negative correlations with Neuroticism were found (Borden & Francis, 1978; Hirsh, 2010; Markowitz, Goldberg, Ashton & Lee, 2012; Nisbet et al., 2009), other factors such as values, norms, social and personal motivation seem to play a more important role in order to influence individual enviromental behaviour (Barr, 2007; Markowitz et al., 2012; Schahn, 1993b in Neugebauer, 2004). Among other motives, concern for the natural environment, love of nature, understanding of the joint responsibility for the menacing status of the natural environment seem to predict environmental behaviour (Lantermann, 1999 in Neugebauer, 2004). Other authors cite active concern, intrinsic motivation and the perception of enviromental problems as strongly related to pro-environmental behaviour and share the opinion, that meanwhile environmental problems are understood as personal threat (Barr, 2007; Neugebauer, 2004; Pfattheicher, Sassenrath & Schindler, 2015; Schwartz, 1992).

Altruism is described as forms of helping behaviour in order to improve or protect the wellbeing of another person as primary target (Stürmer, Barth, Bodansky, Lotz-Schmitt & Lück, 2011). According to Schwartz (1977) it is a process of perceiving a need or problem, the belief in potential actions, that can meet the need and the awareness of self­responsibility what lead to respective actions (Schwartz, 1997 in Barr, 2007; Stern, Dietz & Cuagnano, 1995). Insofar it could be assumably transferred to the individual willingness to tackle the challenges of environmental problems as threat to all living beings. Several studies support Schwartz's (1977) theory of normative influences on altruism in terms of environmental behaviour (e.g. Black & Hughes, 2001). Nevertheless the relation between pro-social and pro-environmental behaviour appears to be very complex in terms of other interrelated characteristics. Allen and Ferrand (1999) tested the theory of Geller (1995a) of active caring, stating that individuals in general, not being self-centered, have to be concerned about their community at large to behave pro-environmentally, but only if fundamental, personal needs received priority satisfaction (Kollmuss & Agyeman, 2002), meaning, that environmental behaviour and concern can be overrided by other more important needs or targets (Kollmuss & Agyeman, 2002; Neugebauer, 2004). However, if individuals perceive environmental problems as personal threat on wellbeing, health and life satisfaction, atttitudes towards pro-environmental behaviour can outweigh other predictors (Baldassare & Katz, 1992; Barr, 2007; Kaplan, 2000; Nisbet et al., 2009). These findings also emphasise the influence of situational factors and concurring motives on environmental behaviour, but are still not sufficiently taken into account by examining environmental attitudes (Neugebauer, 2004).

Compassion and sympathy for other individuals were found to be significant predictors of pro-environmental behaviour (Allen & Ferrand, 1999; Kollmuss & Agyeman, 2002; Nisbet et al., 2009; Pfattheicher et al., 2015). Other affective characteristics, such as connectedness with nature or positive past and present nature experiences (Kals, Schumacher & Montada, 1999; Nisbet et al., 2009) or empathy with wild animals (Schultz, 2000; Stern, 2000) have been identified to be associated with environmental behaviour.

Actually environmental knowledge should be highly related to respective behaviour. It seems to be likely, the more an individual knows about the potential disastrous impact of human behaviour on the natural environment, the stronger it should precipitate in a behaviour that is effective to alleviate environmental problems. People tend to perceive themselves as environmentalists, however this is not associated with enviromental knowledge or the intention to change the daily-life behaviour (Bragg, 1996; Krause, 1993). Most of the examinations do not recognise associations of environmental knowledge and environmental behaviour in such way, that detailed knowledge could also be a barrier to become active (Neugebauer, 2004). A reason could be the resignation and the perception of the challenges as oversized to be tackled individually (Neugebauer, 2004). Other studies found contributions of environmental knowledge to environmental behaviour (e.g. Barr, 2007; Hines et al., 1987; Nisbet et al., 2009), but also limit these findings to be interrelated with other characteristics (Fietkau & Kessel, 1981 in Kollmus & Agyeman, 2002; Neugebauer, 2004). Knowledge itself should be differentiated in general knowledge and specific practical knowledge and only the latter correlates with respective actions (Homburg & Matthies, 1998 in Neugebauer, 2004). The findings of Oreg and Katz-Gerro (2006) suggest to envisage the development of environmental knowledge as an interaction of several characteristics, insofar as "environmental education involves developing values, attitudes, knowledge, and problem-solving orientations" (Oreg & Katz- Gerro, 2006, p. 478).

Socio-demographic characteristics have been widely examined with regard to their contribution to pro-environmental behaviour, at least in terms of the contextual interrelation with other factors (Barr, 2007). The contribution of age, gender, education level and income to environmental behaviour differs due to the variety of categories used to examine these characteristics, but also due to the different settings regarding the wide field of environmental behaviour (e.g. Hines et al., 1987; Hirsh, 2010; Kals et al., 1999; Neugebauer, 2004; Nisbet et al., 2009; Stern, 2000).

By viewing the gap between environmental consciousness and environmental behaviour, it is striking, that mostly both are examined on an individual level of daily-life behaviour without considering situational effects, habituation or the influence of social ties, such as the parental education or reference groups (Neugebauer, 2004). Thus it seems indicated to explore the influence of individual characteristics on environmental behaviour by considering the social ties individuals rely on (Barr, 2007; Kaplan, 2000; Montada et al., 1995; Neugebauer, 2004) "based on the belief that social structures shape individual's experiences and ultimately their personal values, beliefs and behaviors" (Oreg & Katz- Gerro, 2006, p. 465).

In summary, it can be said, the findings seem to be not sufficiently comparable due to the examination of different factors in different settings and due to the large variety of interrelated factors influencing individual environmental behaviour. Likewise barriers to become active (Kollmus & Agyeman, 2002), the gap between attitude and behaviour (Nisbet et al., 2009; Rambow, 1998 in Neugebauer, 2004) need to be considered while examining associated factors.

Paying attention to available literature, accentuating that individual's tend to shape behaviour in connection with reference groups (Eisenstadt, 1954) and communities and environmental behaviour depends on these relations (Kruse, 2003 in Neugebauer, 2004) the present paper intends to examine potential reasons why people join adherents being commited to environmental protection, focussing on individuals being involved in natural conservation organisations. Though it seems probable, that not all people predicate their behaviour dependend on communities they belong to, communities indeed have an impact on their members in terms of social end environmental commitment (Marcus et al., 2011).

Neumayer (2002) compared democratic and non-democratic countries in terms of their expressed environmental commitment. Findings implicate, that democracies show enhanced environmental commitment, measured by the comparison of the participation in intergovernmental organisations, next to having national councils on sustainable developments or confirming environmental agreements. Although a collectivist orientation is associated with ecological commitment, this relation depends on population characteristics, such as gender and socio-economic status (Ling-Yee, 1997). A strong perception of the urgency of environmental concerns of commited members of environmental organisations is assumed to be a catalyst for participation in political change movements (McAllister & Studlar, 1999).

1.2 Sense of Community, Empowerment and Participation

Environmental behaviour is an interaction of several interrelated characteristics and should be examined in a specific context and is suggested to be considered with regard to respective social reference groups, such as families, organisations or work place on societal levels (Kruse, 2003 in Neugebauer, 2004). This study focuses on environmental behaviour in a specific community. A distinction is made between local-administrative communities as geographic units such as rural regions, town quarters, neighboorhoods, whose affiliation is based on the geographical proximity and social-relational communities, based on relativly consistent, emotionally involving interpersonal relationships of the community members (Stürmer, 2010). In this sense individuals being connected in cooperating for environmental protection can be reffered to as members of an environmental community. Those communities do not depend on personal acquaintance (e.g. Hill 1996).

The Sense of Community (SOC) (Sarason, 1974) is a construct studied in the field of Community Psychology. Sarason's (1974) first definition of the construct emphasises a sense of belonging and responsibility among community members (Stürmer, 2010). McMillan (1976) defined:

Sense of community is a feeling that members have ofbelonging, a feeling that members matter to another and to the group, and a shared faith that members' needs will be met through their commitment to be together. (McMillan & Chavis, 1986, p. 9)

According to the authors SOC has four elements:

1. Membership as a feeling ofbelonging and personal investments
2. Influence as a bidirectional concept
3. Integration and fulfillment of needs through the exchange of ressources
4. Shared emotional connection based on shared experiences. (McMillan &Chavis, 1986; Stürmer, 2010).

Empirical studies found a strong SOC, among other antecedents, associated with positiv expectations regarding the efficiency of collective actions at a local level (e.g. Perkins & Long, 2002; Peterson & Reid, 2003; Stürmer, 2010) and with long term commitment for deprived members of the community (e.g. Omoto & Snyder, 2010; Stürmer, 2010).

Despite a few common elements SOC is setting-specific (Hill, 1996; Hughey, Peterson & Speer, 1999). Community organisations are described as settings characterised by common interests and concerns, through which SOC would be developed and processes which motivate community members to be commited to issues beyond their organisation in order to influence people also beyond the community (Hughey et al., 1999). For the specific examination of SOC in community organisations Hughey and colleagues (1999) hypothesised the Community Organisation Sense of Community (COSOC), its 4 elements shall reflect the components of the SOC (McMillan & Chavis, 1986) in the context of community organisations:

1. Relationship to the Organisation
2. Organisation as Mediator
3. Influence of the Community Organisation
4. Bond to the Community

According to the authors the first, Relationship to the Organisation is based on shared interests, belonging and desires, wheras the second, Organisation as a Mediator, mirrors shared concerns. The third, Influence of the Community refers to the external influence of the organisation based on the cooperative impact of the community members, and the fourth, Bond to the Community, describes a place referent, where organisation members belong to (Hughey et al., 1999; Peterson, Speer, Hughey, Armstead, Schneider & Scheffer, 2008). The empirical review of the postulated structure found a valid instrument measuring organisational SOC (Hughey, Peterson, Lowe & Oprescu, 2007) suggesting the intraorganisational promotion of SOC in order to foster extraorganisational influences (Hughey et al., 1999). The study also found relations between COSOC, community participation and community involvement (Hughey et al., 1999). The Revised Community Organisation Sense of Community Scale (COSOC-R) eliminated a method bias due to the mixture of positivley and negatively worded items, which led to an improved factor structure (Peterson et al., 2008) and is a short version of the COSOC scale (Hughey et al., 1999) practicable in applied community contexts according to the SOC literature (Long & Perkins 2003; Peterson et al., 2008). Additional findings of the latter study indicate a relation between COSOC, psychological empowerment (PE) and community participation (CP) (Peterson et al., 2008) and its instruments are thus used for the present study to explore these relations in environmental (organisation) communities. As measurement of SOC should not only refer to the specific context, but also the researcher should have some prior knowledge about the specific setting (Hill, 1996) it was decided to limit the present examination to non-profit-organisations, -initiatives, -foundations etc. in Germany focusing on natural conservation.

Boyd (2002) mentioned that a simultaneous examination of empowerment and SOC in community organisations could increase the understanding of both constructs (Boyd, 2002 in Hughey et al., 2007), nevertheless just a few studies could be found exploring (organisational) SOC and its relations to PE and CP (Hughey et al., 2007), especially in the natural conservation context.

In their meta-analysis Talò, Mannarini and Rochira (2014) explored the relation between SOC and civil and political participation as well as the influence of specific population characteristics, such as nationality, age, gender and education level. As theoretical papers assume a circular relation between SOC and participation, a sytematic review of studies was used, though only territorial communities were considered. Results showed significant, positive and moderate relations between SOC and participation, assuming that individuals show high levels of SOC, if they are involved in civil campaigns, protest actions or elections. However, the moderate level of the relation lets presume, that other interrelated variables influence the relationship, though only age was found to have a significant, but mild effect on the relation (Talò et al., 2014).

Another study found organisational SOC positivly correlated with intrapersonal empowerment and participation, after controlling for variables, such as demographics, suggesting that simultaneous integration of activities would be beneficial in order to promote personal bonding on the one hand and activities that focus on individual, organisational and community level relationships and would lead to increased empowerment on the other hand (Hughey et al., 2007). It seems likely that communities that are effective in fostering social change, are those promoting individual and collective action of its community members (Black & Hughes, 2001) and that SOC supports civic participation (Omoto & Snyder, 2010). An interesting study and, as far as known, the only German-language scale measuring SOC, tested the universality of SOC in the German Navy environment in terms of cultural and linguistic transferibility (Wombacher, Tagg, Bürgi & McBryde, 2010). The newly developed BSCS-G scale corresponded to McMillan 's & Chavis' (1986) proposed factor structure, however it should be confirmed in other cultures and countries to confirm the strength and universality of this measure, but also of the SOC theory in general (Wombacher et al., 2010). The positive relation between SOC and participation was confirmed also by other researchers (Dempsey, Bramley, Power & Brown, 2010; Farrell, Aubry & Coulombe, 2004; Fernando, 2012).

Kieffer (1984) considers the development of SOC from a different angle, stating that a reason for becoming an activist and possessing a strong SOC is, that an individual would be confronted with a direct problem or provocation (Kieffer, 1984 in Peterson & Reid, 2003) and would realise the lack of effectivity of authorities to solve the problem (Neumayer, 2002). Insofar community organisations would be well advised to foster emotional long-term involvement in community activities by drawing particular awareness to local problems (Peterson & Reid, 2003). As such organsational strategies could simultaneously promote SOC, citizen participation and empowerment (Peterson & Reid, 2003), conservation organisations, effectivly persueing the strategy of awareness enhancement of manmade climate change impacts should be likewise effective in promoting individuals commitment to the joint organisational targets by enhancing organisational SOC, PE and CP.

This study intends to replicate a study of the relation between COSOC, PE and CP (Peterson et al., 2008). Peterson and colleagues (2008) examined a sample of community residents and active volunteers of a Midwestern US State. The participants were asked to complete a survey measuring COSOC, PE and an instrument measuring CP by asking for the frequency of participation in several community activities, such as signing a petition or attending a public meeting during the past 3 months. The results confirmed the hypothesized 4-factor structure and indicated that COSOC-R and its reliable subscales corresponded in the expected ways with PE and CP. However, the authors mentioned, that measuring SOC on an individual level is important, but does not recognise the interdependent relations among the organisations as the basis of communities (Long, 1958 in Peterson et al., 2008), echoing Hills (1996) adoption of psychological SOC (PSOC) being a characteristic of the community and not of its members. For a delimitation of SOC on different levels it was suggested to use the term Psychological Sense of Community (PSOC) for the individual level and Sense of Community (SOC) as indication for the characteristics of the community (Bess et al., 2002 in Stürmer, 2010). According to Hughey et al. (1999), COSOC measures the PSOC of the community members.

Zimmermann's (1990, 1995) postulated framework of psychological empowerment (PE) is based on 3 interrelated components: intrapersonal outcome (including Sociopolitical Control (SPC), competence, efficacy and mastery), interactional outcome (critical awareness and understanding of the sociopolitical environment) and behavioural outcome (actions with a direct impact on social and political enviroment) (Fernando, 2012; Peterson, Lowe, Hughey, Reid, Zimmermann & Speer, 2006; Zimmermann 1990, 1995). Sociopolitical Control as component of PE describes self-perceptions of individual capabilities to influence political descisions by organising people in activities and campaigns in local communities (Peterson et al., 2006, Zimmermann & Zahniser, 1991). PE is stated as empowerment on the individual level (Zimmermann, 2000 in Fernando, 2012) and is also assumed to be contextual and should not be measured across communities, contexts and groups (Speer, 2000).

However if the relation of COSOC, PE and CP can be confirmed in the natural conservation environment, it would be an indication, that at least the postulated structure of organisational SOC could be transfered to this specific environment considering methodological assumptions, such as the translation of the instruments into the native language of the organisation members (Wombacher et al., 2010) or the modification of the scales corresponding to the setting (Hill, 1996). The present paper considers organisations focusing on natural conservation as conservation (organisation) communities and staff, honorary helpers, volunteers and freelancers as (organisation) community members. Consequently conservation organisations with their purpose to protect the natural environment by increasing the number and the efficacy of collective actions should be characterised by a strong organisational SOC, what in turn should lead to stronger empowerment and community participation of the members of conservation organisations.

Consistent results of studies examining organisational SOC show positiv associations with PE and participatory behaviour (e.g. Christens & Speer, 2015; Hughey et al., 2007; Peterson et al., 2008, 2011). Furthermore PE was confirmed to be highly interrelated with participation (e.g. Christens & Speer, 2015; Fernando, 2012; Nikkhah & Redzuan, 2009; Ohmer, 2007; Speer, Peterson, Armstead & Allen, 2012).

It also seems likely, that there will be differences in terms of socio-demographic characteristics, such as the size of the organisation (Lounsbury & DeNeui, 1996; Stürmer, 2010), the place of residence or the age of the organisation members. Despite the extensive research on community strengths, it was rarely focusing on the potential influence of those population characteristics (Christens & Speer, 2015; Marcus et al., 2011). Race, gender and socio-economic status were identified having an impact on the relation between PE and CP (e.g. Christens & Lin, 2014; Christens & Speer, 2015). Other papers indicated an effect of demographics on empowerment (Fernando, 2012; Hughey et al., 2007), whereas Zimmermann (1992) found no influence of demographic characteristics on the quality of participation (Zimmermann & Checkowitz, 1992 in Fernando, 2012). Nevertheless influences of population characteristics have been found influential on PSOC (e.g. Hill 1996; Obst & White, 2007; Prezza & Constantini, 1998) to be interesting for potential influences in this special setting.

1.3 Interrogation and Hypotheses

A strong commitment of organisation members is characterised by a strong participatory behaviour in organisational activities. (Ling-Yee, 1997; McAllister & Studlar, 1999; Neumayer, 2002). As SOC is a vital characteristic of a community, past research indicated, that organisational SOC effects PE, but also participation in (organisational) community activities, though the direction of the relation was found to be different. SOC, community participation and political efficacy are interconnected (Anderson, 2010; Talò et al., 2014). Considering the past findings, an assumption is that COSOC effects CP with the mediating effect of PE. Anderson (2010) stated that SOC increases participation though it is mediated by political efficacy. Since sociopolitical control as part of PE is defined as the individual perception of the efficacy to influence social and political change (Peterson et al., 2006; Zimmermann & Zahniser, 1991) and CP can be assumed as the execution of this belief, PE should indeed have a positive impact on CP and COSOC effects CP mediated by PE. 1. Hypothesis: COSOC positivly correlates with PE and CP. PE positivly effects CP and the relation between COSOC and CP is mediated by PE.

1.3.1 COSOC - Effects of demographic characteristics

Though the reviewed examinations of gender effects on communitiy strengths do not reveal clear directions, but indicate distinctions between men and women in experiencing social movements (Putnam, 2001 in Talò et al., 2014), a different effect of gender on COSOC will be assumed.


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Sense of Community and Environmental Commitment. The Power of Environmental Organisations
An empirical Study
University of Hagen  (Institut für Psychologie)
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Sense of Community, conservation, psychological empowerment, community participation, environment protection, environmental commitment
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Uta Hobohm (Author), 2016, Sense of Community and Environmental Commitment. The Power of Environmental Organisations, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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