Motivational Factors for Pro-Environmental Behaviour

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In my last blog post I gave a short introduction to how video games and gamification can be an effective way to engage with consumers and motivate pro-environmental behaviour (Using videogames & gamification to promote pro-environmental behaviour in consumers – GreenBee Insights).  

Below I will share some insights from some of our environmental game research. The respondents are gamers, aged 18-55, located in Europe and North America. The major finding are the importance of choice, authentic communication, positive feedback loops and the right use of extrinsic rewards.

Even if this is game research the insights are also relevant for companies outside the gaming industry, in communication & marketing or as part of gamification approaches in UX design or apps.

Using the basic needs to motivate and engage consumers

For people to engage in a specific behaviour it has to fill three psychological needs; the need to feel competent, the need to feel like there a meaningful choices and the need to feel connected and related to others (Self-determination theory, Ryan & Deci, 2000). This is easily applicable to gaming with elements like quests, achievements, badges, leadersboards but let’s look at some examples of how it can be used in all businesses.

Freedom to make choices

The need for autonomy means consumers want to feel they are in control, have the opportunity to make their own choices or customize an experience. This can be done through simple things such as asking consumers which pro-environmental action they would like to see the company take or making a website customizable (e.g. avatar creation).  The most important point is not to put any pressure on the consumer to behave in one specific way. When we asked gamers how they felt about gaining points in-game for taking on real world pro-environmental actions, they said such action should be done voluntarily, offer many different options and not be directly connected to progress in-game.

Provide a feedback loop

Feedback has to be positive and informative – not evaluative. A positive feedback loop can be as part of a gamified experience or simply sending an email telling the consumer about the impact their pro-environmental behaviour has (e.g. energy and water saved from reduced food waste).

People want to feel that they are doing well and are developing new skills. When asked about feedback on pro-environmental behaviour in a game, participants said they want to make progress (“I’m good at this”) and in-game encouragement (“I’m being liked”).

Be careful with extrinsic rewards

Extrinsic rewards as a motivator is very controversial. Different research studies have shown that rewards can make people less likely to be motivated to behave in an altruistic way (Deci, E. L. , 1971). Rewards should be closely incorporated with the action, e.g. the consumer should receive information about where the tree is planted, growth and the long-term effects.

We asked how participants felt about real life pro-environmental rewards such as charity donations or tree planting when downloading a new game. They were positive but said it would not motivate them to play the game, as the reward had already been given.

Authentic communication and information

The consumer want to feel their individual needs are understood, this can help in demonstrating empathy and strengthen a sense of relatedness to the organisation. Businesses should use inbound marketing to share personalised information and support and empower consumers in the purchasing process.

When asked about pro-environmental purchasing decisions many participants said it was very difficult to find the right information and to know if an organization is authentic or just green washing. Information given is often confusing.


These are just a few examples used to show some opportunities and potential pitfalls in how to communicate and encourage pro-environmental behaviour in consumers.

The vision of the business is crucial in order to be successful. What is the pro-environmental strategy of the business? What is success and how is it measured? When this is incorporated in the business and clearly communicated with the consumer it creates relatedness and ultimately a long-term belief in the business .

About the Author

Malin Wagner Malin Wagner
Malin is an experienced market researcher with a focus on sustainability, environmental issues and consumer behaviour. She has expertise in gamification, games & app development as a tool to create sustainability awareness and behavioural change. Circular Economy & Sustainability Strategies graduate at University of Cambridge.
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