plos

A Sustainable Building Promotes Pro-Environmental Behavior: An Observational Study on Food Disposal
by Wu DW, DiGiacomo A, Kingstone A
PLoS ONE 8(1): e53856. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0053856 – January 2013

In order to develop a more sustainable society, the wider public will need to increase engagement in pro-environmental behaviors. Psychological research on pro-environmental behaviors has thus far focused on identifying individual factors that promote such behavior, designing interventions based on these factors, and evaluating these interventions. Contextual factors that may also influence behavior at an aggregate level have been largely ignored.

In the current study, we test a novel hypothesis – whether simply being in a sustainable building can elicit environmentally sustainable behavior. We find support for our hypothesis: people are significantly more likely to correctly choose the proper disposal bin (garbage, compost, recycling) in a building designed with sustainability in mind compared to a building that was not.

Questionnaires reveal that these results are not due to self-selection biases. Our study provides empirical support that one’s surroundings can have a profound and positive impact on behavior. It also suggests the opportunity for a new line of research that bridges psychology, design, and policy-making in an attempt to understand how the human environment can be designed and used as a subtle yet powerful tool to encourage and achieve aggregate pro-environmental behavior.