Summarizing my journal findings

I had 6 individuals participate in my journal activity—two women and four men. Three participants were between 25 and 30 years old, and three were in their 30s. The journals asked the participants about daily water-drinking behavior. They were also asked different questions each day about things they had learned, emotions they had, and how they felt about helping the environment.

Whiteboard sketch of journal findings, November 2010

In this whiteboard sketch (above) I’ve focused on identifying themes that relate only to environmental issues—including bottled water, self-reported actions, and self-reported attitudes toward the environment. The second column, represents participants’ answers to three questions: 1) When I hear the word “recycling”, I think… 2) When I hear “eco-friendly”, I think… and 3) Do you feel positive, negative, or neutral associations with these words? Why do you think that might be? The third column shows responses to the last journal page, on which participants were asked whether they had done something good for the environment that week, why, whether their action was normal or unusual, and how they felt about their action.

I diagramed key quotes from each participant onto the whiteboard. The color blue is neutral; green represents eco-friendly actions or positive attitudes toward wanting to help the environment, and red represents eco-harmful actions or negative attitudes toward environmental causes.

Four key findings from the journals

Finding #1: People generally feel positive (or neutral) about helping the environment, BUT it’s not their first priority.

Everyone mentioned in some way, at some point, that they want to help the environment; that it makes them feel good to contribute; or that they want to “do my part.” However, convenience (or perceived convenience) seemed to be a very large factor in how people acted. People didn’t seem to want to go out of their way. Here are some comments supporting that statement:

“[Recycling] is a good thing, but I’m not going out of my way to do it.”

“The eco-friendly aspect is a bonus” (talking about a particular product)

“I’m not an eco-maniac but I do try to prevent environmental damage.”

“Just doing a little here and there for my part.”

“I’m actively environmentally cautious.”

Finding #2: Conflicting behavioral predictors lead to ambivalent feelings and actions

Some participants had a mixture of positive and negative actions or feelings, showing a high level of ambivalence. For example, one participant said he was “definitely on board with environmental awareness and recycling.” Yet, he drank water nearly every day and threw all the used plastic bottles into the trash. The participant explained, “I don’t have easy access to recycling, so I don’t do it.” If I relate this to Schultz’ “Behavioral Predictors”, it seems that the situational barriers that this participant encountered contributed to a low sense of personal responsibility and perceived control. Although he reported a positive attitude toward recycling, it was not strong enough to overcome these negative personal and situational characteristics.

Finding #3: People have trouble connecting their personal actions to (global) consequences (this confirms my hypothesis)

Two participants brought up another interesting issue: it is difficult to imagine the negative effects that our behavior has on the environment. At the same time, it is also difficult to see the benefits of personal actions, such as recycling. One person said “it’s hard to imagine the effects we have on the world.” Another said he was “not convinced of the environmental benefit of many green initiatives.” From the beginning of this project, I have felt intuitively that an understanding of how a person’s individual actions actually impact the environment, either positively or negatively is an extremely important factor in how they behave.

Finding #4: Environmental issues with bottled water aren’t on most people’s radars (this confirms my hypothesis)

Three people drank bottled water. Two of those threw the bottles away, and one kept the bottle (didn’t specify what he would do with it). Only one person mentioned that bottled water is “wasteful” (due to the plastic bottle), which confirms my belief that this is an issue most people are not aware of. This person did also had strong positive attitudes toward helping the environment and mentioned that he “wants to contribute, rather than being apathetic.

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