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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Background
  5. Measures
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Biographies

Environmental issues are particularly salient for today's generation of young adults. Indeed, many have suggested that it will be this generation that will lead the environmental movement forward. Therefore, this study examines the motivations and mechanisms that influence proclivity and intensity of young adults' environmental volunteerism. Using a survey of environmental attitudes and behaviors of college students at a large urban Canadian university (n = 1 372), we assess why today's young adults volunteer for the environment and the factors that motivate their commitment. Our findings suggest that young adults who engage in pro-environmental behaviors in general, as well as those who volunteer for other types of nonprofit organizations, are more likely to volunteer for environmental nonprofit organizations. Moreover, we find that social aspects of volunteering are the strongest positive predictor of the intensity of volunteerism in environmental groups. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Background
  5. Measures
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Biographies

Today's generation of young adults are likely to be more aware of their place within the ecological landscape, having grown up with Earth Day celebrations all of their lives. Indeed, it was this generation that witnessed the worst oil spill in human history and also lived through the ecological devastations caused by natural disasters, such as hurricane Katrina, the Haitian earthquake, and the Indonesian and (the more recent) Japanese tsunamis. Given their exposure to these events, some believe that this generation will be pivotal in leading the environmental movement forward (McKay, 2010). In the US, for instance, student enrollment in degree programs related to the environment has steadily been on the rise (Galbraith, 2009); and in Canada, surveys indicate that young people today are more concerned about issues such as global warming than they are about advancing their own careers (CamWest News Service, 2007). Even in the workplace, today's generation of young adults has been shown to value green facilities and employers who engage in environmentally responsible behaviors (Hewlett et al., 2009).

Overall, these pro-environmental attitudes would seem to be encouraging, considering that favorable attitudes toward the environment have, at times, been shown to be positively related to a number of individual pro-environmental actions, such as recycling, reducing waste, and using public transportation (Vining & Ebreo, 1992; Kaiser et al., 1999). However, although these types of pro-environmental actions are undoubtedly important, confronting the ecological challenges of today will likely require more community-oriented solutions such as volunteerism and civic participation. Indeed, volunteering and active engagement in civic life constitute not only fundamental dimensions of civil society but also critical aspects of the promotion of both self and collective efficacy (Ohmer, 2007). Thus, understanding how to motivate and sustain environmental volunteerism among young adults will certainly be an important issue when confronting the ecological challenges of today, especially because it will likely be these young people who will serve as future leaders of the environmental movement.

Unfortunately, there have been few studies examining exactly why today's young adults volunteer for the environment or the factors that motivate their commitment. Therefore, this study is intended to add to the dearth of research examining the environmental volunteer behavior of young adults. Using a survey of environmental attitudes and behaviors of college students at a large urban Canadian university, we assess the mechanisms influencing the proclivity and intensity of young adults' environmental volunteerism. A better understanding of these issues can provide nonprofit managers in the environmental field greater insight into ways young people of today connect with the environment and the methods of engagement that will be necessary as these young adults confront the ecological challenges of today and those to come.

Background

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Background
  5. Measures
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Biographies

The theoretical and empirical literature we rely on to guide this study is primarily situated at the intersection of two bodies of knowledge: literature exploring factors associated with pro-environmental behavior and literature examining the determinants of volunteer participation and commitment. To situate the present study, we highlight findings from these bodies of literature by focusing (when available) on research that has specifically examined environmental volunteerism as a distinct form of pro-environmental behavior, particularly among young adults, and on research examining the motivations for getting involved in, and staying involved in, voluntary activities among this age group.

Pro-environmental behavior

Environmental behavior has long been a topic of scholarly interest. Dating back to the early 1960s, researchers increasingly began to explore the complex relationships between humans and their natural environment. Much of this research focused on understanding the factors motivating individuals to engage in pro-environmental behavior that is behavior that consciously seeks to “minimize the negative impacts of one's actions on the natural and built world” (Kollmuss & Agyeman, 2002, p. 240). In general, this research attempted to link both personal variables and levels of environmental concern to pro-environmental action. Through the years however, “the philosophical and methodological foundations” of this research varied substantially; so much so, it was often “difficult to find a common ground to develop an integrated understanding of behavior” (Turaga et al., 2010, p. 211).

Much of this variation resulted from early conceptions of environmental behavior where actions taken for environmental benefit were considered to be a “unitary, undifferentiated class” (Stern, 2000, p. 409) and where pro-environmental behaviors were thought to be driven by motivations that transcended self-interest. In fact, some of the earliest theories linking environmental values to pro-environmental actions were developed on the basis of models exploring the relationship between altruism and helping behaviors (Schwartz, 1973, 1977). In recent years however, scholars have begun to recognize that pro-environmental behaviors can consist of a number of differentiated actions and accordingly, that there exist several distinct classes of pro-environmental behaviors.

In particular, Stern (2000) described four classes of environmentally significant behaviors: environmental activism involving committed activist behavior; non-activist behaviors in the public sphere involving activities demonstrating an individual's level of civic engagement; private-sphere environmentalism involving daily personal actions undertaken with consideration for the environment; and other environmentally significant behaviors involving actions intended to influence the environmental behavior of businesses and corporations.

Environmental volunteerism as a form of pro-environmental behavior

According to the classification by Stern (2000), environmental volunteerism has been known to represent a non-activist form of pro-environmental behavior because engaging in environmental volunteer activities allows individuals to participate in civic actions with ecological implications (Liarakou et al., 2011). Thus, Liarakou et al. (2011) have described environmental volunteer work as “a conscious decision of the actor… [indicating] his/her desire for further involvement as an active citizen in collective action towards a public purpose, that is the solution of environmental problems” (p. 3). Not only does environmental volunteerism represent a non-activist form of pro-environmental behavior, but as a voluntary activity, it also represents a unique form of voluntary action wherein the tangible benefits of an individual's actions can, at times, take longer to realize than those associated with other forms of volunteerism. For example, volunteers engaged in natural resource or habitat restoration may not actually see the outcomes of their efforts for several months—or even years. However, volunteers engaged in activities such as feeding the homeless or delivering meals to the shut-in are more likely to see outcomes in a shorter time horizon (i.e. people will be immediately less hungry).

Despite the potential for delayed benefits in the area of environmental volunteerism, today's generation of young adults would seem to be a prime target for recruitment among environmental nonprofit organizations. Indeed in size alone, today's generation of young adults far outnumber all previous generations (Rainer & Rainer, 2011), thus, making the potential pool of young adult environmental volunteers relatively large. Additionally, there is some evidence to indicate that today's young adults may be more interested in environmental issues than other generational cohorts. In the US, for instance, as much as 85% of young adults (under the age of 30) have been known to identify themselves as environmentalists (Thiele, 1999, p. 211). Furthermore, many young people have indicated that they often engage in a number of pro-environmental activities including environmental volunteerism (Lopez, 2003; Meinhold & Malkus, 2005).1 Thus it is no surprise that, although scholars have long identified a number of correlates of pro-environmental behavior in general (see for instance, Olli, Grendstad, & Wollebaek, 2001), in recent years they have also begun to specifically identify factors associated with environmental volunteerism (see for instance, Ryan et al., 2001).

Correlates of environmental volunteerism

Environmental value orientations

Stern et al. (1993) proposed three distinct value orientations that underlie pro-environmental actions: egoistic, altruistic (which they termed “social–altruistic”), and biospheric. Individuals demonstrating more egoistic environmental value orientations, they suggested, are more likely to engage in pro-environmental behaviors as a result of self-interested concerns, whereas individuals demonstrating more altruistic environmental value orientations are more likely to engage in pro-environmental behaviors as a result of societal concerns. For those demonstrating more biospheric environmental value orientations, the costs and benefits of various pro-environmental behaviors are weighed in relation to the potential ecological impact(s) of the behaviors on the natural and built environment.

A number of studies have examined the relevance of values as predictors of pro-environmental actions (e.g. Karp, 1996; Schultz & Zelezny, 1998; Turaga et al., 2010); and several studies have shown that biospheric and altruistic values positively predict pro-environmental behaviors, whereas egoistic values negatively predict pro-environmental behaviors. Among young adults in Australia, for instance, those who believed that it was the community's responsibly to protect the environment (i.e. those who expressed more altruistic value orientations) were more likely to report having engaged in more pro-environmental activities (Fielding & Head, 2011). Additionally, Kollmuss and Agyeman (2002) highlighted research indicating that individuals with stronger selfish and competitive value orientations have generally been less likely to act in an ecologically friendly manner.

In studies of environmental volunteerism specifically, research has also shown that environmental volunteers are often motivated to volunteer for biospheric concerns and for reasons specifically related to the nature of the cause (Donald, 1997; Ryan et al., 2001; Bruyere & Rappe, 2007; Measham & Barnett, 2007). Measham and Barnett (2007), for instance, found that a general attachment to the environment and opportunities to interact with nature were among the most influential motives driving environmental volunteerism in urban areas. Additionally, Liarakou et al. (2011) found that young adult environmental volunteers in Greece were more likely, than non-volunteers, to feel a strong emotional connection with the environment. Thus, Ryan et al. (2001) have suggested that an affinity toward the environment may be similar to altruistic values that motivate individuals to volunteer for social service organizations. Indeed, Schultz and Zelezny (1998) proposed the term “environmental altruism” to refer to “behavior that is done to benefit the natural environment, motivated by an internal value, and without an expectation of anything in return” (p. 541).

Limitations of environmental value orientations as predictors of pro-environmental behavior

Despite studies showing a relationship between environmental values and behaviors, the explanatory power of most value–behavior models has generally been quite weak (Hines et al., 1986/87; Scott & Willits, 1994; Kollmuss & Agyeman, 2002; Turaga et al., 2010), leading some to question the usefulness of values as indicators of an individual's pro-environmental tendencies. Additionally, the nature of the relationship between values and behavior has been far from definitive. In fact, some studies have shown that although individuals express high levels of environmental concern, they do not always act in an environmentally responsible manner (Scott & Willits, 1994). Thus, Stern et al. (1993) have suggested that, at times, egoistic values may be more predictive of pro-environmental behaviors than either altruistic or biospheric values, particularly in instances where personal wants and desires take precedence. Corraliza and Berenguer (2000) have further pointed out that the relevance of environmental values as determinants of pro-environmental behaviors is likely to be a function of the types of behaviors understudy. As such, studies have begun to explore the influence of values in relation to different forms of pro-environmental actions.

Normative influences

In addition to environmental values, a general volunteer proclivity and the tendency for individuals to engage in environmentally responsible behaviors, overall, may influence certain types of civic environmental actions (Chawla 1999; Chawla & Cushing, 2007). Indeed, Kollmuss and Agyeman (2002) have suggested that normative influences (e.g. social norms, prior behavior, and how individuals identify themselves) likely play a role in individuals' decision to volunteer for specific causes such as the environment. For example, Chawla and Cushing (2007) found that young people who practice active citizenship are more likely to get involved in voluntary environmental groups. Moreover, Jennings (2002) has argued that volunteering may cultivate a sense of civic identity, wherein individuals act in ways that reinforce that identity. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to expect that engaging in one form of pro-environmental behavior may increase the possibility that individuals will engage in other forms of pro-environmental action.

Factors influencing the intensity of environmental volunteerism

In the study of volunteerism in general, researchers have started to go beyond merely asking, “Why do people volunteer?” to also ask, “Why do people continue to volunteer?” (Randle & Dolnicar, 2006; Liarakou et al., 2011). Indeed, Wei et al. (2011) have pointed out that “not only are organizations attempting to attract more volunteers but increasingly the focus is shifting to attracting those volunteers who will contribute the most hours” (p. 2); because as they further suggest, “recruitment efforts and costs can be greatly reduced if nonprofit organizations can attract volunteers who are committed to the organization” (p. 2). Thus, social psychologists have proposed a number of explanations regarding not only the individual determinants of volunteerism but also the underlying factors that contribute to increased participation.

General volunteer motivations

One of the most popular social–psychological explanations of volunteer motivations assumes a functionalist approach to human behavior (Katz, 1960). This approach suggests that there are different functional mechanisms that both motivate and sustain voluntary participation (Clary et al., 1992; Clary & Snyder, 1999). These include: values that involve expressing one's values; understanding, which involves learning more about the world; enhancement, which involves seeking personal growth and enhancement; career, which involves developing career opportunities; social, which involves connecting with others; and protective, which involves reducing inner anxieties and conflicts.

In general, research assessing the functionalist approach to volunteer motivations has shown that volunteers can be motivated by factors that are both overlapping (Cnaan & Goldberg–Glen, 1991) and multifaceted (Clary & Snyder, 1999; Hwang et al., 2005), and that these factors can often interact in complex ways (Yeung, 2004). Such complexity has led some scholars to propose that volunteers are ultimately driven by altruistic and egoistic value orientations (Horton–Smith, 1981; Cnaan & Goldberg–Glen, 1991). Indeed, there has been research confirming such a duality. Among young adults engaged in international volunteer service in Switzerland, for instance, Rehberg (2005) found that although some young adults were driven to volunteer by altruistic motives such as a desire to achieve something positive for humanity, others were driven by more egoistic motives such as a desire to enhance their own personal well-being (e.g. engaging in social interactions or developing career connections). Additionally, a number of studies have found that older adults are much less likely to be motivated to volunteer as a result of egoistic concerns such as increased career opportunities (Donald, 1997; Omoto et al., 2000; Martinez & McMullin, 2004; Bruyere & Rappe, 2007), whereas younger adults are frequently motivated to volunteer in order to gain occupational experiences and to develop social relationships (Omoto et al., 2000).

These volunteer motivations, however, are not static. In fact, the motivations driving individuals to volunteer can, and often do, change over time (Snyder & Omoto, 1992; Omoto & Snyder, 1995; Winniford et al., 1995; Ryan et al., 2001; Liarakou et al., 2011). Thus, Ryan et al. (2001) have suggested that although altruism may initially motivate individuals to volunteer, it may be more egoistic motivations that ultimately sustain their voluntary commitment. In studies of college students' participation in community service organizations, for instance, Winniford et al. (1995) found that although altruistic motivations were the most important factor for students to begin volunteering, self-interested motivations such as social interactions were what eventually caused them to stay committed to the organization. Likewise, among young adult environmental volunteers in Greece, Liarakou et al. (2011) identified several distinct factors that separately motivated initial and continual involvement in volunteer activities. It should be noted, however, that outside of altruistic and egoistic motivations research has also shown that individuals can be motivated into volunteer service merely as a result of being asked. Indeed, Freeman (1997), found that many individuals were more inclined to volunteer when asked because they felt “morally obligated” to do so (p. S140).

Hypotheses

Given the above discussion, we propose the following set of testable hypotheses regarding the mechanisms influencing the environmental volunteer proclivity and intensity of young adults. Specifically with regard to the influence of environmental value orientations, we propose that:

1a. Young adults who express more altruistic and biospheric environmental value orientations may be more likely to volunteer for environmental organizations.

1b. Young adults who express more egoistic environmental value orientations may be less likely to volunteer for environmental organizations.

Additionally, with regard to the normative influences of engaging in other forms of pro-environmental behaviors and volunteering in general, we propose that:

2a. Young adults who engage in other forms of pro-environmental behaviors will be more likely to volunteer for environmental organizations.

2b. Young adults who volunteer in general will be more likely to volunteer for environmental organizations.

With regard to the intensity of young adults' commitment to environmental volunteerism, we expect for the above relationships to hold. However, given that factors that initially motivate young adults to volunteer do not necessarily cause them to stay, we also expect for more general volunteer motivations to ultimately influence the intensity of their voluntary participation. Indeed, it is likely that young adults who engage in a more intense voluntary participation express more egoistic volunteer motivations. Accordingly, these young adults receive some form of direct benefit from their voluntary involvement, not specifically related to the nature of the cause such as career enhancement opportunities or the development of social ties and relationships. Conversely, young adults who volunteer for more altruistic reasons may engage in less intense volunteer participation in environmental organizations. Indeed, these young adults receive little, or no, direct benefit from their increased involvement. In other words, the personal costs of their voluntary efforts may be higher; thus, they will not participate with the same intensity as young adults with lower personal costs. As such, we propose the following two hypotheses:

3a. Young adults who express more altruistic volunteer motivations will invest less time volunteering for environmental organizations.

3b. Young adults who express more egoistic volunteer motivations will invest more time volunteering for environmental organizations.

Data

This study uses data obtained from an online anonymous survey of college students at a large urban Canadian university.2 Access to the survey was available through the university's student account system for 45 days (from early November 2009 to late December 2009). Only students who accessed their university account during this period received a message requesting their participation in the survey; therefore, students decided for themselves whether to respond.3 The text of the survey invitation began with the following sentence: “Thank you for your interest in this online survey, which explores environmental attitudes and behavior of students.”

A total of 2279 students responded to the request for participation. The total student population at the university is well over 50 000. As such, we cannot ascertain how many students accessed their student accounts during this period; thus, the sample should be regarded as a convenience sample. An incentive for participation was offered in the form of a coupon redeemable at the university bookstore. All surveys were completed within 10–20 min. For the purposes of this study, we focus only on young adults who we operationalize as university students under the age of 24 (n = 1372).

The survey was developed based on existing instruments across multiple disciplines and theoretical frameworks (Clary et al., 1996; EPA, 2001; Schultz, 2001; Coyle, 2004). The survey consisted of five sections and measured environmental values, different types of environmental behaviors, environmental knowledge, and environmental philanthropy (i.e. volunteering in environmental organizations and donating to environmental organizations). Socio-demographic questions were also included. To increase reliability and to avoid error, the researchers pilot-tested the survey on a group of randomly selected students at the university. The comments from this pilot-test were carefully considered and incorporated into the final version of the survey as deemed appropriate.

Measures

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Background
  5. Measures
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Biographies
Dependent variables

We tested our hypotheses regarding the mechanisms influencing voluntary participation in environmental organizations using two measures of volunteerism. First, volunteer proclivity was measured as a dichotomous response variable indicating whether a young adult had volunteered for an environmental organization in the past 2 years.4 The survey showed that 17% of the young adults who participated in the survey indicated that they had volunteered for an environmental organization in the past 2 years (n = 234; coded as 1).5 This is a figure similar to that of Gage and Thapa (2011) who found, in their study of college students' volunteer behavior in the US, that 20% of young adults tend to volunteer for environmental organizations.

Second, for those young adults who indicated that they had volunteered with an environmental organization, we used the percentage of volunteer time rendered to environmental organizations as a measure of the intensity of their volunteer commitment. Response options for this measure were based on a five-point Likert-type scale ranging from less than 5% to greater than 75% of their volunteer time. Because of relatively low responses at the high end of the scale, response options were collapsed into two categories: less than 25% (n = 149; coded as 0) and greater than 25% (n = 85; coded as 1).

Independent variables

We used two measures as normative influences on the proclivity and intensity of young adults' environmental volunteerism: daily pro-environmental behaviors and general volunteer proclivity. We measured daily pro-environmental behaviors as the extent to which young adults had engaged in eight different self-reported pro-environmental actions (see Table 1). Response options ranged from one (never) to four (always).6 A principal components factor analysis with Varimax (orthogonal) rotation yielded two distinct forms of daily pro-environmental behaviors. These two factors explained approximately 51% of the variance for the entire set of variables. Factor 1 was labeled consumption-related behaviors. Factor 2 was labeled transportation-related behaviors. General volunteer proclivity was measured as a dichotomous variable indicating whether young adults had volunteered for any other (non-environmental) nonprofit organization in the past 2 years (coded as 1 if yes and 0 if no).

Table 1. Factor loadings for daily pro-environmental behaviors
Questionnaire itemFactor 1Factor 2
ConsumptionTransportation
RelatedRelated
BehaviorsBehaviors
Carrying a reusable water bottle0.48 
Using energy efficient light bulbs0.52 
Turning appliances and lights off0.59 
Reusing shopping bags0.70 
Recycling at the university0.73 
Recycling at home0.75 
Taking public transit 0.85
Walking and/or biking instead of using a car 0.85
Cronbach's alpha value0.690.66
Eigenvalue2.761.31
Percentage of variance explained34.5216.37

In addition to normative influences, we also examined environmental value orientations as potential mechanisms influencing the proclivity and intensity of young adults' environmental volunteerism. Specifically, respondents were presented with a list of 10 items (adopted from Schultz (2001)) and were asked to rate how concerned they were about environmental problems on a scale of one (not important at all) to seven (extremely important) (see Table 2). A principal components factor analysis with Varimax (orthogonal) rotation of these items revealed two distinct areas of environmental concern. These two factors explained approximately 75% of the variance for the entire set of variables. Factor 1 included items relating to egoistic environmental value orientations and was labeled as egoistic values. Factor 2 included items relating to altruistic and biospheric environmental value orientations; thus, this factor was labeled as altruistic and biospheric values. In part, this finding seems to support the assertion of Ryan et al. (2001) that an affinity toward the environment may be similar to altruistic values that motivate individuals to volunteer for social service organizations.

Table 2. Factor loadings for environmental value orientations
Questionnaire itemFactor 1Factor 2
EgoisticAltruistic–biospheric
ValuesValues
My children0.54 
My community0.53 
My current health0.81 
My future well-being0.84 
My lifestyle0.87 
Me0.90 
All human beings 0.77
Future generations 0.81
Animals 0.84
Plants 0.86
Cronbach's alpha value0.910.87
Eigenvalue6.311.20
Percentage of variance explained63.1611.98

Because it is likely that factors influencing young adults to begin volunteering may not necessarily sustain their voluntary commitment, we included additional indicators relating to general volunteer motivations as predictors of the intensity of their voluntary participation. In particular, young adults who indicated that they had volunteered with an environmental organization in the past 2 years were presented with a list of 10 motivational items (adapted from Clary et al. (1996)) and were asked to rate how influential each item was in their decision to volunteer for environmental organizations on a scale from one (not influential at all) to five (extremely influential). Response options included the following items7:

  • Values: I do something for a cause that I value and I believe it is important to support environmental causes (Cronbach's alpha = 0.89);
  • Career: Volunteering looks good on my resume/CV and volunteering enhances my career options (Cronbach's alpha = 0.85);
  • Social: Volunteering gives me an opportunity to meet new people;
  • Understanding: I learn new skills when I volunteer and volunteering gives me a new perspective on things (Cronbach's alpha = 0.82);
  • Enhancement: Volunteering makes me feel needed; and
  • Protective: Volunteering helps me deal with some of my own problems.

The items relating to motivations linked to values, career, and understanding were each combined into a single factor. Using factor analysis, the researchers categorized the resulting six items into altruistic and egoistic volunteer motivations.8 An additional volunteer motivation specifically relating to whether a young adult volunteered after being asked to volunteer was also included.

Control variables

Previous research has shown that volunteering is correlated with demographic characteristics such as gender, race, and political orientation (Musick & Wilson, 2008). Therefore, we included these variables as statistical controls because they are exogenous factors to our inquiry. Gender was measured as a dichotomous response variable: male or female, where male was coded as 1. Race was also measured as a dichotomous response variable: white or non-white, where white was coded as 1. Political orientation was measured as a three-category variable: Conservative, neutral, or liberal.

Results

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Background
  5. Measures
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Biographies

The young adults in this study were more likely to be female (73%) and non-white (57%). Moreover, the majority of these young people were also politically liberal (44%). Only 16% identified themselves as politically conservative. Table 3 provides a description of the variables used in the analysis.

Table 3. Descriptive statistics
VariableMeanSDNMinimumMaximum
Dependent variables
Environmental volunteer proclivity0.170.381,37201
Environmental volunteer intensity0.360.4823401
Independent variables
Normative influences
Pro-environmental behaviors
Transportation-related2.810.831,27714
Consumption related3.300.521,26314
General volunteer proclivity0.600.491,36801
Environmental value orientations
Altruistic–biospheric values6.101.241,33717
Egoistic values6.001.231,32017
General volunteer motivations
Altruistic motivations
Values4.340.8022715
Egoistic motivations
Social4.051.0522915
Career3.631.1322515
Understanding4.180.9122815
Enhancement3.661.2723015
Protective2.991.4422815
Asked3.251.341,36515
Demographic controls
Male0.270.431,36501
White0.430.501,17701
Political ideology
Liberal0.440.501,32701
Conservative0.160.401,32701
Neutral0.400.491,32701

We estimated a logistic regression model to determine the likelihood that normative influences and environmental value orientations would influence young adults' environmental volunteer proclivity. Model 1 in Table 4, shows the likelihood that a young adult indicated that he/she volunteered for an environmental organization in the past 2 years. With regard to normative influences, young adults who indicated that they had engaged in different daily pro-environmental actions were more likely to indicate that they had also volunteered for an environmental organization. Indeed, young adults who indicated that they had engaged in transportation-related pro-environmental behaviors were 24% more likely, than those who indicated that they had not engaged in such behaviors, to indicate that they had volunteered for an environmental organization. Similarly, young adults who indicated that they had engaged in consumption-related pro-environmental behaviors were more than two times as likely, than those who indicated that they had not engaged in such behaviors, to also indicate that they had volunteered for an environmental organization.

Table 4. Binomial logit models of environmental volunteer proclivity and intensity
 Model 1:Model 2:Model 3:
 EnvironmentalEnvironmentalEnvironmental
 
Independent variablesVolunteer proclivityVolunteer intensityVolunteer intensity
 e(β) (SE)e(β) (SE)e(β) (SE)
  • Note(s): standard errors are in parentheses. Neutral political party affiliation is the reference group. Given the relatively small sample size in Model 3, we also estimated this model in a separate analysis by using robust standard errors. The findings of significance remained unchanged. Results from the use of robust standard errors can be obtained from the authors upon request.

  • ***

    p ≤ 0.01;

  • **

    p ≤ 0.05;

  • *

    p ≤ 0.10.

Normative influences
Pro-environmental behaviors
Transportation-related1.24 (0.14) *1.34 (0.33)1.37 (0.37)
Consumption-related2.26 (0.49) ***2.24 (0.99) *2.03 (1.01)
General volunteer proclivity6.22 (1.54) ***0.71 (0.35)0.75 (0.40)
Environmental Value Orientations
Altruistic–biospheric values0.92 (0.11)1.10 (0.25)1.10 (0.26)
Egoistic values1.00 (0.11)0.85 (0.17)0.85 (0.19)
General volunteer motivations
Altruistic motivations
Values  1.65 (0.54)
Egoistic motivations
Social  1.70 (0.51) *
Career  0.98 (0.20)
Understanding  0.49 (0.18) **
Enhancement  0.92 (0.20)
Protective  0.93 (0.15)
Asked  0.81 (0.12)
Demographic controls
Male1.38 (0.29)1.47 (0.56)1.34 (0.57)
White1.28 (0.24)0.82 (0.29)0.94 (0.37)
Political ideology
Liberal1.31 (0.27)1.55 (0.62)1.19 (0.54)
Conservative1.21 (0.32)1.68 (0.88)1.91 (1.08)
N =947166156
χ2 =104.47***13.2222.56
df =9916

General volunteer proclivity also increased the likelihood that a young adult volunteered for an environmental organization. In particular, young adults who indicated that they had volunteered for a nonprofit organization other than an environmental organization were more than six times as likely, than those who indicated that they had not volunteered \for any other nonprofit organizations, to also indicate that they had volunteered for an environmental organization. Given that the data are cross-sectional, the direction of the relationship between general volunteer proclivity and environmental volunteerism is not certain. In other words, it is not clear whether students who engaged in environmental volunteerism got involved in this form of voluntary behavior through their involvement in other more general forms of volunteer service or vice versa.

In examining the influence of environmental value orientations on the proclivity of young adults' environmental volunteerism, the researchers found that neither altruistic–biospheric nor egoistic values were significant predictors of whether a young adult volunteered for an environmental organization. This, however, is not too surprising given that environmental values have long been shown to have a weak direct influence on pro-environmental actions (Hines et al., 1986/87; Scott & Willits, 1994; Kollmuss & Agyeman, 2002; Turaga et al., 2010). As such, these findings provide further evidence of the tenuous nature of the relationship between value–behavior link and pro-environmental action. These findings also shed light on the possibility that even in the examination of collective-type pro-environmental actions such as environmental volunteerism, the influence of environmental value orientations remains weak.

We estimated a separate logistic regression model to assess the predictors of volunteerism intensity among the young adults who indicated that they had volunteered with an environmental organization in the past 2 years. Model 2 in Table 4 shows the regression results when focusing only on normative influences and environmental value orientations, along with demographic controls, as predictors. In this model, only one variable contributes significantly to explaining the intensity of voluntary commitment among young adults. Specifically, young adults who indicated that they had engaged in consumption-related pro-environmental behaviors were more than two times as likely to indicate that they had also spent greater than 25% of their volunteer time in environmental organizations.

In Table 4, Model 3 shows that when we include general volunteer motivations as additional predictors of the intensity of young adults' environmental volunteer participation, daily consumption-related pro-environmental behaviors are no longer related to the intensity of young adults' voluntary commitment. Two egoistic volunteer motivations, however, were found to significantly influence this relationship but in opposite directions. Young adults who indicated that they were motivated to volunteer for social reasons (i.e. to meet new people) were 70% more likely to indicate that they had also invested greater than 25% of their time volunteering for environmental organizations. However, young adults who indicated that they were motivated to volunteer for environmental organizations as a result of understanding-related motivations (i.e. either to learn new skills or to gain a new perspective on things) were 51% less likely to indicate that they had invested greater than 25% percent of their volunteer time in environmental organizations.

Altruistic volunteer motivations were not a significant factor in influencing the intensity of young adults' voluntary commitment. Likewise, being asked to volunteer did not influence the amount of time young adults invested into environmental volunteer activities.

Discussion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Background
  5. Measures
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Biographies

Nonprofit organizations have played an important role in addressing environmental issues, and environmental volunteers have often been critical to the success of these organizations. In recent years, young adults have been shown to express greater interest in environmental issues (see for instance, CamWest News Service, 2007; Galbraith, 2009; Hewlett et al., 2009; Lopez, 2003; McKay, 2010). Such increased interest is likely to be an asset to environmental nonprofit organizations if it also translates into increased levels of voluntary participation. Indeed in the US, young adults between the ages of 20 to 24 have already been shown to volunteer for environmental organizations nearly double the rate of environmental volunteers in the general population (BLS, 2010). As such, the purpose of this study was to examine the mechanisms influencing environmental volunteerism among young adult college students. In other words, we sought to explore the factors driving young adults to volunteer for the environment and subsequently, the motives leading to the intensity of their participation.

In this study, we found that young adults who engaged in a number of different daily pro-environmental behaviors were more likely, than those who did not engage in such behaviors, to volunteer for environmental organizations. Indeed, young adults who indicated that they engaged in both transportation-related and consumption-related pro-environmental behaviors were more likely to indicate that they had volunteered for an environmental organization in the past 2 years. Therefore, it is likely that environmental volunteerism can be viewed as a distinct form of pro-environmental behavior, wherein pro-environmental actions are taken for collective good purposes rather than for individual benefit (Stern, 2000).9 Indeed, young adults who engage in one form of pro-environmental behavior are likely to engage in other forms of pro-environmental behavior as well.

We also found that young adults who have a general proclivity toward volunteering are more likely, than those who do not have such a proclivity, to volunteer for environmental organizations. Indeed, volunteering for other (non-environmentally related) nonprofit organizations significantly increased the likelihood that a young adult volunteered for an environmental organization. Thus it is possible that, as Jennings (2002) has suggested, volunteering may cultivate a sense of civic identity, and young adults may tend to act in ways that reinforce that identity.

Similar to findings in the study of pro-environmental behavior in general, we also found that value orientations were not significant predictors of pro-environmental action—in this case, the pro-environmental action being environmental volunteerism. This may be suggestive of two things. On one hand, it may be likely that developing normative influences among young adults, such as active participation in voluntary initiatives and engaging in environmental activities, are more influential methods of attracting young adults to volunteer for the environment, as opposed to efforts in appealing to their values. On the other hand, because the invitation to participate in the study mentioned that the survey was about environmentalism, the environmentally concerned students were attracted to complete the survey, thus, reducing the statistical power of the environmental values variable This, then, may also explain why environmental values were not especially predictive of environmental volunteerism.

Among young adults who indicated that they had volunteered for an environmental organization, neither normative influences nor environmental value orientations were significant predictors of the intensity of their voluntary efforts. However, two general volunteer motivations were found to be significant predictors of volunteer intensity. In particular, young adults who volunteered for egoistic reasons such as the development of social connections were more likely to invest greater amounts of time volunteering for environmental organizations, whereas young adults who volunteered to gain greater understanding were significantly less likely to invest greater amounts of time volunteering for environmental organizations. It is likely, then, that many young people invest greater time volunteering for environmental organizations as a way of building, enhancing, and/or developing their social ties as opposed to building, enhancing, and/or developing their learning experiences. In the end then, we found support for hypotheses H2a and H2b. We also found partial support for hypothesis H3b. However, we rejected hypotheses H1a, H1b, as well as H3a.

These findings are consistent with previous research that has shown that young adults are often driven to volunteer for egoistic reasons such as social connections (Ralston & Rhoden, 2005; Handy et al., 2010; Gage & Thapa, 2011). Indeed, Ralston and Rhoden (2005) found that social connectedness and social contacts were important motivators for younger environmental volunteers. Furthermore, a recent study by Gage and Thapa (2011) found that values and understanding-related motivations were generally less important factors driving young adults to volunteer, particularly when they were facing more structural constraints such as lack of time, money, and transportation.

Limitations

As with all studies, there are certain limitations that should be acknowledged. In particular, as previously discussed, the literature on the determinants of pro-environmental behavior has generally found a weak (direct) correlation between environmental values and behavior (for a review of this literature, see Kollmuss & Agyeman, 2002). This is a finding that has long been recognized in theoretical models of behavioral decision-making, such as the theory of planned behavior and the theory of reasoned action (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1973; Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975; Ajzen, 1985). However, there have been moderating influences shown to strengthen the attitude–behavior link.

Ajzen (1985, 1991), for instance, has long argued that intent is the strongest predictor of overt behavior; and several decades later, Hrubes et al. (2001) have found that intentions remain a central indicator of actual behavior. Furthermore, Liarakou et al. (2011) found that young adults who expressed favorable attitudes toward the environment, while also demonstrating a high internal locus of control (i.e. they believed that they were able to bring about change through their actions) were more likely to engage in environmental volunteerism, and Gigliotti (1992, 1994) found that individuals who expressed high levels of environmental concern and expressed a belief in technological solutions to environmental problems were less likely to engage in pro-environmental behaviors. Unfortunately, because of time and length considerations, we did not include questions in our survey that would have allowed us the opportunity to analyze these moderating influences. Future research should certainly explore the extent to which these moderating influences affect the value–behavior relationship in the area of environmental volunteerism.

In addition to this limitation, more general limitations also apply. First, the data used in this study were from a cross-sectional survey; hence, our findings are, at best, only suggestive of causal relationships. Second, our sample consisted entirely of university students. As such, our findings do not reflect the young adults in the general population because it is likely that the young adults in our sample have better educational backgrounds than those in the general population. Third, we also recognize that by focusing on young adults, we limit the generalizability of our findings to this age group. However, this also provides us with a better understanding of how a select group of individuals tend to engage in environmental issues. Indeed, Scott and Willits (1994) have argued that, “it is relevant to ask how different segments of the population differ in regard to environmental attitudes and behavior” (p. 241). Thus, our findings provide a starting point for future research exploring environmental volunteerism among young adult populations, as well as older adult populations.

Practical applicability for fundraising professionals

Overall, our findings should be quite encouraging for administrators of environmental nonprofit organizations. Indeed, if young adults are driven to volunteer for environmental organizations because they are already volunteering and engaging in other forms of pro-environmental behaviors, then recruiting young adults into voluntary environmental activities may not prove to be overly burdensome—whether financially or administratively. Additionally, if young adults are investing greater amounts of time in environmental organizations as a way to socialize and/or expand their social networks, as opposed to seeking personal enhancement, then conveying the social benefits of environmental volunteerism may be a much simpler process than attempting to create environmental learning experiences and other overly structured environmental volunteer activities. Thus, the social value of environmental volunteerism should undoubtedly be integrated into the planning and implementation of volunteer projects for young adults.

These findings also offer practical applications for practitioners when recruiting and retaining environmental volunteers. Indeed, many environmental nonprofit organizations are heavily reliant on the voluntary efforts of individuals. Gardner, Sherlock, and Hunter (2003; cited in Wahl, 2010), for instance, found that next to funding, volunteers were the single most important factor allowing environmental nonprofits in Canada to effectively achieve their missions. Undoubtedly then, if nonprofit mangers in the environmental field have a better understanding of the factors that motivate and sustain young adults to volunteer for the environment, then recruiting and retaining these young people—potentially the future leaders of the environmental movement—into environmental volunteerism will be a much simpler process. For example, presenting environmental volunteerism as a way to develop social ties might work better for recruiting young adults into environmental volunteer activities than presenting it as a positive learning experience.

Acknowledgements

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Background
  5. Measures
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Biographies

We wish to thank the Special Issue editors René Bekkers and Pamala Wiepking and to the journal's anonymous reviewers for their valuable suggestions on earlier versions. We are also grateful to Stephanie Seto for her help in data collection.

  • 1

    There has also been evidence to suggest that: a) young adults are less concerned about environmental issues than other generational cohorts (for example, see Jones & Dunlap, 1992; Patridge, 2008; Van Liere & Dunlap, 1980); b) even when young adults do express pro-environmental attitudes, these attitudes do not always translate into pro-environmental action (for example, see Dietz et al., 1998; Fien et al., 2002); and c) young adults volunteer less for environmental organizations than they do for other types of organizations (Gage & Thapa, 2011). In general however, studies examining the nature and the direction of the relationship between age and environmental concern and/or environmental behavior have produced inconsistent results.

  • 2

    In general, researchers have long acknowledged that web-based surveys are often biased because of (but not limited to) the following reasons: coverage and sampling error; non-response error; and measurement error (for a review, see Couper, 2000). Despite these limitations, web-based surveys have been shown to be an effective means of data collection (Couper, 2000).

  • 3

    Because each student chose whether or not to participate in the survey, it is possible that a self-selection bias may exist. In other words, students who chose to respond to the survey may have had more interest in environmental issues than students in the general university population or even students who chose not to participate in the survey.

  • 4

    We thank an anonymous reviewer for pointing out the following chronological inconsistency in our data: our dependent variable asks whether students have volunteered in the past two years. However, our demographic predictor variables refer to the current situation of students. This creates a potential bias considering that when the volunteering actually took place, some of the demographic variables were different (e.g. the respondents were younger, less educated, and in the extreme case, some were even in high school). Despite this chronological inconsistency, there is no reason for us to believe that the other independent variables (i.e. our primary variables of interest) would be affected by this chronological inconsistency. Indeed, Rokeach (1973) has argued that values, in particular, are relatively few in number and also relatively stable. Therefore, it is quite likely that the environmental value orientations of the young adults in our sample remained relatively stable over the two-year period.

  • 5

    It is possible that many environmental volunteers undertake voluntary activities on their own, as opposed to formal group settings. Indeed, a series of reports in the UK have found that a large percentage of environmental volunteers often perform voluntary activities outside of a formal organization (Ockenden, 2007; Ockenden, 2008; Russell, 2009). The issue of what constitutes volunteerism, more importantly how to measure it, has long plagued the study of volunteerism in general. Indeed, it has often been acknowledged that volunteer activities can either be formal (i.e. taking place in an organizational setting) or informal (i.e. taking place outside of an organizational setting). Most researchers, however, have tended to focus on formal volunteer activities (Musick et al., 2000). As such, we have focused our analysis on environmental volunteer activity that takes place in a formal organizational setting.

  • 6

    A “not applicable” option was also provided. It is uncertain, however, whether such a response was intended to represent another response (i.e. always, frequently, occasionally, or never). Therefore, not applicable responses were treated as missing values.

  • 7

    Our survey did not assess all functions of the Volunteer Functions Inventory (VFI); therefore, our study is not intended to serve as a direct test of the VFI but rather only a test of various concepts derived from the VFI.

  • 8

    A principal components factor analysis with Varimax (orthogonal) rotation yielded three distinct factors. Factor 1 included two items relating to altruistic volunteer motivations: I believe it is important to support environmental causes and I do something for a cause that I value. Factor 2 contained only one item and included the volunteer motivation that simply stated: I was asked to volunteer. A third, and final, factor included all remaining items. These items were related to egoistic volunteer motivations: volunteering looks good on my resume/CV; volunteering enhances my career options; volunteering gives me an opportunity to meet new people; I learn new skills when I volunteer; volunteering gives me a new perspective on things; volunteering makes me feel needed; and volunteering helps me deal with some of my own problems. Several of the items in the egoistic factor did not exhibit particularly high loadings. Therefore, we retained all items singularly and classified them into three categories: altruistic, egoistic, and asked. The item looks good on my resume/CV (statistically) loaded better with the factor “asked”. However, for theoretical and practical purposes, we retained the item as a component under egoistic volunteer motivations.

  • 9

    We included the environmental volunteering variable into a principle components factor analysis with daily pro-environmental behavior variables to determine if, indeed, environmental volunteerism constituted a distinct form of pro-environmental action. As expected, the environmental volunteering variable did not load highly on either the transportation-related factor or the consumption-related factor. Therefore, it is certainly likely that environmental volunteering represents a distinct form of pro-environmental action.

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  4. Background
  5. Measures
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Biographies
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Biographies

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Background
  5. Measures
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Biographies
  • Lindsey McDougle is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Social Policy and Practice. Her research interests include social determinants of voluntary participation and sustainability of volunteerism within nonprofit organizations.

  • Itay Greenspan is a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Social Policy and Practice. He holds Masters in Environmental Studies (MES) from York University in Canada, and BA cum laude in Geography from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His research interests include the philanthropy and philanthropic foundations, social determinants of volunteering, the Israeli environmental movement, and environmental issues in the Middle East.

  • Femida Handy is a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Social Policy and Practice. Her research focuses on the economics of the non-profit sector, volunteering, and NGOs in the developing world. She is the author of several award-winning publications.