Barriers to Going Green

Barriers to Going GreenEver wonder what are the barriers to going green and why don’t more people vigorously embrace the green movement?

You may think that there are just one or two barriers to people going green and taking everyday action towards a more sustainable lifestyle – but that are more, six actually!

Before I read some research I thought that if you were aware of current green issues and sincerely cared, you would take action.



Well, to be nice, you might every once in a while when it was convenient or saved you money, but on a consistent everyday basis probably not – according to environmental psychologist Douglas McKenzie-Mohr who has studied the barriers to going green.

His research suggests a huge disconnect between an individual’s environmental awareness and the “actual greenness” of his or her actual lifestyle.    Most Americas think they’re green because their town makes them recycle.  Far from it.

But the fact that YOU are reading Green Blizzard, demonstrates that your disconnect compared to others is either non-existent or smaller than the average bear!  Congrats.

The research attributes the barriers to going green to six pesky factors which impede people from acting on their ecological conscience:

  • commitment
  • prompts
  • norms
  • communication
  • incentives,  and
  • convenience

Let’s take a minute and think about this disconnect (loud whistle ensues, and we huddle inside a LEED-certified building).

Let’s say that one morning instead of driving to work you consider either walking or biking (even jogging).  Any alternative would significantly reduce your carbon footprint for that day.  As you evaluate the option you ask yourself.  Are you going to have enough time?  Is this safe?  What about the weather?  Is it inconvenient?  What do I need to take along or prepare?  What will I look like at the destination?

What it all boils down to is  your mind can always find all sorts of reasons not to do it (which is impressive, but not helpful to our planet).  A dedicated runner once told me one miserable rainy afternoon as he was getting ready to go on his run, “if you look for an excuse, you’ll can always find one! ”  As I contemplated foregoing my planned outdoor exercise – I was shamed into it and loved it.

We have seen how media messages and advertising can influence public opinion and increase public awareness, but in this research, McKenzie-Mohr describes how this does not usually succeed in making you turn off the darn lights and really green your life.   Its more of an uphill challenge than we all thought – but possible.

On the flip side, what if you learned that your friends always turn off all the lights (norms), how much you can save on your energy bill every year (incentive), and placed a “Save the Planet” sticker next to all of your light switches to “prompt” yourself to do the sustainable behavior (obviously = prompt)?  Aha! Things may be quite different this way!

What if an online carbon footprint calculator that explains the social or economic incentives behind green lifestyle changes (incentive), explains how to reduce the inconvenience of these changes (convenience), and sends you follow-up emails to hold you to your promise (commitment) would be drastically more effective than one that does not.

Unfortunately, many environmentally friendly messages do not compensate for these potential barriers to sustainable action, like maybe that a proposed action is not socially acceptable (norms), which makes it much less likely people will listen and follow.

Or maybe the message forgets to give you ways you can remind yourself to implement the sustainable change (prompt).  This may require some extra work on your part, like by putting your reusable grocery bags next to the front door at all times (prompt), but hey, it will be well worth it.

Eventually, there may a plastic bag tax in your community in which case everyone will begin using reusable bags and it will become a norm (ergo facto, this pesky barrier is out of the way).

Besides you have demonstrated as the regular Green Blizzard reader (commitment), of course you want to actually implement the dozens of awesome things you learned from this site to safeguard the environment (prompts,norms).

So right now, commit to embracing these potential barriers to action!  Spread the word (communication) about all the great resources and ideas already on the Green Blizzard and how surprisingly easy it is to integrate carbon footprint reducing habits into your everyday lifestyle (convenience).

Kenny Frankel
Read: Gift Ideas For A Green Handyman, What is Phantom Electricity?, Green Cleaning Products, Savvy Green, Energy Efficient Windows, and Water Conservation Around The House.


About the author

Kenny Frankel

As graduate of the University of Maryland, Kenny has a major in Environmental Politics and Policy, so he's undoubtedly a guy well versed in environmental issues. Now, post college he is a practitioner of sustainable living and employed by solar installation company. We all will have a deeper green perspective after reading his articles because he brings a big picture insight to our everyday purchase decisions and even recycling.  As an early staff writer for Green Blizzard, Kenny covers environmental policy, big-agricultures impact on the environment, solar energy, recycling, and products made from recycled materials.