Exploring a connection to nature and pro-environmental behaviours in a New Zealand business context
Business leaders are likely to have a key role in driving pro-environmental behaviours in their businesses as they continue to face increasing political, social, and economic pressures to become environmentally responsible. While research has shown that a connection to nature is associated with pro-environmental behaviour uptake in a non-business context, there is limited research that explores how a connection to nature relates to pro-environmental behaviours in businesses. This study investigates how New Zealand business leaders perceive their connection to nature in a business context, and how this relates to the pro-environmental behaviours undertaken within their business now and their plans for the future. Specifically, this study aims to: 1) assess how business leaders perceive their current connection to nature; 2) identify the pro-environmental behaviours that business leaders currently report their business undertakes and the barriers to undertaking these behaviours; and 3) evaluate what environmental and business aspirations business leaders hold for the future. This study follows a mixed methods approach to gain an in-depth and broad perspective on these key aims. In Chapter 2, a quantitative online survey was used to gather information from 216 individual business leaders from small to medium-sized businesses from across New Zealand. The survey collected information on the business leaders’ individual demographics and connection to nature, business characteristics and pro-environmental behaviours, and perceived barriers to undertaking pro-environmental behaviours. Cluster analysis and independent samples t-tests were used to explore how these characteristics were associated and their significance. The results showed that business leaders who more frequently undertake pro-environmental behaviours have a significantly higher connection to nature and perceive less frequent barriers to adopting pro-environmental behaviours in their businesses. Recycling, purchasing of sustainable products, and conserving electricity were the most frequently undertaken pro-environmental behaviours.
In Chapter 3, qualitative semi-structured interviews were conducted with 10 business leaders who had previously participated in the survey. The interviews examined concepts from the quantitative survey in further detail and explored future aspirations of the business leader. Thematic analysis was used to uncover emerging themes and patterns from the business leaders’ responses. The results indicated that business leaders perceive a connection to nature and express this through a variety of different pro-environmental behaviours that were not captured in the quantitative survey, such as sourcing local ingredients for products and utilising virtual teams. Both Chapters 2 and 3 indicate that business leaders currently undertake pro-environmental behaviours that may not have direct effects on conserving biodiversity, instead, they can be associated with ‘sustainability’ more generally. These commonly undertaken pro-environmental behaviours have previously been classified as individual lifestyle behaviours as opposed to conservation behaviours. Business leaders hold aspirations for contributing positively to environmental and biodiversity outcomes, as well as aspirations for New Zealand to further realise its clean, green image. Across both studies, not enough time, the current relationship between businesses and the economy, and costs associated with pro-environmental behaviours were the most commonly identified barriers.
In this research, I show that a greater connection to nature in New Zealand business leaders is associated with more frequent undertaking of pro-environmental behaviours in their business. Findings from this research could inform interventions that support business leaders in growing their connection to nature, potentially leading to more widespread adoption of pro-environmental behaviours in the business community. Findings might be beneficial for organisations that support businesses to become more sustainable because they may be able to anticipate some of the barriers preventing pro-environmental behaviours, and provide targeted materials to assist business leaders on their sustainability journey. Further research is still required to identify how barriers to pro-environmental behaviours can be reduced to enable business leaders to undertake as much as they aspire to for the environment.