Catalysts for Conservation: Exploring Behavioral Science Insights for Natural Resource Investments

Sep 13, 2013 | P. Lynn Scarlett, James W. Boyd, Anna Brittain, Leonard A. Shabman, Timothy J. Brennan


Conservationists can stimulate pro-environment business practices if they learn to think like companies and look beyond regulation.

Motivating people, companies, and communities to conserve natural resources requires an understanding of numerous factors: individual values and beliefs, business structures and priorities, the interactions of multiple stakeholders across communities and landscapes, differing interpretations of scientific findings, and competing political and economic concerns, to name a few. Inadequate consideration of social psychology and diverse incentives results in unmet conservation goals, despite significant investments of social and financial capital.

In this RFF report, RFF’s Lynn Scarlett, James Boyd, and Anna Brittain, along with Leonard Shabman and Tim Brennan, use case studies and examples to examine how and why individuals, businesses, and communities are motivated to conserve resources in their homes and at work, and how they decide to participate in community efforts to develop conservation plans to protect and maintain open spaces, wildlife, and other natural resources.

Specifically, the authors use social and behavioral science insights to shed light on the decisions and choices that:

  • affect the efficient and effective use of natural resources;
  • reduce waste (energy, water, material, and so on);
  • reduce pollution; and
  • facilitate the management of terrestrial and marine ecosystems to restore, enhance, or preserve these ecosystems, their functions, and interconnected biodiversity.

The goal of this report is to enhance efforts to encourage individuals to take actions that will reduce environmental impacts; help government agencies better engage communities in environmental efforts; help leaders better communicate environmental challenges and work in concert to address them; and aid companies that are trying to protect species, sustain water supplies, or reduce the impacts of energy or mineral extraction.