A grounded theory of pro-nature behaviour: From moral concern to sustained action

Marc O. Williams, Lorraine Whitmarsh, Geoffrey Haddock, Diarmait Mac Giolla Chríost

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (SciVal)


Worldwide ecosystem decline is a pressing issue that has led governments to sign up to biodiversity-related targets, but little is known about what drives individuals’ conservation behaviour. This study uses a qualitative methodology (grounded theory) to understand what leads to pro-nature attitudes and behaviours. Twenty participants (10 men; 10 women) underwent semi-structured interviews and audio files were transcribed and coded to form the basis of theory. The authors propose a model based on interview material in which species with intrinsic value (i.e., deemed valuable in their own right, not for their usefulness to humans) are within the bounds of moral consideration. Individuals with generalised beliefs about the intrinsic value of non-human species expressed moral concern for human-caused impacts on nature. External prompts, including social messages, were associated with sporadic pro-nature behaviours. Individuals engaging in sustained behaviour showed evidence of having internalised moral standard of pro-nature actions and also appeared to fashion a social environment that would sustain and enhance their moral views. We discuss the implications of our findings with respect to conservation campaign messaging and government policy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8944
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number16
Publication statusPublished - 10 Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: The first author received scholarship funding from the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol. The APC was funded by Cardiff University.


  • Behaviour change
  • Biodiversity
  • Conservation
  • Instrumental value
  • Intrinsic value
  • Moral concern
  • Pro-environmental behaviour
  • Pro-nature behaviour
  • Value-norm-belief theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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