Environmental values

Thomas Dietz, Amy Fitzgerald, Rachael Shwom

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

709 Scopus citations


Values are often invoked in discussions of how to develop a more sustainable relationship with the environment. There is a substantial literature on values that spans several disciplines. In philosophy, values are relatively stable principles that help us make decisions when our preferences are in conflict and thus convey some sense of what we consider good. In economics, the term values is usually used in discussions of social choice, where an assessment of the social value of various alternatives serves as a guide to the best choice under a utilitarian ethic (the greatest good for the greatest number). In sociology, social psychology, and political science, two major lines of research have addressed environmental values. One has focused on four value clusters: self-interest, altruism, traditionalism, and openness to change and found relatively consistent theoretical and empirical support for the relationship of values to environmentalism. The other line of research suggests that environmentalism emerges when basic material needs are met and that individuals and societies that are postmaterialist in their values are more likely to exhibit pro-environmental behaviors. The evidence in support of this argument is more equivocal. Overall, the idea that values, especially altruism, are related to environmentalism, seems well established, but little can be said about the causes of value change and of the overall effects of value change on changes in behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)335-372
Number of pages38
JournalAnnual Review of Environment and Resources
StatePublished - 2005
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Science(all)


  • Environment
  • Pro-environmental behavior
  • Values


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