Date of Award


Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis

First Advisor

Dr. Brendan Fisher

Second Advisor

Dr. Nathan J. Sanders


Rationalization, Pro-Environmental Behavior, Conservationists, Environmental Knowledge, Environmental Decision-Making


A recent Biological Conservation paper found that while conservationists behave more sustainably than other professionals in some respects (e.g. compost more), they still have much room to improve. Three key domains of behavior the paper tested were meat consumption, daily commuting behavior, and air travel. In this research, we analyzed the voluntary comments people made in response to questions about their behavior in these areas to seek a better understanding of how conservationists explain or rationalize their behavior despite their knowledge of how their behavior impacts the environment. The results revealed that conservationists were more likely to rationalize their meat consumption behavior than economists. Otherwise, there was not a significant difference between the likelihood of conservationists, economists, and medical professionals to rationalize their behavior. The most common types of rationalizations used by respondents to justify their unsustainable behavior were Self-Sanctions and Moral Justification. Interestingly, the rationalizations offered in the comments of the respondents also took the form of Positive Self-Reactions, or self-praise for behaving in a sustainable manner. A future line of study could assess the efficacy of interrupting the ability of people to rationalize their unsustainable behavior as a leverage point to alter behavior.