Campus News

Public servants individually motivated to help environment

New UGA research shows that while on the job, public servants contribute not just to mandated sustainability but also to discretionary eco-friendly initiatives of their own.

“Some people are born with a higher intrinsic need to serve the public,” said study co-author Robert K. Christensen, an associate professor in the School of Public and International Affairs. “They have a desire to help others and serve society. Government and nonprofit managers, for example, typically have higher levels of public service motivation than business managers.”

The study in the American Review of Public Administration used a survey of hundreds of public servants in a large Southeastern city to examine their environmental and organizational behaviors.

Authored by Justin M. Stritch, a former doctoral student in public administration and policy, and Christensen, who also is the school’s Ph.D. director in the public administration and policy department, the research found that public servants were likely to engage in eco-initiatives.

“Eco-initiatives involve things like recycling or energy conservation. Reusing water bottles and turning off your computer screen are examples,” said Stritch, now an assistant professor at Arizona State University.

In the survey, public servants from the city’s neighborhood and business services, fire, police and human resources departments as well as the city manager’s office reported their environmental and workplace behaviors. The results showed that eco-initiatives had to do with how motivated these public servants were to help society.

Public service motivation, a type of altruism, determines how people feel about the public and how they want to service public values. People with public service motivation can fulfill their desire to help society by choosing a job in government or a job in the private sector that helps citizens.

“Eco-initiatives are correlated with the public service motivation of an individual,” Christensen said. “Public servants with high public service motivation engage in micro-citizenship behaviors to benefit society on a broader basis.”

Along with public service motivation, two other predictors indicate a person’s likeliness to perform eco-initiatives: organization commitment and environmental connectedness.

Environmental connectedness describes an individual’s attachment to nature. In other words, an employee’s concern for the environment will help predict whether, and to what extent, they engage in eco-initiatives.

“Even after accounting for an individual’s connectedness to nature, an employee’s public service motivation is a key factor in understanding voluntary eco-initiatives in the public workplace,” Christensen said.