The thesis focuses on young people because they are the biggest lever in environmental protection. “Since I have increasingly noticed that young people are very environmentally aware, but for the most part do not act accordingly, I wanted to get to the bottom of this circumstance and, in the best-case scenario, find out how to counteract it,” says Holzer. At the same time, she is interested in literature and the power of language and therefore came up with the idea of combining the two topics.
“I was practically born with the fascination for language. My father is a linguist at the University of Vienna and my mother is a German teacher at a grammar school,” explains the young IMC graduate. Her interest in the influence of language and word choice on thinking and culture led to the question of whether the targeted use of language could also influence the environmental motivation of people. “The debate that was already going on in the media and politics at the time, whether it should be called climate crisis or climate change for reasons of awareness, finally reassured me in the importance of this topic,” says Holzer.
The young environmental expert used the quantitative experiment as a research method. “I had five texts with the same content, but prepared differently in terms of language, and one control text, which had not been manipulated. The test persons were given one of the texts at random and then had to answer questions about their environmental motivation. This allowed me to compare which linguistic stylistic device had the most positive influence on environmental motivation.”
Study results easy to implement
How can language be used to positively influence young people’s environmental motivation and bring about a change in behaviour? Holzer pursued this question in her award-winning thesis, whereby it is important for her to understand motivation not as a motive for an environmental action, but as an inner self-determined decision to actually carry out the activity. “The evaluation of the data showed that linguistic stylistic devices that appeal to emotions are particularly suitable for positively influencing environmental motivation. It also turned out to be particularly effective when language is used that creates images in the minds of the recipients,” the graduate recounts her results.
The results of the study can be implemented well in dealing with young people, Holzer is pleased to say: “The insight that you should address emotions and create images in texts if you want to generate positive environmental action among young people can be used excellently for effective sustainability communication and education tailored to the target group. With this knowledge, schoolbooks, information brochures or newspaper articles can be prepared accordingly.”
The Scientific Award of the City of Vienna – Environmental Protection is awarded annually by the Environmental Protection Department (MA 22) for scientific work in the field of environmental protection. The theses should deal with topics that are relevant or of interest for environmental protection in Vienna. In 2021, papers were mainly requested on climate change adaptation, sustainable food use, protection of biodiversity, resource conservation and awareness raising in environmental protection and nature conservation. Holzer receives the prize for 2021 for her “high-quality work”.
With her thesis, Holzer was able to contribute to filling two research gaps in part: “On the one hand, I took a closer look at the demographic group of young people, which has been neglected by previous scientific studies regarding environmental motivation and environmental action. Secondly, there are hardly any studies that deal with environmental motivation as an actual motivation to act in an environmentally friendly way rather than as a motivation for an action. This means that even the emotions, values and norms I looked at in great detail previously received little attention.” The combination of her study of environmental motivation as an internal causality in adolescents is thus quite new and unique so far. The results could help to understand the intention-behaviour gap among young people in terms of their high environmental awareness combined with a lack of environmental action, and to counteract it in the future.
Vienna-born Laura Holzer completed a master’s degree in Journalism and Communication Studies at the University of Vienna in 2017. She has worked in corporate communications for ten years. In her career, she now wants to devote herself fully to sustainability and joined the WETGroup as Sustainability Manager in June 2022. So, she hit the mark with the Environmental and Sustainability Management degree programme at IMC Krems.
The master’s programme UNM at IMC Krems prepares students for responsible activities in the national and international professional field and enables the implementation of ecological and social measures in companies and organisations. Laura Holzer decided to do this after having worked in corporate communications for years and wanting to focus more on sustainability in companies. “I have always been interested in CSR, i.e., corporate social responsibility, and so I was originally just looking for a course through which I could further educate myself in this area. During my research, I came across the degree programme at IMC Krems. The wide range of different topics related to sustainability, the part-time model and the nice atmosphere on campus convinced me immediately and so, against all expectations, I started studying again,” Holzer summarises why the decision for IMC Krems was the right one.
She found the many discussions particularly exciting, which thrived on the fact that everyone came from different disciplines and thus brought in different perspectives. “We had economists, biologists, marketing experts, architects and many more. Therefore, if you are open to new perspectives, ready to question critically and want to think or do things differently, this is the right course for you,” concludes the young sustainability expert.