PhD researcher Femke Vrenegoor: values and motivations are crucial for sustainable behavior

Femke Vrenegoor

Femke Vrenegoor successfully defended her PhD thesis on sustainable entrepreneurship in the tourism sector at the Beursgebouw in Leeuwarden on Friday. The lecturer-researcher within the Hotel Management School began her PhD research at Campus Fryslân (University of Groningen) in 2016. One of her findings: values and motivations are crucial for sustainable behaviour.

Small-sized tourism entrepreneurs implements numerous different sustainability measures, going beyond the typical environmental and cost-saving sustainability measures that they are assumed to take, concludes Femke Vrenegoor in her thesis Sustainable Tourism Entrepreneurs: Values, Motivations and Implemented Sustainability Measures.

Femke found evidence that there is an emerging attention to the social dimension of sustainability: “These entrepreneurs implement numerous social sustainability measures, though they simply don’t recognize them as such. Typically, these actions connect to their embeddedness in their locality. For example, they hire local staff, they use local suppliers for food, and they contribute to the overall wellbeing of the local community.”

Values and motivations

Furthermore, Femke’s research shows that values and motivations are crucial antecedents in understanding which and how many sustainability measures the entrepreneur implements in their organization. Values are a stable but less direct antecedent of sustainable behaviour, and motivations are a more direct yet less stable antecedent of sustainable behaviour.

Femke Vrenegoor

Pictures: Fotobureau Hoge Noorden / Jaap Schaaf

Contrary to what one might expect, egoistic values, those values that connect to guarding and improving one’s resources, are least prioritized amongst this group of small-sized tourism entrepreneurs. Rather, their biospheric values, those values that connect to a concern with the quality of the natural environment, are important values for them, and result in the implementation of both social and environmental sustainability measures.

Desired and chosen lifestyle

Femke: "Most of the SME tourism entrepreneurs go into business due to a passion for the industry. They enjoy the high quality of life working as an entrepreneur in the industry offers them, and wish to maintain this chosen lifestyle rather than seeking to maximize income and growth of the business. Lifestyle motivations are also the most important motive for acting sustainably; these entrepreneurs do so because it aligns with their personal values and habits. These lifestyle motivations have also shown to have a significant relation on the implemented environmental and social sustainability measures."

These insights from Femke’s research can be used to in communication around and nudging for more and better sustainable behaviour. Since Femke’s finding suggest that Dutch SME tourism entrepreneurs actually embrace biospheric values, and are already motivated to act sustainably due to lifestyle reasons, attention should go to making it easier to act in accordance with their values and motivations. "Furthermore, communication about sustainability should demonstrate how the implementation of sustainability measures contributes to maintaining their desired lifestyle."

Femke will be continuing her research efforts by experimenting with designing and implementing nudges and measuring their effect on the sustainable behaviour of SME tourism entrepreneurs.