Section 5.2: The role of values in corporate citizenship

Individuals, including you and me, very often disagree on the severity, importance, and priority of different environmental problems such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, and pollution. These differences in opinion arise from different worldviews each of us possesses.

Environmental worldviews are a person’s thoughts about how the world operates, and beliefs about what their role in the world should be. These thoughts are primarily influenced by our personal and environmental ethics—what is right or wrong in humanity’s treatment of the natural environment, and how environmental issues that arise should be addressed.

As a result, individuals, communities, societies, and nations differ widely in their worldview even if they have access to the same information, since the worldview affects how the issues are analyzed based on our values and assumptions.

 Anthropocentric or Biocentric?

Environmental worldviews are either human centered – focused upon on the demands, needs, and wants of people, life centered – focused upon the needs and demands of all living organisms, or earth-centered – centered upon the sustenance of the entire biosphere or ecosystems as a whole.  These environmental worldviews lie on a scale and can be visualized as concentric circles as seen below.

As our values shift outward, from human-centered to more earth-centered perspectives, we begin to value the environment and its components for more than the products and services they provide. In other words, we begin to place emphasis on intrinsic values over instrumental values.

Miller and Spoolman (2012)

The differences in worldviews frame how individuals consider environmental and social issues. Growing awareness of sustainability has spurred a gradual shift towards a more earth-centered view. The key characteristics of the three environmental worldviews are summarized in the table below.

Human Centered

Life Centered

Earth Centered


Planetary Management


Environmental Wisdom


Humans are superior to all other life

We are entitled to utilize the environment and its components as we deem necessary to fulfill all our needs and wants

We have an ethical responsibility to care for the earth

We should encourage environmentally friendly forms of economic growth and discourage environmentally harmful practices

We are a part of, and totally dependent upon nature

Nature and the environment exists for all species including us.

All life forms have inherent value and should be respected

Perception of Nature

Earth has unlimited resources to be used by us

Nature can be altered to suit our needs.

Potential for economic growth is unlimited

Nature will probably not run out of resources, but we should not waste them

Natural resources are for our use but we must manage it well

Nature cannot, and should not be conquered

Everything in nature is interconnected

The planet does not have infinite resources

Resources should not be wasted

Not all resources are solely for our use

Management Perspective

Resource management and conservation are unnecessary

We can easily manage the earth’s life support systems for our benefit

Our success depends on our ability to manage our environment and earth’s life support systems for our benefit and for the rest of nature

We should encourage earth sustaining forms of economic growth and discourage degrading forms of growth

Our success depends on learning how nature sustains itself and integrating those lessons into our daily lives



Altruistic/ Instrumental

Biospheric/ Intrinsic

While addressing social issues is often based on moral philosophies rooted in ethics, the human connection to the natural environment is more fundamentally derived from our evolutionary biology. The notion that there is a biological bases for humans’ valuation of the natural environment is known as biophilia. Over our evolutionary history, we have developed biological responses to the natural environment, which can be either positive such as looking at a pleasing landscape, or negative (“biophobia”) in scenarios that we have learned to fear, such as thunderstorms, snakes and spiders, and dark places (for many people).

Kellert (1993) described nine types of biophilia values that humans gain from the natural environment, summarized in the table below.





Practical & material exploitation

Physical sustenance, security


Satisfaction from contact with nature

Curiosity, outdoor skills, mental/physical development


Study of structure, function, and relationships in nature

Knowledge, understanding, observation


Physical appeal and beauty

Inspiration, harmony, peace, security


Use nature for metaphorical expression, language, etc

Communication, mental development


Affection, emotional attachment, love for nature

Group bonding, sharing, cooperation, companionship


Affinity, spiritual reverence, ethical concern

Order/meaning in life, kinship, affiliational ties


Mastery, physical control, dominance

Mechanical skills, physical prowess, ability to subdue


Fear, aversion, alienation

Security, protection, safety

Source: Kellert, S.R. 1993. The biological basis for human values of nature. In, S.R. Kellert & E.O. Wilson (Eds.), The Biophilia Hypothesis (pp. 42-72). Washington: Island Press.

Environmental values are important, internal drivers that motivate people towards sustainability behaviors. This is because values, unlike other characteristics, are determined early on in our lifetimes, and remain fairly stable throughout a person’s life. Changing those values is therefore very difficult, but often a necessary step towards pro-environmental and pro-social behavior.

Supplementary Resources

Miller and Spoolman (2012) “Chapter 25 – Environmental Worldviews, Ethics and Sustainability in Living in the Environment: Principles, connections and solutions”

Ramkissoon and Smith (2014) “The relationship between environmental worldviews, emotions and personal efficacy in climate change”

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