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  Environment » Environmental Information » Environmental indicators » Social and economic: monitoring and reporting » People’s environmental attitudes » Methods - how we monitor

Methods - how we monitor

Where and how we collect the data

People’s environmental awareness, attitudes and knowledge are identified through repeated cross-sectional surveys. A survey was used to collect the data in 2000. In 2004, a University of Waikato survey used the same questions Waikato Regional Council used in its 2000 survey. In 2008, 2013, and 2016 Waikato Regional Council commissioned a repeat of the survey and expanded the number of questions from 6 to 15 to give more information about people's environmental attitudes, but only the basic set of 6 questions forms this indicator.

Monitoring sites

A random selection of individual households for 1,095 of those surveyed, followed with a convenience sample of 155 intercept interviews at various locations in the Waikato region.

Monitoring frequency

The survey has been carried out six times:

  • June 1998 (benchmark survey - when only one question was asked as a pilot)
  • October to November 2000
  • October to November 2004
  • May  2008
  • January to March 2013 (included as part of a larger survey)
  • February to March 2016 (included as part of a larger survey)

Monitoring history

  • The benchmark survey in June 1998 included the first New Environmental Paradigm (NEP) statement in the Environmental Awareness, Attitudes and Actions Survey for 1998 as a pilot.
  • NEP surveys undertaken in 2000 and 2004 included the six base statements. 
  • The 2008 NEP survey included the expanded set of 15 statements.
  • In 2013 the 15 statements were combined with questions in the wider Environmental Awareness, Attitudes and Actions Survey (called the New Ecological Paradigm and Environmental Awareness, Attitudes and Actions Combined Survey). 
  • In 2016 the 15 statements were combined with questions in the wider Your Environment What Matters Survey (an adaptation of the 2013 survey).

Measurement technique

  • The 2016 survey utilised a sequential mixed method approach to interviewing. This involved both telephone (n=1,095) and intercept interviewing (n=155). Telephone interviewing was initially used to canvass the population, while intercept interviewing was used to ensure demographic representation of the region was achieved. Thirteen per cent of the total sample was collected via intercept interviewing. The questions were developed, reviewed and pilot-tested before inclusion in the final survey.
  • Age and gender weightings have been applied to the final data set. Weighting gives greater confidence that the final results are representative of the Waikato region population overall and are not skewed by a particular demographic group. The proportions used for the gender and age weights are taken from the 2013 Census (Statistics New Zealand).
  • The final sample size provides a maximum margin of error of +/- 2.77 per cent at the 95 per cent confidence interval.

How the indicator is compiled

New Environmental Paradigm (NEP) Scale

An adapted version of the ‘New Environmental Paradigm Scale’ (NEP) was used for this indicator.

The NEP was developed and tested by Dunlap and van Liere1(external link), sociologists at Washington State University in 1978. Further testing was done by other researchers using rural and urban communities in the United States. The NEP scale has also been used in Finland, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

Dunlap and van Liere's original NEP survey had 12 statements. Thorough testing by other researchers has shown that a balanced selection of statements covering the three basic dimensions of ‘balance of nature', 'limits to growth', and 'human over nature’ yield consistently valid results.

Survey statements

Six statements were used for this indicator in the 2000 and 2004 surveys. These were repeated in the 2008, 2013 and 2016 surveys with an additional 9 statements.

Each respondent was asked to agree or disagree with each of a set of six statements. The six statements used were:

  1. ‘The balance of nature is very delicate and easily upset.’
  2. ‘Modifying the environment for human use seldom causes serious problems.’
  3. ‘Plants and animals exist primarily to be used by humans.’
  4. ‘The earth is like a spaceship with only limited room and resources.’
  5. ‘There are limits to economic growth even for developed countries like ours.’
  6. ‘Humans were meant to rule over the rest of nature.’

Half of the six statements were worded so an ‘agree’ response was environmentally positive. The others (in italics) were worded so an ‘agree’ response was environmentally negative. These negative statements had their polarity reversed for the analysis. Scores were given on a five-point scale.

Statement scores

The scale consisted of: Points
Strongly agree (5)
Agree (4)
Neither agree nor disagree (3)
Disagree (2)
Strongly disagree (1)
Don’t know (3)

‘Don’t knows’ and non-responses were coded as ‘Neither/nor’ on the answer scale. Then the scores for answers to each of the six statements were added together to deliver a rating out of 30.


The regional result for the six base statements is compiled as the percentage of respondents in three categories based on the 6-30 scale:

  • Pro-ecological – 25-30
  • Mid-ecological – 19-24
  • Anti-ecological – 6-18

Regional results are given as the per cent of people giving each score.  The mean, mode and mid-point are also presented.

For each territorial authority area, the same process is used (per cent giving each score and then the average of the total).


There are two limitations to using telephone questionnaires to assess people’s environmental perceptions:

  • Telephone questionnaires are biased towards people owning landline telephones, and therefore may miss some people in the community. Intercept interviewing was added to the method this year as younger residents are becoming increasingly difficult to reach using telephone interviewing alone.
  • Many factors influence people’s attitudes to their local environment, including where and how people live, what news media items they have recently seen and who they are. These influences are not measured by quantitative questionnaires. 


  1. Dunlap, R.E. and K. van Liere 1978: The New Environmental Paradigm: a proposed measuring instrument and preliminary results. Journal of Environmental Education 9:10-19, Washington D.C., U.S.A.
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