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Revista Latina de Comunicación Social # 071 – Pages 015 to 039

[Funded][ Research ] | DOI: 10.4185/RLCS-2016-1082en | ISSN 1138-5820 | Year 2016

How to cite this article in bibliographies / References

YC Román Núñez, OJ Cuesta Moreno (2016): “Communication and environmental conservation: advances and challenges in Latin America”. Revista Latina de Comunicación Social, 71, pp. 015 to 039.

DOI: 10.4185/RLCS-2016-1082en

Communication and environmental conservation: advances and challenges in Latin America

YC Román Núñez [CV] Los Libertadores University Foundation. Bogotá. Colombia -

OJ Cuesta Moreno [CV] Los Libertadores University Foundation (Colombia) -



Introduction: This article presents the results of a review of literary works on environmental communication and conservation. Method: The study is based on informative and argumentative documentary research (Alfonzo, 1995; Páramo, 2008), related to the analysis and comparison of experiences. Results: Communication and environmental conservation is an emerging field of research, which has increased its results in the last five years. The countries with the largest production of such studies are Spain, Mexico and Colombia, which largely address issues related to: pro-environmental behaviours, pro-environmental attitudes and sustainable attitudes. These studies also address issues concerning environmental communication and, to a lesser degree, communication and environmental conservation. Discussions and conclusions: Advances in research on communication and environmental conservation include the media actions of environmental communication, the emergence of environmental journalism, and the criticism of the media’s catastrophic depiction of environmental issues. The challenges for environmental communicators are to carry out a more educational work in the transformation of habits and the generation of pro-environmental behaviours, and to play a more participatory role in the planning and evaluation of the public policies necessary for the conservation of biodiversity and protected areas.

Environmental communication; environmental conservation; pro-environmental behaviours; pro-environmental attitudes.


1. Introduction. 2. Methods. 2.1. Methodological strategies. 2.2. Procedure. 3. Results and analysis. 3.1. Informative phase – quantitative analysis. 3.2. Argumentative phase - qualitative analysis. 3.2.1. Environmental communication 3.2.2. Environmental communication and education. 3.2.3. Environmental communication and conservation. 3.2.4. Pro-environmental behaviours, pro-environmental attitudes and sustainable attitudes 4. Conclusions. 5. List of references.

Translation by CA Martínez-Arcos (PhD in Communication from the University of London)


1. Introduction

One of the greatest challenges of humankind in the 21st century is the creation of production and consumption systems that have a low impact on natural resources, that contemplate social dynamics and, particularly, that do not put at risk the permanence of human life nor the balance of the living organism called planet Earth. Therefore, all disciplines and sciences and by extension universities have the responsibility of producing knowledge that allows humans to lessen the impact of their lifestyle and even to modify the civilising logic that has caused environmental problems (Elizalde, 2002; Estermann, 2012), which are also social problems, and thus require understanding and improving the complex relationship between humans and nature.

 In this order of ideas, communication as axis of human dynamics is no stranger to this global crisis. For example, the work of environmental journalism has been documented since the 1960s, when the media began reporting on the obvious impacts of the environmental crisis of the post-war period. An example of this is Silent Spring, a book published in 1962 by Rachel Carson to highlight the danger of pesticides on the environment and human health. Another example is the report presented by The Club of Rome (1968), titled The Limits of Growth (published in 1972), which stated: “If the present growth trends in world population, industrialization, pollution, food production and resources depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years. The most probable result will a rather sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity... nothing can grow indefinitely in a finite environment” (Meadows et al., 1972, cited Mayor, 2009: 14).

Despite the previous efforts, it can be argued that the communication-environment link is quite recent. Environmental communication is relatively new and its first articles in scientific journals were published in the 1970’s. This production increased by 25.5% between 1970 and 2000, while the production of journal articles between 1985 and the early 1990s increased by 44% (Pleasant et al., 2002, cited Roger, 2011). Later, the first decade of the 21st century witnessed the emergence of journals specialised in environmental communication and ecological marketing, as well as websites, blogs, movements in social networks, international events, biennials on communication and environment, etc. This dynamic shaped the body of work on environmental communication and gave it a place in associations, such as the National Communication Association (Roger, 2011).

The theoretical construction of the environmental communication category took place in more recent works. For example, Solano (2001) formulated a reflection on communication in the generation of environmental awareness, by using education as a reference. Later, Michelsen (2003) proposed that communication on environmental and sustainability issues is associated with change in individual behaviour, and that therefore it is essential to analyse the cultural context, because it associates environmental behaviour to people’s lifestyle. Castro (2005) was the first to address that relationship, which he understands as a process of development and exchange of messages between social agents whose purpose is to promote the dissemination of pro-environmental knowledge, attitudes and behaviours.

Castro’s approach (2005) involves two basic frameworks of reference. On the one hand, the notion of environmental education as instruction in environmental awareness aiming to modify behaviours and, on the other hand, the conception of sustainability as the use of natural resources in a controlled way that allows their preservation over time. These two frameworks of reference are, if you will, the official frameworks established by international agencies, which advocate for the capitalist dynamic without proposing another production logic. However, it is important to remember that there are other dynamics and that, in fact, their proposals promote another man-nature relationship from an environmental rationality that configures another worldview (Leff, 2006).

Piñeiro (2008), influenced by Castro (2005), identifies the lines followed by environmental communication: a) the journalistic line, which produces and disseminates environmental news and delves into environmental events to make them public; b) advertising communication, which is divided into ecological marketing (promotion of products and services with an environmental added value) and environmental marketing (related to change in attitudes, behaviours and values); c) communication and education, related to interpersonal communication without mediation of objects; d) the interpretative line, which uses media exhibitions to encourage people to reflect; and e) communication with new technologies, which invites people to carry out research.  

Piñeiro (2008) focuses on environmental communication, education and marketing, since their purpose is to change values, habits and behaviours. Consequently, he defines environmental communication “as a public or collective strategic communication campaign, programme or plan that uses different media and formats (banners, audiovisual material, posters, brochures, radio ads, etc.), and whose final objective is to make current psychological and/or social factors (values, attitudes, behaviours, opinions, habits, meanings, etc.) more pro-environmental” (p. 242).

As we can see, environmental communication has been directed to the development of practices that enable environmental conservation. In this order of ideas, it is necessary to investigate the academic production related to environmental communication and conservation. Accordingly, the following section present a review of publications that address the link between environmental communication and environmental conservation, and environmental behaviours.

2. Methods

This documentary review of the works related environmental communication and conservation corresponds to a descriptive study that combined quantitative and qualitative methods. A total of 70 documents on the subject of study were reviewed, but only 62 were systematised and analysed. The final sample corresponds mainly to scientific research articles included in specialised literature databases.

2.1. Methodological strategies

This documentary research (Alfonzo, 1995) was conducted in two phases: an informative phase, which consisted in analysing and selecting relevant information for the study (Páramo, 2008) and an argumentative phase, which consisted in examining the veracity and desirability of the obtained information. Therefore, during this second phase, we discussed the consequences and alternative solutions and came to critical conclusions after evaluating the collected data (Páramo, 2008).

2.2. Procedure

The informative phase involved, firstly, the exploration of restricted and open bibliographic databases specialised in indexing journals responsible for disseminating the scientific results in all areas of knowledge in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as Spain and Portugal. The consulted databases were: Jstor, Dialnet, Redalyc, SciELO, Latindex, Google Scholar, ProQuest and We also consulted the DOAJ portal, which is an open-access database of multidisciplinary journals with links to full-text articles, and the Thesis and Dissertation Repository (TDR).

Secondly, we established four search criteria/keywords to obtain the material of study in specialised bibliographic databases, portals and repositories. The first search criterion/keyword (C1) was environmental communication and conservation which was used in a combined way, i.e. environmental communication and conservation and environmental conservation and communications. The second keyword (C2) was an individual category: environmental communication. The third keyword (C3) was a source related to the topic of study: environmental education and conservation. Finally, the fourth search keyword (C4) was related to the variations of the titles of the consulted sources or their keywords: pro-environmental behaviours, pro-environmental attitudes and sustainable attitudes. It should be noted that the search keywords favoured the research production produced in the Spanish language and carried out in Latin American countries, but they were not used as exclusion criteria.

The third activity was to organise, analyse and systematise the data collected from articles, books, consultation papers and doctoral theses. This analysis was quantitative and qualitative and its results are presented below.

3. Results and analysis

3.1. Informative phase - quantitative analysis
This section presents the results of the quantitative analysis of the collected documents. A total of 62 bibliographical sources indexed in specialised databases were examined. The distribution of the collected documents according to their typology is as follows: 53 (85%) were articles; 3 (5%) were doctoral thesis; 3 (5%) were institutional documents; 2 (3%) were conference proceedings; and 1 (2%) was a research book (See Figure 1).

Figure 1. Distribution of documents according to typology

In relation to the databases in which the documents were found, the relation is as follows: 15 documents in Redalyc, 14 in SciELO, 11 in Dialnet, and 5 in ProQuest. The first 45 documents correspond to research articles. In addition, three (3) doctoral theses were found in TDX and 14 sources in Google Scholar, which correspond to: three (3) articles from international journals, four (4) articles published in the Mexican journal Tópicos, two (2) proceedings of the 9th and 10th biennial Conferences on Communication and Environment held in the United States of America; and one (1) research book on environmental education in Spain (Barranquero & Marín, 2014) (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Distribution of documents according to the database of origin

On the other hand, with regards to the country of origin of the documents (place of research place or country of origin of the author) these are the results: the analysis revealed that Spain was the place of origin of most of the texts on the subject. Mexico is in second place and Colombia in third. Figure 3 shows the other countries with smaller numbers of publications on the subject.

 Figure 3. Distribution of documents according to country or origin

In terms of the year of production of the 62 documents on environmental communication and conservation, 8 studies were produced during the 1990s and 30 between 2000 and 2010. 24 works were published from 2010 to 2015, which indicates a significant increase in academic work on the subject (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. Distribution of documents according to year of production/publication

Finally, we present the classification of the documents according to the search criteria/keywords. Figure 5 shows that 39% of the sources are related to the fourth search keyword (C4), i.e., pro-environmental behaviours, pro-environmental attitudes and sustainable attitudes. 27% of the documents were found with the environmental communication keyword (C2). 23% of the sources refer to the keyword (C1) environmental communication and conservation. Finally, 11% of the documents were located with the keyword (C3) environmental education and conservation.

 Figure 5. Distribution of documents according to search criteria/keywords

Based on this first quantitative analysis of the 62 sources related to the environmental communication and conservation, it can be concluded that most of them are scientific research articles identified in specialised bibliographical databases, mainly in: Redalyc, SciELO, Dialnet and ProQuest. The countries with the largest production of these studies are Spain, Mexico, and Colombia, which largely address issues related to: pro-environmental behaviours, pro-environmental attitudes and sustainable attitudes; secondly, environmental communication and, thirdly, environmental communication and conservation.


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