Eco-Warrior: A theory-based mobile app for forming and sustaining pro-environmental habits

March 24, 2024

smart phone research

By Ching-Hua Chuan, Michelle Seelig, Weiting Tao, and Sunny Tsai, University of Miami

Although many people consider themselves ecologically aware, their attitudes often fail to align with actual behaviors for mitigating environmental problems. To address this gap, we designed, developed, and empirically evaluated a theory-driven mobile app intervention called “Eco-Warrior.” The app is designed to form eco-friendly behavioral habits among Generation Z users, known as the “sustainability generation.” 

Based on the focus groups conducted during the app design process, some of the most memorable and impactful environmental communication contents to Gen-Zers were viral videos that demonstrate the dire consequences of climate change on wild animals, such as the starving polar bears on iceless land and the sea turtle with a plastic straw in its nostril. Therefore, our app is designed to increase involvement recognition by demonstrating the vulnerability of three specific animals (i.e., sea turtles, polar bears, and tigers) that need human help as their peril has been widely publicized in popular media.

The app provides a range of concrete, actionable behavioral goals (e.g., preventing plastic waste, reducing meat consumption, and avoiding palm oil products) that users can select to fit their lifestyles. It also offers daily “nudges” that remind users of their behavioral goals at the time they would like to be reminded.

When users fail to report accomplishments of their selected goals, they are reminded by the animal associated with the specific environmental problem that their help is greatly needed. When accomplishments are recorded, users receive appreciative messages from the animals (e.g., stylish “thank you” postcards from baby sea turtles that explain how reusable water bottles reduce plastic pollution in their oceans).

The mobile app intervention allows users to access environmental information and guidance anytime and anywhere. The app also motivates users to adopt pro-environment behaviors by helping them select the goals that fit their lifestyles, track and provide feedback on their progress, celebrate their achievements, and reaffirm the beneficial impacts of their behavioral change on the animals that they care about.

Focus group feedback further highlighted that the app was distinct from other digital tools such as carbon footprint calculators which primarily made them feel guilty and ashamed after the one-time usage. Participants reported becoming more mindful of their impacts on the environment and felt hopeful that their actions could help the environment.

By illuminating the effectiveness of mobile apps for facilitating pro-environmental behavioral change and habit formation, our study provides important evidence for how various sectors, such as nonprofits, governmental agencies, and businesses, can capitalize on the omnipresence of mobile technology to engage and empower citizens for environmental activism.

For further information on this study, please email Tsai at This project was supported by a 2022 Page/Johnson Legacy Scholar Grant from the Arthur W. Page Center.