Back to the plot ...

Green psychology

Is that the same as "ecopsychology"?

Not really. It was my name for what mainstream experimental psychology can tell us about sustainable behaviour.

At some point or other our eco-problems come down to behaviour. Usefully, there are whole areas of academic endeavour which try to get a beam on what makes people tick. True, the social sciences have nothing like the predictive power of the physical sciences, but they do represent an honest attempt to go beyond our own limited experiences, to step beyond our own assumptions.

The alternative is a mixture of handwaving and hunches and in any non-academic discussion you will see plenty of both.

What do I know about this?

I had a basic undergraduate knowledge of experimental psychology from way back, which I revised and updated. There is plenty of highly relevant stuff even from this general work.

In around 2005 I found that there were a number of reports and discussions being published specifically about the psychology of sustainable behaviour and its communication. I found the most useful introduction to this area is Tim Jackson's Motivating sustainable consumption

I read this and a number of other reports, literature reviews and discussion papers and then put together a short report of my own - Green Psychology.


While working on this, I also did a month's volunteering at Transport 2000. Coincidentally, Steve Hounsham, the then press officer for T200 was working on his own thinkpiece about the (mis)communication of sustainability. This was published in Jan 2006 as Painting the town green (PTTG) and contains substantial quotation from myself.

PTTG is very readable, was not intended to be an academic work, and has plenty of good and useful stuff in it. However, Steve was impressed by Chris Rose and came out with an endorsement of the use of the "values-modes" brand of market segmentation, even though I was sceptical about this.

For a while after, I continued to read around the subject. I know that there has come to be seen a sort of schism between "social marketing" versus "values" but I think this is something of a pseudo-debate. I have explained why here: Social marketing versus identity theory

And what do I think now?

I have always suspected that what we can do with green psychology on its own is limited and ultimately does no more than than lubricate changes that are being driven by other factors.

Mind you, this alone is certainly worth doing. If you extend the metaphor and think of a machine that is seized up, then lubrication is not trivial!

My suspicions go further though: at the moment, I don't think a study of psychology, or of the social sciences generally can actively tell you how to design a campaign: the value of this knowledge is in telling us what not to say.

ornamental lake on Hampstead Heath in London - or a metaphor for the mind

Regents canal in London - I used to walk to work along here

My writing

Green Psychology.(2005) Why do people behave in un-green ways? Is anyone asking this question and have they come up with any useful answers yet?

Bystander Apathy and Climate Change. Might this famous finding of social psychology help us?

Helping Strangers in Distress. Moral exhortation alone is probably of limited use.

Will Being Green Make You Happier? Yes, says the new field of 'Hedonics'.

Why aren't we doing more? Because it's difficult!

Tippism (2008) Comment on George Marshall's 'Death of a thousand tips'

That horrid 1010 video (2010) Could a modest knowledge of cognitive bias have prevented this? Yes.

Social marketing versus identity theory (2012) Not such a big deal.

Much of this has now become received wisdom in some circles - though the futility of preaching still needs to be ..err... preached.

Some links

Painting the town green How to persuade people to be more environmentally friendly.

Motivating sustainable consumptionTim Jackson's excellent overview of behavioural theory.

Which messages spur citizens to protect the environment? Robert Cialdini, marketing prof.

New rules : new game Futerra, one of the first green comms agencies, translate all the highfalutin' green psychology stuff into tools for toilers at the wordface.

Climate Denial George Marshall's blog.

Identity campaigning Tom Crompton and others.

Campaign strategy Chris Rose's site.

... and yet more links ...

There's now just tons of this stuff even compared with 5 years ago ...

New scientist article August 2009.

American Psychological Association on Climate change, August 2009.

Well sharp New Zealand-based blog

Indications US-based environmental communication and culture blog

Community based social marketing Slightly disappointing site.

Last updated June 2012

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