Song of the post: The Who – Join Together
Gathering scholars to discuss a common academic theme is almost certainly more difficult than herding cats. But, for folks who conduct research at the intersection of environmental issues and human behavior, the annual Sustainability Psychology Preconference at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology has cast a wonderful net around the community for the past six years. As co-chair of the organizing committee with Cameron Brick (and with the help of the other awesome folks on the committee, pictured here), I wanted to provide a summary of the discussions from this year’s Sustainability Psychology Preconference.
We started off the morning with Dr. Linda Steg’s keynote address. Graciously traveling all the way from the Netherlands, Dr. Steg explored the importance of intrinsic motivation for understanding why people engage in positive environmental actions. For example, she detailed her recent research demonstrating that employees are more likely to perform pro-environmental behaviors in the workplace when they hold “biospheric values” (a relatively stable concern about nature). Furthermore, she explored how targeting egoistic values, such as concerns about money, may undermine the extent to which people engage in a range of environmental actions (e.g., save energy AND save water; sometimes called “behavior spillover”).
Following Dr. Steg’s keynote address, our first theme of the day focused on recent trends in the basic science surrounding environmental issues. Dr. Paul Thibodeau discussed systems thinking and the environment, revealing that people higher in systems thinking (e.g., endorsing statements such as “All the earth’s systems, from the climate to the economy, are interconnected”) are more likely to state that they feel connected to nature. Dr. Kathryn Doherty discussed how important it is that people who want to help address climate change need to feel like they, and their social groups, are efficacious, and that they can be part of future solutions. Finally, Dr. Matthew Hornsey used meta-analysis to explore the strongest predictors of whether people believe in human-caused climate change, finding that political affiliation (identifying as a Republican), those with weak environmental values, and those who felt that their local weather has not changed drastically in recent years, tended to be the most skeptical of human-caused climate change.
The final session of the day focused on the intersection of sustainability psychology and policy. Dr. Ezra Markowitz discussed how sustainability psychologists can inform environmental policy moving forward. In particular, he emphasized the need to build new collaborations with community partners, seek more creative research funding sources, and develop new programs of experimental community-based research. Next, Liza Meyer, Green Policy Manager of San Antonio, explored recent behavioral and environmental policies in San Antonio, including a coal tar ban, a ban on vehicle idling, and a green events ordinance. Finally, Molly Cox, President and CEO of SA2020, offered thoughts on the progress San Antonio has made on sustainability goals for 2020, and how SA2020 is informing sustainability goal-setting of cities across the world.
Apart from these themes, additional presenters offered brief talks on their recent work (“data blitz talks,” or brief five-minute presentations) or presented posters on their research. All of the invited and data blitz presenters, and many of the poster presenters, generously allowed us to share their presentation materials, which can all be accessed here. Finally, we presented the first ever student awards for the Sustainability Psychology Preconference for a Student Data Blitz Presentation and a Student Poster Presentation. Congratulations to Kimin Eom (University of California, Santa Barbara) and Jennifer Cole (University of Colorado Boulder) for the Data Blitz and Poster awards, respectively!
A huge thank you to all of the presenters, the committee members, SPSP, and San Antonio, not to mention Division 34 (Society for Environmental, Population, and Conservation Psychology) of the American Psychology Association for funding support. We hope to see you next year in Atlanta, Georgia for the 7th annual Sustainability Psychology Preconference at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology!