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GLRPPR Sector Resource: The Psychology of Sustainable Behavior: Tips for empowering people to take environmentally positive action

The Psychology of Sustainable Behavior: Tips for empowering people to take environmentally positive action

There are many ways we can empower ourselves, and those around us, to live more sustainably. Psychology, the study of human behavior, offers many insights. The purpose of this handbook is to introduce you to research-based tips from psychology to help you in your personal, community, and workplace efforts to empower sustainability. The recommendations are based on empirical research; most of the studies described here have been published in peer-reviewed academic journals. This document represents many years of psychological studies. Psychology is a diverse field with many contributions to make. I have summarized the studies and findings most relevant to sustainability and sustainable behavior change. The handbook begins with an overview of the psychology of sustainable behavior, providing a short background on this field of study. The following section then describes how the tips from psychology fit into sustainability campaigns and explains how individual sustainability contributes to broader social and policy change. There are seven separate tips and they are listed in order of importance. This means that the first tip, "Make sustainability the social default," has the most influence on sustainable behavior. The second most influential tip is listed next: "Emphasize personal relevance," and so on. Within the section dedicated to each tip, there are sub-headings that describe specific ways to work with that tip. For example, under "Make sustainability the social default" there are six sub-headings (e.g., "Communicate normative information," "Encourage positive social cues for sustainability"). Each of these is a significantly different approach through which sustainable behavior becomes the social default. They are not mutually exclusive: the more of the approaches you incorporate, the more likely you are to see a new social norm. Recommendations and examples of how the different approaches can be carried out in the real world are included at the end of each sub-section, after a description of the approach.


Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Resource Type:

Date of Publication:
September 2009

Associated Sectors:

GLRPPR is a member of the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange, a national network of regional information centers: NEWMOA (Northeast), WRRC (Southeast), GLRPPR (Great Lakes), ZeroWasteNet (Southwest), P2RIC (Plains), Peaks to Prairies (Mountain), WSPPN (Pacific Southwest), PPRC (Northwest).


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