Overview of Teaching Psychology for Sustainability

Why We Created This Site

The primary cause of all “environmental problems” is human behavior.

Pollution, depletion of natural resources, climate change…these problems are not really problems of the environment, but are the result of a mismatch between the ways in which human beings fulfill their needs and wants and the natural processes that maintain ecological integrity. As experts on human behavior, psychologists have the potential to serve a crucial role in halting our ecologically-destructive trajectory and promoting a sustainable future. One way that psychologists can contribute to a sustainable future is by teaching tomorrow’s conservation scientists, policy-makers, and grassroots activists about the fundamental connections between human behavior and the environmental crisis, and between the discipline of psychology and remedies for the crisis. However, the discipline of psychology is currently absent from most undergraduate programs focused on conservation and sustainability. Likewise, environmental issues are not salient in most undergraduate psychology programs.

One reason that psychology and environmental education have not been well integrated is that people misunderstand the discipline of psychology.

If the discipline of psychology is presumed to be exclusively about distress, disorders, and therapy, its relevance to environmental issues is likely not apparent to biologists, geographers, political scientists, philosophers, and others who comprise the typical faculty of environmental studies programs. Our informal sampling of undergraduate environmental studies and environmental science programs in the U. S. revealed that more than half of the environmental studies programs and nearly 90% of the environmental science programs included no psychology at all, as either a requirement or an option for credit.

A second reason is that “psychology of sustainability” is not a traditional subfield in the discipline of psychology.

Although psychologists have pursued research related to environmental issues for several decades, their work does not fit neatly into a traditional subdiscipline and, therefore, is rarely included in the standard undergraduate psychology curriculum. The subdiscipline called “environmental psychology” is not exclusively focused on natural environments, although the literature includes work on topics such as energy conservation and human reactions to natural settings. “Ecopsychology” is exclusively about the relationship between humans and nonhuman nature, but has tended to be largely theoretical rather than empirical, and has focused more on subjective well-being than sustainable behavior. Researchers grounded in other traditional branches of psychology (e.g., behavioral, social, and cognitive) have examined environmentally relevant behavior since the 1970s, but not as a formal subdiscipline. However, a new label emerged In the early 2000s that some now use as an umbrella term for all environmentally relevant psychology: Conservation Psychology. Like the discipline of conservation biology, conservation psychology is psychology with a conservation agenda (Saunders, 2003).

It is in the spirit of Conservation Psychology that we have created this site and dubbed it “Teaching Psychology for Sustainability.” Our purpose is to provide a resource to help instructors integrate psychology and environmental issues in their courses.

By no means is this an exhaustive compliation of all relevant literature and classroom materials, but it should provide ample inspiration to motivated instructors. The site includes:

  • General Resources to introduce connections between psychology and environmental issues (see below)
  • Instructor Resources (including lecture and discussion topics, class activities, multimedia resources, and suggested readings for students)
  • Comprehensive Site Bibliography with links to publisher sites for authored books and tables of contents for edited volumes
  • Compendium of Syllabi from instructors who currently teach psychology for sustainability

Informally, the site represents a “who’s who” of instructors and researchers in the area. It is our hope that as more instructors make the links between psychology and sustainability, curricular connections between psychology and environmental education will become more common. We encourage those who are pedagogically inspired by this manual to become curricular activists in pursuit of that goal. We would like to extend our appreciation to the Instructional Resource Award Task Force of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology for their support of the creation of this resource. We also wish to thank the colleagues listed below for their contributions to this effort.

Britain Scott & Sue Koger December, 2005 (updated February, 2018)

How You Can Use This Site

Resources are organized according to traditional subdisciplines of psychology, but many of the topics, activities, and multimedia resources could have application in a variety of classes, so we encourage instructors to explore the site. Each subdiscipline page includes the following content areas:

Lecture/Discussion Topics
Class Activities
Multimedia Resources
Suggested Readings for Students
References Cited in this Section

Throughout the pages you will see links to web resources and PDFs. Depending on your browser preferences, PDFs may open a second browser window or automatically download for your reference.

Some of the content on this site comes from the contributors listed below. All contributions are credited. Uncredited resources are our own. Our goal was to offer a sampling and so we welcome suggestions for additions and revisions. We also invite feedback; if you use any of our resources, let us know how it went. Please submit suggestions, questions, and comments via our contact form.

To access the subdiscipline pages, the compendium of syllabi, and the comprehensive bibliography, go to Introduction to Instructor Resources.


General Resources to Get You Started

A team at the University of British Columbia compiled a list of SUSTAINABILITY RELATED ARTICLES that could be incorporated into Introductory Psychology as well as upper division courses. DOWNLOAD: Sustainability article list for IntroPsych;  DOWNLOAD: How to use the IntroPsych Sustainability Article List. (Submitted by Kevin Hamilton.)

Bigelow and Swinehart (2014) published A People’s Curriculum for the Earth, which contains a plethora of readings and potential class activities.

In addition, there have been numerous books, review articles/chapters, and special journal issues focused on the links between psychology and environmental issues. These include the following:


Scott, B. A., Amel, E. L., Koger, S. K., & Manning, C. M. (2021). Psychology for sustainability (5th ed.). New York: Routledge.

Clayton, S. & Myers, G. (2015). Conservation psychology: Understanding and promoting human care for nature (2nd ed.). Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Nemeth, D.G., Hamilton, R. B., & Kuriansky, J. (Eds.) (2015). Ecopsychology: Advances from the intersection of psychology and environmental protection. New York: Praeger.

Jones, R. G. (2014). Psychology of sustainability: An applied perspective. New York: Routledge.

van Trijp, H. C. M. (Ed.) (2014). Encouraging sustainable behavior: Psychology and the environment. New York: Psychology Press.

Wielkiewicz, R. M. (2014). Sustainability and psychology. St. Cloud, MN: Main Event Press (e-book).

Clayton, S. (2012). The Oxford handbook of environmental and conservation psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.

REVIEW ARTICLES & CHAPTERS (listed in reverse chronological order)

Malt, B. (2019, April). Educating students on the psychology of sustainability. Association for Psychological Science: Observer. 

Weir, K. (2018, May). Building a sustainable future. American Psychological Association Monitor on Psychology, 49. 

Amel, E., Manning, C., Scott, B., & Koger, S. (2017). Beyond the roots of human inaction: Fostering collective effort toward ecosystem conservation. Science, 21, 275-279.

Koger, S. M.  & Scott, B. A. (2016). Teaching psychology for sustainability: The why and how. Psychology Learning & Teaching, 15, 214-225. doi: 10.1177/1475725716648238.

Clayton, S., Devine-Wright, P., Stern, P.C., Whitmarsh, L., Carrico, A., Steg, L., Swim, L., & Bonnes, M. (2015). Psychological research and global climate change. Nature Climate Change, 5, 640-646. Abstract available here.

Gifford, R. (2014). Environmental psychology matters. Annual Review of Psychology, 65, 541-579. doi: 10.1146/annurev-psych-010213-115048.

Scott, B. A. & Koger, S. M. (2014). The psychology of environmental sustainability. In W. Weiten, Psychology: Themes and Variations, Briefer Version (9e). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Steg, L. & Vlek, C. (2009). Encouraging pro-environmental behavior: An integrative review and research agenda. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 29, 309-317.

Koger, S. & Scott, B. A. (2007). Psychology and environmental sustainability: A call for integration. Teaching of Psychology, 34(1), 10-18.

Oskamp, S., & Schultz, P. W. (2006). Using psychological science to achieve ecological sustainability. In S. I. Donaldson, D. E. Berger, & K. Bezdek (Eds.), Applied psychology: New frontiers and rewarding careers (pp. 81-106). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Clayton, S. & Brook, A. (2005). Can psychology help save the world? A model for conservation psychology. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, ., 1-15.

Saunders, C. D., & Myers, O. E. (Eds.). (2003). Exploring the potential of conservation psychology. Special issue of Human Ecology Review 10(2) Includes Carol Saunders’s “The emerging field of conservation psychology” followed by seventeen responses Click here for a PDF list of authors and titles of their responses.

Schmuck, P., & Vlek, C. (2003). Psychologists can do much to support sustainable development. European Psychologist, ., 66-76.

Kurz, T. (2002). The psychology of environmentally sustainable behavior: Fitting together pieces of the puzzle. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 2(1), 257-278.

Vining, J., & Ebreo, A. (2002). Emerging theoretical and methodological perspectives on conservation behavior. In R. B. Bechtel & A. Churchman (Eds.), Handbook of environmental psychology (pp. 541-558). New York: Wiley.

Werner, C. M. (1999). Psychological perspectives on sustainability. In E. Becker & T. Jahn (Eds.), Sustainability and the social sciences: A cross-disciplinary approach to integrating environmental considerations into theoretical reorientation (pp. 223-242). New York: ZED Books.

Stern, P. C. (1992). Psychological dimensions of global environmental change. Annual Review of Psychology, 43, 269-302.


Volume 19(2), 2014 of European Psychologist contains a special section on environmental conservation, including articles by Andreas Ernst, Urs Wenzel, Tommy Gärling, P. Wesley Schultz, Siegmar Otto, Oliver Arnold, John Thøgersen, and Florian Kaiser. Click here for PDFs of articles.

Several issues of the Journal of Social Issues, listed here in reverse chronological order, have focused on environmental issues:

Knight, S., & Herzog, H. (2009). New perspectives on psychology and human-animal interactions. Journal of Social Issues, 65(3), 451-644. Click here for online contents

Vlek, C., & Steg, L. (Eds.). (2007). Human behavior and environmental sustainability. Journal of Social Issues, 63(1), 1-231. Click here for for online contents

Zelezny, L. C., & Schultz, P. W. (Eds.). (2000). Promoting environmentalism. Journal of Social Issues, 56(3), 365-578. Click here for online contents

McKenzie-Mohr, D., & Oskamp, S. (Eds.). (1995). Psychology and the promotion of a sustainable future. Journal of Social Issues, 51(4). Click here for PDF list of articles

Clayton, S., & Opotow, S. (Eds.). (1994). Green justice: Conceptions of fairness and the natural world. Journal of Social Issues, 50(3). Click here for PDF list of articles

Plous, S. (Ed.). (1993). The role of animals in human society. Journal of Social Issues, 49(1). Click here for PDF list of articles

Cvetkovich, G., & Earle, T. C. (Eds.). (1992). Public responses to environmental hazards. Journal of Social Issues, 48(4). Click here for PDF list of articles

Seligman, C., & Syme, G. J. (Eds.). (1989). Managing the environment. Journal of Social Issues, 45(1). Click here for PDF list of article


The July/August, 2005 issue of Monitor on Psychology, 36(7) includes an article by Jamie Chamberlin about conservation psychology called “A closer look at Division 34: The call of the wild.” Click here to view article.

In 2001, Division 34 of the American Psychological Association devoted an issue of its Population and Environment Bulletin to the topic of conservation psychology. Click here to view a PDF of this issue.

Volume 41(2), 2001 of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology is a special issue on ecopsychology with articles by Jeremy Yunt, Ruth Richards, Linda Riebel, Mark Pilisuk, and James Kuhn. Click here for PDF of article titles

The April, 2001 issue of APA’s Monitor on Psychology, 32(4) contains a collection of articles by Rebecca Clay on the “Greening of psychology: Psychologists’ burgeoning work in the field of eco-friendly behaviors.” Topics include the psychological benefits of natural spaces, behavioral research on encouraging environmentally friendly behavior, human dimensions of forest management, environmentally related community service by psychologists, the greening of the American Psychological Association, and consumerism. Click here to view this issue.

The American Psychologist, 2000, 55(5), section on Psychology in the Public Forum includes articles on psychology’s role in promoting sustainability by Stuart Oskamp, George Howard, Deborah DuNann Winter, Paul Stern, and Doug McKenzie-Mohr. Click here for PDF of article titles

Volume 26(1-3), 1998, of the journal Humanistic Psychologist is a special issue on ecopsychology, edited by Elizabeth Roberts. It includes articles by Roberts, Laura Sewall, Mitchell Thomashow, Sarah Conn, Allen Kanner, Carl Anthony & Renee Soule, Theo Horesh, Crystal Feral, Mary Gomes, Chris Hoffman, Steven Foster, John David, Matthew Day, and Ralph Metzner Click here for PDF of articles

Volume 15(3), 1995, of the Journal of Environmental Psychology is a special issue on “Green psychology” edited by Robert Gifford. It includes articles by Stephen Kaplan, Lawrence Axelrod & Peter Suedfeld, Carol Werner, Alexander Grob, Anders Biel & Tommy Gärling, and Joseph Reser. Click here for PDF of articles


About the Authors/Editors

Britain A. Scott, PhD is Professor of Psychology and former Director of Environmental Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN, where she has taught since 1996. Britain enthusiastically advocates curricular integration of psychology and environmental education. As a social psychologist, she is particularly interested in the relationship between connectedness to nature and ecologically relevant behavior. More about Britain can be found here.

Department of Psychology
University of St. Thomas
2115 Summit Ave. St. Paul, MN 55105

Susan M. Koger, PhD is Professor of Psychology at Willamette University in Salem, OR, where she has taught since 1993. Sue’s work focuses on psychology as an environmental science. As a physiological psychologist, she is particularly interested in the effects of environmental toxicants on brain development and function. More about Sue can be found here.

Department of Psychology
Willamette University
900 State Street
Salem, OR 97301

List of Contributors

John Adams, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair
Saybrook Graduate School
Berkely, CA

Elise L. Amel, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology
University of St. Thomas
St. Paul, MN

Cay Anderson-Hanley
Assistant Professor of Psychology
Union College
Schenectady, NY

Cameron Brick, Ph.D.
University of Cambridge

Amara Brook
Assistant Professor
Santa Clara University
Santa Clara, CA

Wernher M. Brucks
Lecturer, Social Psychology
University of Zurich

Shawn Meghan Burn
Professor of Psychology
California Polytechnic State University
San Luis Obispo, CA

David Campbell
Professor of Psychology
Humboldt State University
Arcata, CA

Craig Chalquist
Faculty member
School of Holistic Studies
JFK University
San Francisco, CA

Peter Cock
Senior Lecturer
School of Geography and Environmental Science
Monash University

Michael Cohen
Director, Project NatureConnect
Friday Harbor, WA

Sarah Conn
Psychology lecturer
Harvard Medical School
Boston, MA

Leslie Davenport
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Founding member, Institute for Health and Healing, California Pacific Medical Center
Instructor, California Institute of Integral Studies

Julie Devlin
Ph. D. candidate
University of New Brunswick

Raymond DeYoung
Associate Professor of Conservation Behavior
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI

Sorah Dubitsky
Instructor, Psychology Department
Biscayne Bay Campus
Florida International University
Miami, FL

Riley E. Dunlap
Department of Sociology
CLB 011
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK

Andy Fisher
Environmental Studies
University of Vermont
Burlington, VT

John Fraser
President & CEO, New Knowledge Organization, Ltd.
New York, NY

Neil Gowensmith
Forensic Psychologist
Adult Mental Health Division, State of Hawaii
Honolulu, HI

Kevin M. Hamilton, M.E.S., Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
Kwantlen Polytechnic University
Richmond, B.C.

Laurie Hollis-Walker, M.A.
Ph. D. candidate, clinical psychology
York University
Toronto, Canada

Peter Kahn
Professor of Psychology
University of Washington
Seattle, WA

Katherine Lacasse
Assistant Professor of Psychology
Rhode Island College
Providence, RI

Barbara Malt
Professor of Psychology
Lehigh University
Bethlehem, PA

Christie Manning
Visiting Assistant Professor, Environmental Studies
Macalester College
St. Paul, MN

Terry Maple
Director, Georgia Tech Center for Conservation & Behavior
Director Emeritus, Zoo Atlanta
Georgia Institute of Technology
Atlanta, GA
Terry. Maple@psych.gatech.edu

Donna K. McMillan
Associate Professor of Psychology
St. Olaf College
Northfield, MN

Olin Eugene (Gene) Myers
Associate Professor,
Huxley College of the Environment
Western Washington University
Bellingham, WA

Guy L. Osborne
Professor of Psychology
Director, Environment & Community Stewardship program
Carson-Newman College
Jefferson City, TN

Janet Parker, Ph.D.
Interim Senior Minister
First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
Portland, OR

Mark Pilisuk
Saybrook Graduate School
Berkeley, CA

Linda Riebel
Faculty member
Saybrook Graduate School
Berkeley, CA

Bob Riesenberg
Whatcom Community College
Bellingham, WA

Werner Sattmann-Frese
Private Practitioner
Sustainable Living for a Sustainable Earth
Wagstaffe, New South Wales

Dallase Scott
Director of Change Management, GreenerU
Director, Sustainability Office, Babson College

P. Wesley Schultz
Associate Professor
California State University– San Marcos

Sylvie Shaw
School of Political and Social Inquiry
Monash University

Kim Smith
Instructor, Sociology
Portland Community College

JoAnne Vining
Associate Professor of Environmental Psychology
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Urbana, IL

Deborah DuNann Winter
Professor of Psychology
Whitman College
Walla Walla, WA