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Lecture/Discussion Topics

The Gap Between Environmental Attitudes And Behaviors

The sometimes weak link between attitudes and relevant behaviors is easily demonstrated in the domain of environmental issues (Bamberg & Möser, 2007; Kaiser & Schultz, 2009; Kaiser, Wölfing, & Fuhrer, 1999; Kollmus & Agyeman, 2002; Hines, Hungerford, & Tomera, 1986, Staats, 2003). Researchers have addressed the fact that proenvironmental attitudes seem to be unreliable predictors of proenvironmental behaviors by exploring several types of barriers that may prevent acting in line with proenvironmental attitudes. Among other things, barriers include non-conducive social norms, lack of perceived control and efficacy, task difficulty, and inconvenience.

Social psychologist Doug McKenzie-Mohr has developed an effective strategy for overcoming barriers to sustainable behavior, whether people hold proenvironmental attitudes or not. He calls his approach Community-Based Social Marketing (CBSM) (McKenzie-Mohr, 2000; McKenzie-Mohr & Smith, 1999). Rather than targeting underlying attitudes, CBSM involves identification of barriers and design of psychology-based interventions to minimize or reduce them. CBSM uses social networks, large or small, to infuse change throughout a community. CBSM is used successfully worldwide in the domains of agriculture, transportation, home energy use, water use, resource waste, and toxic chemical use (McKenzie-Mohr, Lee, Schultz, & Kotler, 2012).

Social Norms and Sustainable Behaviors

Bob Cialdini’s classic work on compliance techniques is a standard topic in the social influence portion of every social psychology class, but instructors may be less familiar with his work on social norms and environmental behaviors. Environmental educators intuitively know that social norms influence environmental behaviors, but how is one to harness the power of norms in favor of the environment when it is so often the anti-environmental behaviors that are normative? Cialdini’s (2003) answer is to explore the influence of different varieties of social norms. In most introductory social psychology textbooks, the discussion of conformity is limited to behavior in response to normative influence (i.e., “I don’t want to stick out”) and informational influence (“I don’t want to do the wrong thing”). Cialdini, Reno, & Kallgren (1990) further distinguish between “injunctive” norms ( what most people approve or disapprove, what one feels one ought to do) and “descriptive” norms (what most people actually do). In the case of environmentally responsible behaviors (ERB), these are often inconsistent; that is, most people approve of ERB but most people don’t do them. To test the importance of these two types of norms, these researchers conducted a series of five field experiments on littering. Our society has injunctive norms against littering, but in some situations the descriptive norm is to litter, so some interesting interactions are likely to occur. For example, in the first study, the researchers found that in an already littered environment, participants were more likely to litter after witnessing a confederate littering; in a clean environment, however, the participants who saw a confederate littering were less likely to litter than those who saw no littering behavior. In both situations there is a society-wide injunctive norm against littering; witnessing littering in the clean environment makes this injunctive norm more salient.

In general, environmental messages that emphasize how the majority of people are behaving unsustainably (i.e., present a descriptive norm), can backfire or have a “boomerang” effect. For example, homeowners who are told that the majority of their neighbors use more energy than they themselves do are likely to regress to the mean and subsequently increase their own energy use! This boomerang effect can be alleviated by reminding the homeowners that saving energy is a socially desirable behavior (i.e., by reminding them of the injunctive norm) (Schultz, Nolan, Cialdini, Goldstein, & Griskevicius, 2007).

Violating Social Norms for Sustainability: Environmental Activism

Social psychologist Phil Zimbardo says, “to be a hero, you have to learn to be a deviant.” A central message of social psychology is that situations are powerful, and bucking social pressure can be extremely challenging. The thought of engaging in social activism can feel quite intimidating, yet social change only happens when individuals opt to violate social norms and make waves. Sustainability requires more than individual people changing their personal behaviors; it requires individuals actively engaged in making change in their communities, workplaces, and institutions. We must foster situations and systems that support sustainable behaviors. The topic of environmental activism, especially in the forms of civil disobedience and direct action, is a great fit for a social psychology class when addressing social influence. Ask students whether they have engaged in social activism. If so, what inspired them and how did it feel? How did others react? If not, why not? One issue that is likely to come up is negative stereotypes about activists (e.g., Bashir, Lockwood, Chasteen, Nadolny, & Noyes, 2013). Given that the majority of students may lack firsthand experience with activism, showing them examples (see films below) can be a great way to launch discussion.

Environmental Issues as Social Dilemmas

Social dilemmas, also known as social traps, reflect a conflict between one’s self-interest and the interest of a larger group (reviewed in Van Lange, Joireman, Parks, & Van Dijk, 2013). Many environmental problems can be conceptualized as social dilemmas;  encourage students to generate examples. Get them started with some facts about the United States. For example, although the U.S. represents less than 5% of the global population, it consumes about a quarter of the world’s oil supply. U.S. residents guzzle about four-and-a-half times as much gasoline as people living in the United Kingdom and Germany, twenty-two times as much as people in China, and ninety-two times as much as people living in India (The World Bank, 2014). The overconsumption by U.S. residents of the global oil supply illustrates a “commons” dilemmas (first articulated as the “tragedy of the commons” by Hardin, 1968) in which the individual is taking more than his or her fair share of a limited resource. Tragedies of the commons usually involve ordinary people doing ordinary things, rather than villainous or greedy people doing especially nasty things.

Note that not all environmental issues are commons dilemmas. Some are “public goods” dilemmas, in which an individual is contributing less than his or her fair share to a shared resource (e.g., resisting taxes that would improve public transit, not doing voluntary litter clean up, not making an effort to use public transportation). Ask students to analyze whether the environmental social dilemmas they have identified can be labeled commons or public goods dilemmas. They will likely come up with some that don’t fit. For example, Britain Scott’s students described “contamination dilemmas” and “risk dilemmas” in which acting in self-interest leads to one contributing more than one’s fair share to the hazards associated with the greater whole. An example would be the homeowner who pours toxic chemicals down the drain or uses pesticides on her lawn. They also described “ecological” dilemmas in which acting in self-interest upsets the larger balance of things. An example would be the landowner who fills in a wetland on his property, thereby interfering with waterfowl migration.

Environmental social dilemmas differ from some other social dilemmas in that they have a temporal dimension: acting in self-interest now leads to dire consequences for the greater whole later (Joireman, 2005; Osbaldiston & Sheldon, 2002). Therefore, an individual’s ability to consider future consequences becomes especially relevant. For example, Joireman, Van Lange, & Van Vugt (2004) studied consumers’ automobile-related behaviors and found that having a “future orientation” was more predictive of environmentally responsible behavior than was having a “prosocial orientation” (that would typically predict taking the selfless route in a social dilemma).

Hardin (1968) argued that only governmental laws, regulations and incentives would ensure widespread prosocial behavior on the part of the general public. Like Thomas Hobbes, Hardin assumed that humans are innately egoistic, so it is important to make pro-social behavior in the individual’s best interests. Indeed, researchers have found that when people are reminded of the personal relevance of their ecological harmful actions, they are more willing to forgo immediate benefits and make contributions for the future benefit of the group, because they recognize that acting for the common good is acting in self-interest, rather than thinking, us vs. them; their problem isn’t my problem (Milinski, Sommerfeld, Krambeck, Reed & Marotzk, 2008; Ostrom, Burger, Field, Norgaard & Policansky, 2007).

Tragedy/Triumph of the Commons

First, describe the Tragedy of the Commons (Hardin, 1968), where the evolutionary-based tendency to exploit a shared and limited resource in the interest of maximizing one’s own gain or personal convenience leads to the degradation or loss of the resource for the group as a whole, usually including the self-interested individual.  Ask students to generate some environmentally relevant examples (e.g., driving vs. more sustainable modes of transportation; energy and water waste; food and beverage choices, etc.). Then, ask students to identify some thoughts that help people rationalize their decisions to maintain the status quo or not get involved, and put those “thought traps” on the board. Finally, ask if there are ways to flip those thought patterns into more productive/sustainable ways of thinking. Some examples are provided below to help students get started, or instructors could assign a thought trap to each of several small groups, and have them identify/discuss potential FLIPSIDES. (Adapted from Jones, Haenfler, & Johnson, 2007; submitted by Kim Smith).

Thought traps:

  • If I don’t use it, someone else will, so I might as well get the benefit…
  • That’s just human nature/the way the world is…
  • It’s not my problem – I’m just looking out for #1…
  • I’m only one person – my actions don’t make that much difference…
  • I don’t have the time or energy to get involved…

Instructors could also link this exercise to potential solutions based on behavioral principles in the Learning module.

Social Construction of Environmental Perceptions

One of the important contributions that psychologists can make to a sustainable future is to help activists and educators better understand social cognition. In our experience, many environmental advocates are not schooled in the nuances of people’s less-than-logical mental processes. On the cognition page of this site, we address a variety of biases and heuristics that apply to people’s environmental judgments and decisions. These would be good topics in a social psychology class. Another way to tie a discussion of social cognition to sustainability issues is to address the social construction of environmental perceptions.

One powerful social construction tool is language. People’s perceptions of environmental issues, and of people engaged in environmental conflicts, are shaped by the strategic use of labels. To begin a discussion on this topic, ask students what the old labels were for rainforests and wetlands (jungles and swamps). How do these terms affect students’ perceptions of the landscapes? What about the term “ancient forests”– does it make old trees feel more precious? People, too, are labeled within the context of environmental issues. Introduce students to the terms “NIMBY” (not in my backyard) and “LULU” (locally unwanted land use) (e.g., Freudenburg & Pastor, 1992). Ask students to consider how the NIMBY label could be used to discredit citizens’ objections to industry practices. When a citizen who voices protest against an environmental hazard (e.g., the siting of a nuclear waste storage facility) is labeled a NIMBY, the implication is that the person selfishly objects to the location, but does not necessarily object to the hazard itself. Knowing that humans are heuristic thinkers raises questions about how public perceptions of environmental issues are shaped by media sound bites. When a reporter describes how a senator’s vote was influenced by “pressure from environmentalists,” the listener’s perception is bound to be different than if the reporter had described the thousands of calls to the senator’s office as “pressure from concerned citizens.”

Some prime examples of language used strategically to influence public perception can be found in the environmental policies proposed during the George W. Bush administration. Ask students what the “Clear Skies” and the “Healthy Forests” initiatives sound like to them. The Clear Skies Initiative was promoted as mandating a 70% decrease in air pollution from power plants over 15 years, but it was actually weaker policy than the Clean Air Act that had been in place since the 1970s. The Healthy Forests Initiative gave timber companies more liberty to log so as to reduce available “fuel” for forest fires, without regard to scientific guidance on how to best protect human communities from the risks of forest fires. In general, Bush’s environmental policies were consistent with a Wise Use approach (e.g., Helvarg, 2004), favoring industry interests under the guise of environmental protection. Wise Use strategists skillfully use language and other social influence tactics to persuade a credulous (and self-interested) public that Wise Users are the “true environmentalists.” (Beder, 2002).

Environmental Justice

Social psychology classes help students understand the cognitive and situational factors that contribute to prejudicial attitudes and discriminatory behaviors. Within the context of these topics, instructors may want to introduce the concept of environmental justice. Environmental risk is not equally distributed in our society. In the United States, individuals living in low-income urban neighborhoods, economically-deprived rural areas, and on reservation lands bear a disproportionate amount of risk from environmental hazards such as chemical spills, radioactive contamination, and toxic air and water pollution. At the same time, they are often excluded from the decision-making that leads to this injustice (e.g., Bullard, 2005; EPA, 2009; LaDuke, 1999; Walker, 2012). Globally, island communities are being devestated by rising sea levels caused by CO2 emissions from the industrialized world, communities in the Arctic are losing their way of life due to warming climate caused by the same source, electronic waste from the U.S. and Europe is being sent to developing communities in China and Ghana, and indigenous groups living in the Amazonian rainforest are seeing their homeland degraded by oil extraction. Just as ecological hazards are allocated unfairly, so too are natural resources (Syme & Nancarrow, 2012). Research suggests that in spite of these environmental injustices, some individuals maintain an “ecological belief in a just world” (Baier, Kals, & Müller, 2013).

Social Identity and Sustainability

A sustainable future will not only depend upon people exhibiting positive attitudes and behaviors toward nonhuman nature, but also will depend upon people redefining themselves personally and socially. How we think of who we are in relation to nonhuman nature, and each other, is a very important factor in determining our environmental behaviors (Clayton, 2012; Clayton & Opotow, 2003). Most psychology research on “green identity” has focused on what it means subjectively to have an ecologically connected sense of self and what factors facilitate or inhibit this connected self-concept. It is interesting to extend the discussion to the realm of self-presentation. Ask students to brainstorm connections between self-presentation and sustainability. They will likely bring up the issue of material possessions as a means to display status and personality, and the idea that materialism stands in opposition to proenvironmental attitudes and behaviors (Hurst, Dittmar, Bond, & Kasser, 2013; Kasser & Kanner, 2003). Are sustainable behaviors generally perceived as high status or low status, or neither (e.g., Welte & Anastasio, 2010)? Can students think of ways that materialistic tendencies and striving for status might work in favor of sustainability (e.g., Griskevicius, Tybur, & Van den Bergh, 2010)? What does it mean to have a social identity of “environmentalist” (Kashima, Paladino, & Margetts, 2014). Is this identity viewed positively, negatively, or neutrally? Does social identity directly predict environmentally relevant behaviors (Dono, Webb, & Richardson, 2010)?

Ask students to describe any pressure they have felt to appear more or less green across different situations. Ask them how they manage to do this. Ask them why they feel pressure to regulate the greenness of their self-presentations. See Crompton & Kasser (2009) for ideas about how to harness identity to promote sustainability.

Social Privilege and Sustainability

It is important to address issues of social inequality and injustice vis à vis race, ethnicity, class, and gender, which can erode relationships and interfere with the collaborative work needed to build a sustainable future. Some argue that only the more wealthy and powerful (i.e., privileged) people have the opportunity to engage with sustainability, further disenfranchising the poor. One way to begin a conversation about privilege is with a sustainability oriented version of The Privilege Walk  (in the Conservation Psychology module). Alternatively, instructors could simply ask students to reflect on the ways in which they experience privilege, particularly with respect to environmental conditions. Would their experience be different if their gender/ethnicity/race/age or physical abilities were altered? If so, how? Finally, instructors could review different types of justice (distributive, procedural, interactional) and ask students to discuss how these are exemplified (or not) in campus or community sustainability initiatives.

Community Based Social Marketing

McKenzie-Mohr (2011) identified five steps to changing behavior at the group level:

  1. Carefully select the target behavior, being sure it’s high impact and high probability; i.e., which behaviors will make the most difference once they’re changed?
  2. Identify barriers and benefits to change (e.g., through focus groups, research, phone surveys, etc.).
  3. Identify strategies to reduce external barriers to target behavior, while also increasing barriers to behaviors you don’t want to encourage, and enhance benefits to engaging in the target behavior. Strategies/tools for behavior change include:
  • Commitments, especially if public and durable; also foot-in-the-door strategies
  • Prompts – visually interesting, positioned near point of target behavior
  • Modelling/social norms
  • Incentives – financial, public recognition, competition between groups
  • Communication – vivid, personal, concrete messages that come from a credible source and are framed in ways that emphasize your audience’s attitudes & beliefs
  1. Pilot test on a sub-group of the population of interest to identify intervention weaknesses.
  2. Broad scale implementation.  

Evolution and Status Symbols

Have students read and discuss the brief report by van Vugt (2009), which states: “Like any other social animal, humans compete for status, because high status brings privileges. We do this with conspicuous ‘handicap’ displays which, like the peacock’s tail, are personally costly and so only affordable to high-quality individuals… This helps explain why celebrity endorsements can benefit the environment. People look to celebrities and other high-profile figures for clues about what costly displays gain the most status. So by associating themselves with green causes and products celebrities can influence the domains in which individuals compete for status. Take the Toyota Prius. It is expensive – so not everyone can afford it – and green, so driving it is altruistic because it benefits others. And the fact that Leonardo DiCaprio owns one makes it a highly desirable status symbol.”

Ask students to mentally inventory their material possessions. Which ones do they associate with “high status or celebrity” figures? Have they been influenced to be largely “green” or “non-green” in their material choices?


Exploring the Environmental Attitude-Behavior Link

Administer measures of environmental attitudes and behaviors to students and analyze whether attitudes predict behaviors. For example, instructors might use Kaiser et al.’s (1999) 28 environmental attitude items (which include knowledge, values, and behavioral intention subscales) and their 38-item General Ecological Behavior scale and calculate the correlations between the three environmental attitude subscales and ecological behaviors in the class sample. For a measure of behaviors specifically tailored to students, see Professor Shawn Burn’s personal sustainability quiz or the Environmental Impact Questionnaire (EIQ; Toner, Gan, & Leary, 2014). Whether the correlation between attitudes and behaviors is high or not, several topics can be addressed in an interactive follow-up discussion. Ask students whether they felt social desirability pressure when they responded and whether they think social desirability is a general concern in the assessment of environmental attitudes and behaviors (Kaiser et al. reported that responses to their measures were only marginally related to social desirability). Have students identify barriers between proenvironmental attitudes and environmentally friendly behaviors; encourage them to consider both cognitive barriers and situational barriers. Discuss implications for the prediction of behavior when a researcher measures attitudes toward the natural environment (affect) versus attitudes regarding environmental problems (beliefs) versus attitudes toward environmental behaviors (behavioral intention). Christie Manning suggests visiting the website of Aceti Associaties, an independent consulting business in Boston that has created a set of barrier/motivation inventories for several different activities such as recycling and earth friendly lawn care.

Social Dilemma Exercises: The Tragedy of the Commons

Hands-on activities are an engaging way to help students to understand environmental social dilemmas (described above). For instance, instructors can use Gifford & Gifford’s (2000) Fish 3 simulation program. It is also possible to simulate commons dilemmas with games in the classroom , such as the following exercises; see also the Foundation for Teaching Economics for additional ideas.

Psychologist Julian Edney, author of the 2005 book Greed: A treatise in two essays demonstrated this game in a 1998 ABC-TV special on greed. It is a quick and easy way to illustrate commons dilemmas. Instructions can be found online at

BONUS POINT EXERCISE (Author unknown; this exercise was originally found on the APA website but it has been removed.)
Include this exercise on the top of an exam a) before discussing social dilemmas, and b) when the temptation to compete (rather than cooperate) is the greatest.  Do not allow students to communicate about the exercise in any way. I’ve done this exercise many times (as did the original author), and have never had to give bonus points!

Bonus Point Opportunity: If fewer than 15% of the class selects 15 bonus points, then those people will receive 15 bonus points; everyone else will receive 5 points.  If 15% or more selects 15 bonus points, then no students will receive bonus points.

How many bonus points would you like to receive? Choose one.   ______15 points ______  5 points

Materials:  Bowl; 20-30 paper clips, pennies, or Hershey kisses*; watch; desk/table

  • 4 volunteers come forward, stand around table facing rest of class.
  • Place bowl on table, and put 10 of the items in the bowl.
  • Explain aloud: “The game you’re about to play has only 2 rules

Rule #1: The number of objects left in the bowl at the end of every 10 seconds will double.
Rule #2: The object of the game is to acquire as many objects from the bowl as possible.

  • “Do the volunteers understand the rules?  The game will begin when I say go…”
  •  Monitor watch. When 10 sec are up, stop game & double the number of objects still in the bowl. Play a few rounds.
  •  Ask students to explain their strategy, which may actually be a way to prevent tragedy of the commons.
  •  If no objects are left at the end of a round, game over! (i.e., they remembered Rule #2 but not #1)

* The objects represent renewable resource; the key is that there must be something left to renew.
* Have students generate real-life examples.

Content Analysis Of (Anti)Environmental Messages

This activity is a good one to use in conjunction with the topic of processing of persuasive messages. Have students visit the following websites and analyze their content for peripheral and heuristic cues that would lead the cognitively preoccupied or unmotivated viewer to perceive them as proenvironmental sites.

These sites are examples of industry-funded “wise use” groups. The Wise Use movement was launched as a backlash against progress made in environmental regulations during the 1970s. Ron Arnold, author of the “Wise Use Agenda,” co-founded the movement in the late 1980s to promote two basic tenets: the removal of all constraints on the use of private property and unrestricted access to public lands. Arnold refers to himself and his peers as “the true environmentalists.” (see this essay by Arnold that sums up the Wise Use position). After students have analyzed these websites, the instructor can introduce the concept of “greenwashing” (making a practice or product seem more environmentally sound than it actually is).

Community Based Social Marketing In Action

After familiarizing students with Community-Based Social Marketing (above), engage them in a service learning project in which they use the CBSM process to design an intervention to promote sustainable behavior. This class project allows them to learn about barriers to human behavior change, as well as that they are capable of making contributions to solving environmental problems with psychological tools. They also get out of the classroom and into the community, which helps them bond with each other, and learn about the course material using kinesthetic and experiential learning modalities (contributed by Deborah DuNann Winter). See related Behavioral Engineering exercise in the Learning module.

Evaluating Behavioral Engineering Campaigns

After discussing Community-Based Social Marketing, introduce students to this website developed by Doug McKenzie-Mohr and have them choose a case study of interest. For instance, many communities are implementing No idling campaign, using signage and flyers.   Ask students to evaluate the case study based on principles of behavior change and effective communication (e.g., using the CRED guide on the Psychology of Climate Change Communication developed by researchers at Columbia University). Do they think the campaign is likely to be effective? Why/not?


Websites: Community-Based Social Marketing

Doug McKenzie-Mohr’s Community-Based Social Marketing contains “…the complete contents of the book, Fostering Sustainable Behavior, as well as searchable databases of articles, case studies, and turnkey strategies. Further, it includes, discussion forums for sharing information and asking questions of others.” [excerpt from the front page of the site] Note that users must register in order to access resources.

Similarly, the Tools of Change website is an “extensive, freely-accessible collection of voluntary behavior change, social marketing and cbsm case studies … where you will also find some great planning tools and resources.”

Website: Social Dilemmas

A rich resource on social dilemmas can be found at The site is maintained by Dr. Paul van Lange (VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands), Dr. Jeff Joireman (Washington State University), Dave Hardisty (Columbia University) and Dr. Eric van Dijk (Leiden University, The Netherlands).

Film: Triumph of the Commons

This three-minute video comes from Kim Smith, Portland Community College. It has an encouraging message for students that can follow the social dilemma exercises above.

Website and Films: Environmental Justice

Dr. Robert Bullard is considered the “Father of Environmental Justice,” and hosts a website that is rich with articles and books relevant to any discussion of environmental justice issues. There are also many enlightening documentaries on environmental injustice across the globe. Here are a few suggestions:

ISLANDS OF SANCTUARY (2014, 57 min.) This film addresses the topic of environmental justice as Aboriginal Australians and Native Hawaiians reclaim land from the government and the military, and resist the erosion of culture and environment. Detailed description

OIL & WATER (2014, 78 min. or 55 min.) Two boys come of age looking for solutions to the global problem of reckless oil drilling following years of oil contamination in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Detailed description

PROFIT and LOSS (2014, 57 min.) From Papua New Guinea to the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, native people fight the loss of land, water, and health to mining and oil industries. Detailed description

Despite being recorded in 2006, the Ted Talk, Greening the Ghetto, by Majora Carter (2006; 18:26) remains an inspirational and powerful example of an urban community revitalization effort to overcome environmental injustice in the South Bronx, including the disproportionate health risks to communities of color.

Website and Films: Environmental Activism

Dr. Wangari Maathai won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work on democracy, human rights, and environmental conservation. She founded The Green Belt Movement, a grass-roots, “environmental organization that empowers communities, particularly women, to conserve the environment and improve livelihoods. Read about their work at and be inspired by to “be a hummingbird” like Dr. Maathai.

WRENCHED (2014, 93 min.) Captures the generations of eco-activists, from the 1960s to the present day. inspired by Edward Abbey’s passionate defense of wilderness in The Monkey Wrench Gang. Detailed description

BIDDER 70 (2013, 72 min.) Tells the story of Tim DeChristopher’s extraordinary, ingenious and effective act of civil disobedience drawing attention to the need for action on climate change. Detailed description

THE LAST MOUNTAIN (2011, 95 min.) Grassroots activists fight an energy company planning mountaintop removal to extract coal from Coal River Mountain. Detailed description

PSYCHOLOGY AND THE NEW HEROISM (2012, 87 min.) Although not focused specifically on environmental activism, this film is a conversation between Philip Zimbardo and Daniel Ellsberg about why some people are willing to take courageous nonviolent action in defense of ethical principles. Detailed description

Films: The Science of Persuasion

The Science of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini (2012, 11:50) includes his classic study on reducing hotel towel use.

Film: How to Start a Movement

 Learn leadership lessons from Derek Sivers and the “shirtless dancing guy” in How to start a movement (2010, 2:57). This, entertaining short film stresses the importance of social influence. Followers can actually be more influential than leaders. 

Films: How to Use a Paper Towel

How to use a paper towel by Joe Smith (2012; 4:28) states that 13 billion paper towels are used by Americans every year; if each person reduced their use to one towel per hand-washing, that would save 571,230,000 pounds of paper.

Film and Book: Psychology for a Better World: Strategies to Inspire Sustainability (2011)

Social Psychologist Nikki Harre, Ph.D., is the author of the 2011 book Psychology for a Better World: Strategies to Inspire Sustainability. She has a 15-minute talk on YouTube.

Suggested Readings For Students

Aronson, E., Wilson, T. D., Akert, R. M., & Sommers, S. R. (2016). Making a difference with social psychology: Attaining a sustainable future. In Social psychology (9th ed.). New York: Pearson.

Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (2009). The Psychology of Climate Change Communication: A guide for scientists, journalists, educators, political aides, and the interested public. New York.

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. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-2415.2005.00057.x [This article uses a social psychological model to illustrate application of psychology to sustainability in three domains: environmental conflict, automobile choices, gardening and lawn care].

Gifford, R. (2011). Applying social psychology to the environment. In F. W. Schneider, J. A. Gruman, & L. M. Coutts (Eds.), Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems (2nd ed., pp. 297-322). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Myers, D. G. (2013). Social psychology and the sustainable future. In Social psychology (11th ed., Chapter 16). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Scott, B. A., Amel, E. A., Koger, S. M., & Manning, C. M. (2016). The power of the (un)sustainable situation. In Psychology for sustainability (4th ed, Chapter 5). New York: Routledge.

van Vugt, M. (2009, August). Triumph of the commons. New Scientist, 203 (2722), 40-43. Retrieved 10/11/18 from

References Cited In This Section

Aronson, E., Wilson, T. D., Akert, R. M., & Sommers, S. R. (2016). Making a difference with social psychology: Attaining a sustainable future. In Social Psychology (9th ed.). New York: Pearson.

Baier, M., Kals, E., & Müller, M. M. (2013). Ecological belief in a just world. Social Justice Research, 26(3), 272-300. doi: 10.1007/s11211-013-0192-0

Bamberg, S., & Möser, G. (2007). Twenty years after Hines, Hungerford, and Tomera: A new meta-analysis of psycho-social determinants of pro-environmental behaviour.Journal of Environmental Psychology, 27, 14–25. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvp.2006.12.002

Bashir, N. Y., Lockwood, P., Chasteen, A. L., Nadolny, D., & Noyes, I. (2013). The ironic impact of activists: Negative stereotypes reduce social change influence. European Journal of Social Psychology, 43, 614-626. doi: 10.1002/ejsp.1983

Beder, S. (2002). Global spin: The corporate assault on environmentalism (2nd ed.). Devon, UK: Green Books.

Bullard, R. D. (Ed.) (2005). The quest for environmental justice: Human rights and the politics of pollution. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.

Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (2009). The Psychology of Climate Change Communication: A guide for scientists, journalists, educators, political aides, and the interested public. New York.

Cialdini, R. B. (2003). Crafting normative messages to protect the environment. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 12, 105-109.

Cialdini, R. B., Reno, R. R., & Kallgren, C. A. (1990). A focus theory of normative conduct: Recycling the concept of norms to reduce littering in public places. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 1015-1026.

Clayton, S. (2012). Environment and identity. In S. Clayton (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of environmental and conservation psychology. Oxford library of psychology (pp. 164-180). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-2415.2005.00057.x

Clayton, S., & Opotow, S. (Eds.) (2003). Identity and the natural environment. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Crompton, T., & Kasser, T. (2009). Identity campaigning: Bringing the person into the environmental movement. Godalming, United Kingdom: World Wildlife Foundation. Edney, J. (2005). Greed: A treatise in two essays. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse.

Dono, J., Webb, J., & Richardson, B. (2010). The relationship between environmental activism, pro-environmental behaviour and social identity. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 30(2), 178-186 doi:10.1016/j.jenvp.2009.11.006

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