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Sustainability 2013, 5, 3006-3008; doi:10.3390/su5073006
Psychological and Behavioral Aspects of Sustainability
Susan M. Koger
Department of Psychology, Willamette University, 900 State Street, Salem, Oregon 97301, USA;
Received: 5 July 2013 / Accepted: 8 July 2013 / Published: 10 July 2013
I am honored to introduce this special issue of Sustainability, which exemplifies how the field of
Psychology can contribute to multi- and inter-disciplinary efforts to create a sustainable society.
In fact, achieving the goal of environmental, economic, and social sustainability is predicated on
changing human behavior; the purview of Psychologists (reviewed in , see also [2–7]).
So-called ―environmental problems‖ are really problems of human behavior, caused by collective
human actions and their underlying thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and values . Consequently, research
from various sub-fields of psychology can
Aid an understanding of the drivers of non-sustainable behaviors;
Identify barriers to more sustainable behaviors;
Inform strategies for motivating change and encouraging pro-environmental action;
Enhance communication between experts, legislators, and lay audiences concerning
Inspire educators in improving environmental education curricula;
Contribute to policy development, implementation, and enforcement; and
Reveal human factors contributing to the likely success—or failure—of nascent technologies.
As Newton and Meyer  argue in their contribution to this issue, individual and household
behavior changes offer the potential ―for a much faster rate of sustainability transformation than
supply-side technological innovation of key infrastructures and services‖ (p. 1212). Yet despite this
burgeoning work, the importance of incorporating Psychology in Sustainability/Environmental Studies
curricula, as well as educating Psychology students about real-world environmental challenges,
frequently goes unrecognized in both the U.S.  and Australia .
Osbaldiston  provides an overview and some applications of the theoretical and empirical work
within the field that has come to be known as Conservation Psychology . He notes that despite
several decades of work focusing on the adverse impacts of human behavior, there appears to be a
significant disconnect between theoretical models and empirical research related to environmentally
relevant behaviors. This observation may inspire researchers to
Sustainability 2013, 5 3007
more directly test predictions arising from current theoretical models,
gather data on actual behavior rather than relying on self-reports, and perhaps most
conduct research on those behaviors with the greatest environmental impact (e.g.,
transportation choices, particularly in the U.S.) rather than those that are more expedient
(recycling, turning off lights).
We appreciate the efforts of the contributors to this special issue who are addressing some of these
issues, including the apparent gap between people’s attitudes, intentions, and relevant actual behaviors .
The study contributed by de Groot, Abrahamse, and Jones  demonstrates that interventions that
increase the salience of personal and injunctive norms (what is expected or approved of in a particular
situation) can reduce consumption of plastic bags and other resources.
Tapia-Fonllem and his colleagues  identified several components of sustainable behaviors,
including pro-ecological, frugal, altruistic, and equitable actions, all of which were related to an
individual’s intention to act as well as his/her happiness and subjective well-being. Venhoeven,
Bolderdijk and Steg  provide an important distinction between hedonic and eudaimonic well-being
that will not only assist in the framing of empirical work, but also in understanding apparent
contradictions in the earlier literature. Their analysis suggests that if people feel that they have the
choice to engage in behaviors that they perceive to be morally right and to be making a positive
difference, they are more likely to derive a sense of personal meaning (eudaimonic well-being) from
such actions. Similar relationships between the use of meaning-focused coping styles and positive
affect, life-satisfaction and optimism were observed by Ojala  in a sample of young people.
Younger citizens represent an important population with respect to sustainability efforts, as they
will soon be in leadership positions and will also bear the brunt of the adverse impacts of climate
change and other environmental stressors. Bloodhart, Swim, and Zawadski  demonstrated the
efficacy of a program where college students worked to identify potential obstacles to changing their
own behavior in a pro-environmental direction (pro-active coping), and then encouraged such change
in their peers.
I am grateful to the Editorial Board of Sustainability as well as all contributing authors for bringing
attention to the myriad ways we can foster our own collective sense of eudaimonic well-being, as we
work together to address and mitigate the serious contemporary challenges to a sustainable society.
1. Koger, S.M.; Winter, D.D. The Psychology of Environmental Problems: Psychology for
Sustainability; Psychology Press: New York, NY, USA, 2010.
2. Clayton, S.; Myers, G. Conservation Psychology: Understanding and Promoting Human Care for
Nature, 1st ed; Wiley: Hoboken, NJ, USA, 2009; p. 263.
3. Gifford, R. Environmental psychology and sustainable development: Expansion, maturation, and
challenges. J. Soc. Iss. 2007, 63, 199–212.
4. Kazdin, A.E. Psychological science’s contributions to a sustainable environment: Extending our
reach to a grand challenge of society. Am. Psychol. 2009, 64, 339–356.
Sustainability 2013, 5 3008
5. Koger, S.M.; Leslie, K.E.; Hayes, E.D. Climate change: Psychological solutions and strategies for
change. Ecopsychology 2011, 3, 227–235.
6. Pratarelli, M.E. When human nature confronts the need for a global environmental ethics. JSEC
2012, 6, 384–403.
7. Swim, J.K.; Stern, P.C.; Doherty, T.J.; Clayton, S.; Reser, J.P.; Weber, E.U.; Gifford, R.; Howard, G.S.
Psychology’s contributions to understanding and addressing global climate change. Am. Psychol.
2011, 66, 241–250.
8. Newton, P.; Meyer, D. Exploring the attitudes-action gap in household resource consumption:
Does ―environmental lifestyle‖ segmentation align with consumer behaviour? Sustainability 2013,
9. Koger, S.M.; Scott, B.A. Psychology and environmental sustainability: A call for integration.
Teach. Psychol. 2007, 34, 10–18.
10. Pearson, E. Conservation psychology: A gap in current Australian undergraduate Psychology
education? Sustainability 2013, 5, 1266–1281.
11. Osbaldiston, R. Synthesizing the experiments and theories of Conservation Psychology.
Sustainability 2013, 5, 2770–2795.
12. Saunders, C.D. The emerging field of Conservation Psychology. Hum. Ecol. Rev. 2003, 10, 137–149.
13. De Groot, J.; Abrahamse, W.; Jones, K. Persuasive normative messages: The influence of
injunctive and personal norms on using free plastic bags. Sustainability 2013, 5, 1829–1844.
14. Tapia-Fonllem, C.; Corral-Verdugo, V.; Fraijo-Sing, B.; Durón-Ramos, M. Assessing sustainable
behavior and its correlates: A measure of pro-ecological, frugal, altruistic and equitable actions.
Sustainability 2013, 5, 711–723.
15. Venhoeven, L.; Bolderdijk, J.; Steg, L. Explaining the paradox: How pro-environmental
behaviour can both thwart and foster well-being. Sustainability 2013, 5, 1372–1386.
16. Ojala, M. Coping with climate change among adolescents: Implications for subjective well-being
and environmental engagement. Sustainability 2013, 5, 2191–2209.
17. Bloodhart, B.; Swim, J.; Zawadzki, M. Spreading the eco-message: Using proactive coping to aid
eco-rep behavior change programming. Sustainability 2013, 5, 1661–1679.
© 2013 by the authors; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article
distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution license