Sustainable Behaviour in Practice: Context, Process and Power in Pro-Environmental Behaviour Change

Project Details


It is widely recognised that changes to the way individuals behave are needed if society is to avoid the worst effects of environmental crises such as climate change. My PhD research provides great detail on an attempt to encourage more pro-environmental behaviour amongst employees in one workplace. Most research in this area relies on questionnaire or interview methods to explore whether and how individual attitudes/values towards the environment relate to the performance of pro-environmental behaviours [1, 2], how to remove barriers to desired behaviours [3] or how to improve communications to exhort individuals to change [4, 5]. In contrast, for the first time my PhD uses observational methods to explore processes of behaviour change as they occur in context, and rather than assuming that attitudes/values are the key means to behavioural change it concentrates on everyday 'doings' [6] and how pro-environmental meanings and understandings may be built into them through behaviour change interventions. Applying insights from 'social practice theory' [7, 8, 9] and Foucault [10, 11], it finds that workplace behaviour is critically shaped by surrounding infrastructures, organisational arrangements, formal job responsibilities and power relations. It suggests that instead of exhorting individuals to adopt 'correct' environmental attitudes/values and behaviour, research and policy should consider ways of helping them to construct their own environmental understandings in specific local contexts, and to plan practical ways of building these in to the course of everyday practice.

The fellowship would have two core aims:
First, to disseminate my research to key audiences. During a fellowship I will present papers at two international conferences and submit three academic articles to geographical and sociological journals, as well as a more practical article aimed at environmental professionals. I will coordinate a seminar series at UEA on 'Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Behaviour Change' which will help to develop a research network at UEA and expand my focus beyond purely 'environmental' behaviours. I have already organised a 4-6 week placement in the Environmental Behaviours Unit in DEFRA that will help me to understand and inform policy-making in this area. Finally, I will engage members of the public by producing a short film (in conjunction with CUE East and BBC East) based on public responses to and reflections on my research findings to be shown at a public 'Sustainable Living' event in The Forum, Norwich in Summer 2009.

Second, to develop my future career as an academic. During a fellowship I will undertake a structured programme of advanced training by taking relevant courses at UEA as well as working closely with my mentor and other colleagues to develop key skills. I will seek future research funding by submitting a small grant proposal that will consider behaviour change processes in a public sector organisation. Finally, I will consolidate and develop my international network of research contacts through presentations at conferences, coordinating a seminar series at UEA, and undertaking a placement within DEFRA.

The PDF will have three main beneficiaries:
1) Academic audiences in human geography, sociology, consumption and organisation studies would benefit from the originality of my approach which offers new theoretical understandings of behaviour change processes. 2) Through my placement to DEFRA, policy makers would benefit from the implications of my research that behaviour change demands offering locally and contextually specific support in helping individuals create their own changes rather than exhorting narrowly defined and understood 'correct' behaviours. 3) Environmental professionals would benefit from my research's grounded understanding of behaviour change processes which has implications for how to improve existing behaviour change interventions and ensure their effects are lasting.
Effective start/end date1/11/0931/10/10


  • Economic and Social Research Council: £73,968.00