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Module PPP-3012:
Psychology of Sustainability

Module Facts

Run by School of Psychology

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Miss Rhiannon Willmot

Overall aims and purpose

How might a more complete understanding of human behaviour help us to save a world which faces increasingly extreme weather events, cleanse the ocean of plastic, and reverse the newly declared climate emergency? With human behaviour listed as the single, strongest contribution to environmental problems, insights from human psychology can be used to solve some of the most pressing challenges of our time. ‘Sustainability’ refers to the conservative and innovative use of resources in a way that maintains ecological balance, and supports the existence of future generations. The aim of this module is to explore why we do or don’t act sustainably, with the ultimate goal of creating a more sustainable economy, environment and society. After taking this module, you will be better equipped to pursue a career in psycho-sustainable consultancy in numerous contexts such as the workplace, business, environmental research and policy-making, conservation and campaigning. You will understand why and when individuals may be encouraged to act sustainably and be able to develop and evaluate interventions which support sustainable behaviour. You will also recognise how individual, social and situational characteristics which influence how people act and be able to apply this information – to ultimately save the world.

Course content

We will explore:

  1. General empirical principles which underpin decision-making and explain much of human behaviour, particularly that which appears counterintuitive. This will feature specific reference to sustainable decision making and perceptions of sustainable culture.
  2. The implementation of behavioural change techniques in the context of sustainability, for example when completing consultancy projects for real-world organisations. This will cover both theoretical evidence and practical concerns, with reference to previously tested techniques in empirical and real-world contexts.
  3. Evidence-based strategies for developing transdisciplinary and innovative solutions in response to sustainability issues. This will include a 'tool-kit' of co-working techniques, specifically designed to help develop a 'common language' across individuals, and support creative ideation.
  4. Information regarding research design and data collection in the context of sustainable behaviour. This will cover specific issues of situations most commonly related to sustainability.

Assessment Criteria


B- to B+

Clear understanding of content, with some evidence of further reading.

Reasonable critique of existing academic research, with developed exploration of limitations and implications. Some development of own research questions.

Some application of theory to applied settings, and some indication of transdisciplinary working strategies used to inform intervention design.


C- to C+

Limited understanding of content with no evidence of further reading and poor application to applied settings.

Superficial critique of existing academic research. Poor exploration of limitations and implications. Little development of own research questions.

Weak or confused arguments for intervention, with little utilisation of transdisciplinary strategies for innovative working.


A- to A+

Comprehensive and detailed knowledge of content, evidenced through convincing argument and original thought.

Highly developed critique of existing academic research, with extensive exploration of limitations and implications. Original and novel development of own research questions.

Strong application to applied settings including research, policy-making and choice architecture, demonstrating insight and creativity.

Learning outcomes

  1. Critically evaluate research and research design in the field of sustainability.

  2. Communicate the key points of research effectively, and to non-academic audiences.

  3. Apply psychological theory regarding behaviour-change and decision-making in designing creative, well-informed and efficient solutions to real-world sustainability challenges.

  4. Critically evaluate strategies to support transdisciplinary working and the development of innovative solutions.

  5. Propose creative, well-informed and robust research questions.

  6. Critially evaluate psychological theory regarding behaviour-change and decision-making in the context of sustainability.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
ORAL Small Group Presentation

Students will be asked to give an oral presentation which summarises their understanding of the problem and research proposal for intervention. Students will also be required to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of strategies they have utilised to support transdisciplinary working. It will be up to individual groups to assign and define duties within the team, and workload should be shared evenly even though roles may be different. Students will be required to include a description of how work has been allocated in their presentation using a structured form, which will be used to assess their personal grade. Students may wish to adopt different roles (i.e. structuring the presentation, slide design) in order to maximise their contribution to the group, however participation should be equal across individuals.

REPORT Research Proposal

Consultancy style report in response to a ‘client’ brief. Students will be required to review and present literature related to decision-making and behaviour change in the context of sustainability, and submit a proposal detailing the implementation and evaluation of an intervention, and use of transdisciplinary working methods. Students will work in groups to develop their proposal, but submit individual reports.

EXAM Critical Analysis of Research Paper

Write a critical analysis of a set, seen research paper (not previously discussed in class) but informed by seminar discussion, under exam conditions.


Teaching and Learning Strategy


The module organiser will present one two-hour lecture per week. The topic of this lecture will relate to the research paper discussed in the seminar of the same week. There will be no lectures in weeks 5 and 11 as these weeks will instead feature drop-in sessions held in the module organiser’s office to allow students the opportunity to ask questions about the module and/or upcoming assignments. Additionally, the lecture in week 12 will be replaced with an oral presentation session.

Group Project

In week 12 students will give the oral presentation to accompany their written report. Students will deliver their presentations in small groups and actively participate as audience members for their fellow students. Students will be expected to attend all presentation sessions (~3 hours).

Private study

Students should spend 200 hours working on this 20 credit module, 153 of which should be dedicated to private study.

Students should use this time to carry out activities including but not limited to: • Reviewing lecture material • Reading and critiquing weekly seminar papers • Completing seminar handouts • Preparing for the mid-term exam • Planning and completing their assignments (written report, oral presentation)


Students will attend weekly hour long seminars in which set research papers will be discussed in small groups. There will be no seminar in week 5 to allow students time to prepare for the mid-term examination, and the seminar in week 12 will operate as a presentation session.

Study group

In addition, the module organiser will hold weekly 1-hour drop-in sessions throughout the semester to support students’ general understanding of course content upon request. These sessions will be supplemented by the four hours of additional drop-in sessions in weeks 5 and 11, in lieu of the scheduled lectures.

Students may ask questions about the module and/or assignments and exam. Students may obtain feedback on essay outline/plans, but may not ask the MO to read or provide feedback on a full draft assignment.


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Teamwork - Able to constructively cooperate with others on a common task, and/or be part of a day-to-day working team
  • Management - Able to utilise, coordinate and control resources (human, physical and/or financial)
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others
  • Leadership - Able to lead and manage, develop action plans and objectives, offer guidance and direction to others, and cope with the related pressures such authority can result in

Subject specific skills

  • Understand the scientific underpinnings of psychology as a discipline.
  • Apply multiple perspectives to psychological issues and integrate ideas and findings across the multiple perspectives in psychology.
  • Communicate psychological concepts effectively in written form.
  • Communicate psychological concepts effectively in oral form.
  • Retrieve and organise information effectively.
  • Handle primary source material critically.
  • Engage in effective teamwork for the purpose of collaborating on psychological projects.
  • Use effectively personal planning and project management skills.
  • Work effectively under pressure (time pressure, limited resources, etc) as independent and pragmatic learners.
  • Problem-solve by clarifying questions, considering alternative solutions, making critical judgements, and evaluating outcomes.
  • Reason scientifically and demonstrate the relationship between theory and evidence.

• Respond thoughtfully and sensitively to client briefings. • Successfully employ tools for transdisciplinary working. • Innovation and creativity – ability to devise and integrate concepts in a non-linear fashion in developing original ideas.


Resource implications for students


Talis Reading list

Reading list

A non-exhaustive reading list is provided below:

Berners-Lee, M. (2019(. There Is No Planet B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years. Cambridge University Press. ISBN-13: 978-1108439589

Scott, B.A., Amel, E. L., Koger. S, M & Manning, C.M. (2015). Psychology for Sustainability. Routledge, 4, ISBN-13: 978-1848725805.

Courses including this module

Optional in courses: