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Environmental and Sustainability Psychology

The Environmental and Sustainability Psychology section conducts research and teaching on the issues of how people can be motivated to adopt sustainable behaviour and how and why our natural and built environments impact people.

The section studies the psychological aspects of human-made climate change, the loss of the biospheres and further environmental and sustainability topics. Here we focus on the role of various factors, including social norms, values and psychological barriers to sustainable behaviour. We develop and investigate different intervention strategies – such as communication strategies, nudge techniques and social norms – to encourage people to adopt sustainable behaviour patterns. As people also have transactions and interrelationships with nature, which is an important resource for recreation and resilience, we also focus on examining this connection between people and natural and built environments. The findings of current research inform our study and continuing education programmes.

Research topics

Changing behaviour in service of sustainability

In the field of sustainable behaviour change, we study how people can be encouraged to adopt more pro-environmental behaviour. The areas of application range from energy, mobility, nutrition, and consumption to waste disposal and all subareas.  

We conduct experimental studies in the laboratory for a better understanding of the connection between behaviour and a variety of determining variables such as attitudes, intentions, motivation and more. The focus is on practical projects conducted in collaboration with industry or societal partners; interventions are developed and implemented in tests – for example, interventions to encourage people in companies to commute daily by bicycle rather than by car, or to promote correct waste disposal in the public sphere or prevent waste from being produced altogether.   

We conduct evidence-based testing of various measures for behaviour change (social  norms, nudging, and more) and also study new possible solutions that have a concrete application relevance. In collaboration with partners in the world of practice, measures are evaluated or scientifically monitored and evaluated (for example, littering campaigns).

Environmental communication

In the field of environmental communication, we examine how topics related to sustainability can be communicated to different groups in society and persons with different political backgrounds or different values. This includes examining the characteristics of specific target groups (for example, farmers, sustainable consumers) and investigating how information must be disseminated to these target groups specifically to successfully promote sustainable behaviour changes. 

This means dealing with topics like risk perception, the effect of emotions in communication and also how targeted interventions can reduce the psychological barriers to pro-environmental behaviour.

Based on the findings, goal- and stage-specific behaviour change campaigns are derived and developed that aim at effective behaviour changes in individuals and groups. In this area, we conduct experimental, online studies to test the effects of different communication strategies.  

In collaboration with partners in the world of practice, we conduct evaluations of communication strategies or monitor and evaluate implemented communication strategies, for example to capture a target group’s perception of communication campaigns (such as in the restaurant business). We also utilize innovative and exploratory methods of gaining knowledge; these complementary methods are then integrated into our research portfolio.

Positive impact of nature on people

Natural environments have proven to have positive effects on people, reduce stress and have a positive impact on well-being and our ability to pay sustained attention. In addition, the natural habitat is the  basis of life for all of us. We see exploring and promoting this connection as one of our missions.

The focus in this area is on promoting health-preserving environments that strengthen individual resilience. We study how the positive effects of nature are used and how people can be encouraged to actively spend time in nature as a place of regeneration and to perceive nature as worthy of protection, so that awareness of environmental and sustainability issues grows.

To this purpose we conduct and evaluate interventions in nature or conduct experiments on the effects of viewing nature photographs on well-being.

Services offered

To tackle the pressing challenges of sustainability, in collaboration with scientific partners and commissioning organizations we carry out applied research and development projects in the field of behaviour change interventions and evaluation of sustainability measures and projects.  

  • We focus on project support marked by transparency and integrity. In addition, for public and private clients we conduct studies and compile research findings on behaviour-relevant sustainability topics.
  • As environmental and sustainability psychology is an interdisciplinary field, we collaborate with experts in other departments, experts in the world of practice, partner universities in and beyond Europe and industry partners in Switzerland and abroad.   
  • A key focus of our work is guaranteeing the applicability of the topic both within and outside the academic context. For example, we provide expertise as sustainability consultants within our own department and as delegates to the Sustainability Committee of the ZHAW.


We teach courses in various modules within the School of Applied Psychology but also in other departments, including the School of Life Sciences and Facility Management (LSFM). Environmental and sustainability psychology is an interdisciplinary field, and several related sciences have an interest in its findings. In our courses we convey knowledge from theory and combine it with practical examples. For example, after a theory part, Master’s degree programme students in the Environmental and Sustainability Psychology module develop their own intervention strategies with partners in the world of practice.

In the Bachelor’s degree programme, environmental and sustainability psychology contents are taught in social psychology courses (1st and 2nd semester) and in the Literature Colloquium (5th semester). In addition, the topic is taught in a very practical way in two different international study weeks (Rome and Groningen). In addition to teaching in the degree programmes, we also teach environmental and sustainability psychology in continuing education courses at the IAP.


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