PhD research

Psychosocial Factors Affecting Enactment of Pro-environmental Values by Individuals in Their Work to Influence Organisational Practices


View/download thesis here: Andrews 2017_PhD thesis

While studies indicate there is a strong link between pro-environmental values and behaviour, they also show that such values are not necessarily enacted consistently across all areas of our lives. There are many psychosocial factors that can affect congruent enactment. ‘Psychosocial factors’ refer to psychological processes interacting with social contextual forces to shape cognition and behaviour. Improving our understanding of what these factors are and how they influence us is important because it could help us subvert our maladaptive response to the ecological crisis that we have caused. Without major transformation in how we respond, severe negative consequences for humans and other living beings are highly likely. Researching factors influencing our inadequate response is both vital and urgent, yet there is much that remains under-explored. It is an area that has been largely overlooked in environmental and sustainability research, which tends to focus on cognition and behaviour and on interventions to change behaviour, rather than on the underlying drivers of behaviour, which occur largely below the level of conscious awareness.

My research investigates factors affecting enactment of pro-environmental values by individuals in organisational contexts. I enquire into the lived, embodied and situated experience of 6 sustainability managers and leaders in the UK and Canada, in their work to influence pro-environmental policy, strategy and practice in their organisations. My findings enrich our understanding of psychological threat coping strategies from a systemic perspective.

With an innovative transdisciplinary cross-level approach, I use Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis as a methodological framework and integrate it with frames and metaphor analysis. I draw on a number of theories from various strands of psychology, philosophy and linguistics to inform my analysis and interpretation, such as environmental identity, coping, and self-determination theory. My analysis is rooted in a particular philosophical perspective that regards human separation from nature as a root cause of ecological crisis.

Using semi-structured interviews as the primary data source, I identify key factors influencing the participants’ cognition and behaviour, and affecting how their pro-environmental values are enacted. The methodology I used enabled me to generate over 70 highly nuanced and in-depth findings. The key contributions to knowledge relate to:

  • Sources of threats and tensions that arise for sustainability managers in their work to influence organisational practices (e.g. thwarted autonomy, competency or relatedness needs, incongruence in values)
  • Types of coping strategies used to negotiate these tensions (including identity work, emotion regulation, seeking support from external partners, constructing a motivational story, nature connection)
  • Ecologically adaptive and maladaptive outcomes and implications of these responses for the individual (including indirect impacts on vitality and effectiveness) and for the organisation
  • Factors affecting the efficacy of adaptive coping strategies (e.g. type of motivation, type of self-awareness, cognitive frames about nature)
  • Contextual factors (organisational, cultural worldview) that support or undermine enactment of pro-environmental values
  • Modelling how these factors interact with each other, creating feedback loops and tensions

My findings enrich our understanding of the complex phenomena that is environmental behaviour, specifically in relation to sustainability professionals. The focus for my theoretical contribution is the body of literature on coping (in which I include identity work and emotion regulation), and employee green behaviour.

The models I have constructed bring what are often unconscious psychosocial processes to the surface. In making them visible, my findings may be of practical use to individuals in facilitating deeper awareness of the dynamics in their situation and helping to identify where interventions can be made to improve their efficacy and resilience in influencing pro-environmental change in their organisations.

View/download thesis here: Andrews 2017_Psychosocial factors affecting enactment of pro-environmental values in the workplace (phd thesis)

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4 Responses to PhD research

  1. Kamiel Choi says:

    This sounds like a really important piece of research.
    I’m a philosopher myself, but found the PhD I wrote (on environmental ethics) too abstract. So the supplement is a practical path: building a sustainable communal life form that is local.
    I share your concerns (I surfed over here from the Patagonia campaign) and tend to be rather cynical about any potential of capitalism to evolve into something sustainable.
    But if people know there are real alternatives to the consumerist treadmill, it might set in motion the change we need. I see money, as universal ab-straction/denominator, more and more as the cause of our disconnect. I think what we need is the ability to live well without invoking the global economy (local produce etc), only so we can afford and develop a principled position on the issue. We might use many for responsible luxury goods, rather than it being our life line, turning us into submissive cynics.

    Thanks for doing this research. I think we need thinking both from within the system as well as thinking (from) beyond it.

  2. cultureprobe says:

    Hi Kamiel thanks for your comment. I’m really interested in analysing the sustainability approaches organisations take through an environmental ethics lens. A deontic approach leds to different sorts of decisions than a consequentialist/utilitarian one or virtue ethics. I imagine as its not overt, these different ethical approaches are all mashed up together, unwittingly, creating all sorts of tensions and conflicts which can’t help in producing coherent strategy.
    So for example I was thinking that if a deontic ethic of loyalty was particularly salient in an organisation culture then a personal virtue ethic of justice or honesty might get overridden and mean that someone who cares about justice doesn’t whistleblow. Valuing nature’s services and triple bottom line seems to me very much a utilitarian ethics – about totalling losses and gains.

    Would like to talk to you more about all this especially when I get to that stage in the research – sure your knowledge would be really valuable!

  3. Pingback: Sustainability Plus seminar: 24th Oct, Lancaster University | cultureprobe

  4. Pingback: Hubris, ecological crisis and psychological threat | cultureprobe

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