Discourses in Environmental Psychology: Implications for Social Sustainability

Thomas J. Doherty, Lewis & Clark Graduate School / Sustainable Self, LLC (Bend, OR): Discourses in Environmental Psychology: Implications for Social Sustainability

“This presentation provides an orientation to environmental psychology for an interdisciplinary, social sustainability audience. It also seeks to demonstrate how environmental psychology and its varied approaches and subcultures can (1) help to better define social sustainability issues–in particular the psychological underpinnings of social, political, or ethical dilemmas that emerge in the pursuit of sustainability and (2) to generate potential social sustainability solutions that integrate psychological savvy.

By way of an orientation, approaches within psychology that address human-environment relations, restorative effects of nature, and interventions regarding environmental health, behavior, conservation, and sustainability will be described. These include the traditional environmental psychology of built and natural landscapes, conservation psychology, ecopsychology, etc. The presenter will share experience and anecdotes from various professional roles in environmental psychology as a clinical psychologist, organizational consultant, educator, journal editor, and leader in professional organizations. Examples of environmental psychology in action include addressing environmental concerns or despair in the general public, facilitating nature-based psychotherapies, promoting conservation behaviors in organizations, and developing the theory and research base regarding the psychological impacts of global climate change.

Looking deeper, applying a discourse framework to environmental psychology reveals that, much like the broader sustainability movement, environmental psychology has expert/scientific subcultures and more grassroots and holistic subcultures, symbolized by the images of an “”Ivory Tower”” and the “”Green Tower.”” From where do these subcultures emerge? From a psychological perspective, they result from differing beliefs and worldviews regarding humans’ place in nature and appropriate solutions to environmental problems. These differences in worldviews can be seen as a form of “”environmental diversity.””

This so-called environmental diversity (i.e., in terms of worldviews) can also be seen as intersecting with other forms of multicultural diversity, such as race, ethnicity, class and gender. This in turn provides insights into how inequalities (i.e., in terms of access to healthy green spaces) or other environmental justice issues may or may not be addressed in psychology and social sustainability.”