The psychological dimensions of sustainability

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Several years ago, proponents of the Sustainable Development (SD) approach identified four levels of impact of sustainable lifestyles (SLS) and actions on people's wellbeing. Accordingly, a sustainable society was presumed to positively affect the ecological, social, economic and political-institutional scenarios in which people live and thrive. More recently, a number of government and social institutions have added a psychological dimension to this list of levels of impact of SD. For these governments and institutions, psychological wellbeing should be a positive consequence of sustainability. An incipient research in environmental psychology reinforces such an idea, demonstrating that people who practice pro-environmental behaviors are happier individuals. Also, psychological restoration (i.e., retrieval from exhausted psychological capabilities and health) is assumed to derive from living in sustainable scenarios. Moreover, sustainability, as practiced in the form of pro-environmental behaviors, not only is linked to their psychological consequences but also to psychological antecedents of sustainable lifestyles. More than forty years of research have demonstrated that SLS are predicted by affective and cognitive determinants of behavior. In this paper I review studies and views encompassing the psychological dimensions of sustainability. The basic idea is that it is human psychology (i.e., environmentally destructive behaviors and propensities) the main cause of the current ecological crisis; but human behavior is also a paramount solution. Thus, any interventional strategy to be successful has to consider the psychological determinants, the remedial behaviors, and also the positive consequences linked to more sustainable behaviors. Consequently, for analytical reasons, I identify: 1) psychological antecedents, and 2) psychological consequences of 3) sustainable behaviors. All these three levels are subject to scientific scrutiny within the realm of environmental psychology and related areas. The psychological antecedents of sustainable actions include dimensions such as environmental emotions, affinity towards diversity, ecological worldviews, future orientation, pro-environmental deliberation, pro-environmental norms and values, and pro-environmental competency, among others, which are described in this chapter. The psychological consequences of sustainability are subjective wellbeing or happiness, and psychological restoration, but a number of positive outcomes are to be added to this list. In turn, sustainable behaviors (or lifestyles) encompass pro-ecological, frugal, equitable and altruistic behaviors, which are actions resulting in the conservation of the socio-physical environment. Therefore, this chapter stresses the idea that psychology is a key constituent of sustainability. Since the environmental dilemma emerged as a consequence of human drives (i.e., motivations for exploiting and depredating the environment), and capacities (human intelligence and potential for exploiting natural resources), an important component of the solution to this dilemma has to be found in exploring human psychology across the three levels above identified. Also, in studying how human potentials (emotions, competency, deliberation, anticipation, etc.) can be converted into solutions to environmental problems. © 2010 by Nova Science Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.
Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationEnvironmental Psychology: New Developments
Number of pages28
ISBN (Electronic)9781608769117
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2010


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