Michael Withers from DS Smith packaging is interviewed by a film crew.
Michael Withers from DS Smith packaging based in Burscough shares his views on sustainability. © Becka Colley-Foster

Two academics at Edge Hill University will lead and influence a new global environmental agenda to explore behaviour change in relation to sustainability and climate change.

Due to their expertise in the field, Professor Geoff Beattie from the Department of Psychology and Dr Laura McGuire, Faculty of Education, have been invited to sit on the prestigious new steering committee hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme in Paris – the leading global environmental authority setting the agenda for sustainable development.

They will be members of the new International Panel on Behaviour Change (IPBC), set up to explore behaviour change in relation to sustainability.

Professor Geoff Beattie, Department of Psychology, stands on a soap box to discuss the psychology of climate change.
Professor Geoff Beattie, Department of Psychology, discusses the psychology of climate change. © Becka Colley-Foster

Professor Beattie said: “I’m clearly excited by all of this. Since I came to Edge Hill University, I’ve argued consistently that, when it comes to climate change, people are the main problem and the principal conduit for meaningful action.

“This new UN group will be an incredible vehicle to promote change in this domain. It gives us such an opportunity to do good.”

As part of their wider mission to encourage people to think about their actions in relation to protecting the planet, Geoff and Laura discussed the topic of behaviour change and the psychology of climate change at a special Institute for Social Responsibility knowledge-exchange event entitled ‘Sustainability in the Region’ which took place on Wednesday 6 November.

They also hosted an interactive psychological test booth which gave an insight into test-takers’ real responses to carbon consumption by tracking their eye movements and challenging their implicit attitudes to images of carbon consumption.

Geoff added: “It’s a fun demonstration of our research but it can reveal some uncomfortable truths.

“Everyone knows about climate change and most of us would say we really care and want to make a positive change but our implicit attitudes, which can be affected by cost for example, often suggest the opposite.

“People just don’t seem to be getting the message, despite people like Greta Thunberg and movements like Extinction Rebellion.

“A lot of that is to do with personal vulnerability and optimism bias; we can’t accept the fact that it could happen to us, we think it’s a problem for future generations or other countries.”

Professor Jo Crotty, Director of the Institute of Social Responsibility, with Professor Christopher Dent and Pro Vice-Chancellor Mark Allanson address the crowd.
Professor Jo Crotty, Director of the Institute of Social Responsibility, with Professor Christopher Dent (left) and Pro Vice-Chancellor Mark Allanson (right).

The organisation of the Sustainability in the Region event was led by renewable energy expert Professor Christopher Dent from the Business School with the help of a wide-ranging team of Edge Hill University staff.

A number of informative talks were given on the holistic, interconnected nature of sustainability, including Prof John Sandars’ discussion of Developing Sustainable Communities for Sustainable Improvement in Health and Professor Paul Aplin’s talk on Where’s the Swamp Gone for Peat’s Sake? Palm Oil Sustainability in Malaysia’s Tropical Forest and Councillor Adrian Owens of Our West Lancashire who considered Community Leadership for Sustainability – How the Borough Council Can be a Force for Positive Change.

Representatives from the 2030 Hub, Chamber Low Carbon, Northwest Ecological Trust, The Bike Works and Liverpool World Centre also spoke.

Display stalls included Action for Refugees, SDG Network, Burscough Community Farm, Ecobricks, DS Smith Recycle Packaging, My Life, Leigh Film Society, Ormskirk and Skelmersdale food banks, and West Lancashire Borough Council Ranger Service, with lunch provided by Junk Food Café, an ethical social enterprise.

The Sustainability in the Region event was part of a wider Health, Safety and Environmental Policy in place at Edge Hill University as part of its commitment to managing the environmental impacts of its activities.