Environmental psychology is a system-oriented discipline that examines human beings in relation to their surroundings. As human beings we are parts of a complex system that comprises of smaller systems such as the natural environment, the social environment, the built environment and other more or less virtual environments. Environmental psychology seeks to understand the interactions between human beings and all these different systems that comprise the environment we live in. Therefore, environmental psychology is an interdisciplinary field that is related to different fields and sciences such as sociology, anthropology, environmental science, etc.
In this article I will try to focus on the practical importance of environmental psychology and I will examine it also in relation to sustainable development. It is not accidental that both environmental psychology and sustainable development are becoming increasingly popular. This fact is related to the increase of social and environmental problems as well as to the rising awareness of people around the world about those problems. On the one hand sustainable development is seeking the optimum path of development under consideration of four pillars: social, economic, environmental and cultural. On the other hand environmental psychology is studying man not only as part of every problem related to the environment, the society, etc, but also as part of every solution.
There is an exchange and a dynamic interaction between a person and its environment that changes over time. A person transforms the environment and in return the environment transforms a person. This transformation takes place in many levels and when it comes to problems, as a result of this transformation, it becomes clear that multi-level solutions are needed. That is why the system-oriented approach that promotes a holistic perspective has become a standard approach in many sciences. This approach promotes the interdisciplinary collaboration between different fields. For example full ecology is more relevant today than natural ecology. And full ecology is related to the social sciences, including also the environmental psychology.
The rising concern about the environmental problems has led environmental psychology to focus more on the study of man in relation to the natural environment. As a result of this focus environmental psychology has become today more relevant. Many practitioners in the field of sustainable development argue that promoting sustainable development is less a matter of applying environmental technologies and more a matter of changing peoples’ attitudes towards the environment. Peoples’ attitudes result in specific behaviors, which can be more or less sustainable or unsustainable. Therefore, it becomes evident that the study of the formation of environmentally relevant behaviors and attitudes, which belongs to the spectrum of environmental psychology, is very essential for promoting sustainable development.
But how has environmental psychology been applied practically? How has contributed to a better world? As already discussed, the term “environment” in environmental psychology is defined in a broad sense. A person, for example, lives in an apartment in a block of flats, works in a factory, walks around certain streets in his city, visits specific parks. All these surroundings comprise the different environments that are related to this person’s life. Environmental psychology has contributed to the improvement of such surroundings.
Many of these environments are the result of careful planning. There are minor details that make the difference in an environment. Details, that define how a person feels and interacts, while being in the environment. Many of these details have been taken care of, according to results of research in environmental psychology. For example the use of color-coded paths in hospitals or the signage inside complex or crowded buildings base on the implementation of principles that have been discovered in environmental psychology. The fact that in plazas often exist fountains or that benches are arranged in specific ways is also related to research in the field of environmental psychology. Furthermore, environmental psychology has contributed to the design of working environments that promote the well-being of employees.
Environmental psychology contributes to sustainable development in a number of ways. Environmental psychologists can assist environmental agents in forming an applicable sustainable development policy. Moreover, the use of media such as television and its power in influencing human behavior is also a subject of research in the field of environmental psychology. How can we use the media to change peoples’ attitudes towards the environment? How can we use the media to develop more sustainable behaviors? These are important research questions in the field of environmental psychology. Findings in such researches have indicated that the potential of using the media for accomplishing such goals can be tremendous.
The interaction of businesses with their customers or employees in relation to the ways they communicate environmental information is also a subject of research in environmental psychology. Researches have shown that giving feedback to employees regarding their environmental performance can increase their commitment to protect the environment, especially when combined with the setting of specific improvement targets. Other researches have indicated that the customers’ attitudes towards a business have been positively influenced after the business started publishing environmental reports and committed publicly to protect the environment.
To sum up, it can be said that, even though environmental psychology is a relatively new field of psychology, it has already contributed much to the improvement of many peoples’ quality of life. The holistic approach of environmental psychology in the research of human behavior and its implications on the natural environment is in sync with sustainable development. Environmental psychology can play an important role in the future as the environmental problems around the world escalate and the development of sustainable behaviors is becoming more pressing. Environmental psychologists and sustainable development practitioners could work together and create a better future.