Using psychology to go green


Saving the planet should be human nature, but often times it is not.

While many people say they want to save the environment, getting people to make the necessary changes is easier said than done. As more companies and organizations work to make their operations more sustainable, people who can design projects and programs that foster awareness and behavior change are increasingly in demand.

To help train people in this burgeoning field, UC San Diego Extension recently launched new a specialized certificate in sustainability and behavior change.

Students in the program will explore a range of topics that will help them understand why people behave in certain ways. Drawing on lessons from behavioral science, students will learn which methods are most effective in promoting behavior change, whether it’s using less air conditioning, biking to work instead of driving, or cutting back on lawn watering.

The four online courses required to complete the certificate are Conservation Psychology; Behavior Change Strategies for Sustainability; Community Engagement; and a Behavior Change Capstone Project.

“There are so many professionals - whether they work in business or government or the nonprofit sector - who recognize the importance of environmental protection and sustainability,” said Dr. Wesley Schultz, who will oversee the new program. “This course is really about giving people the tools and the background to create and implement effective conservation and sustainability programs.”

Lisa McDonald, a wildlife conservation specialist at the Calgary Zoo in Alberta, Canada, used the lessons she learned in the UC San Extension program to start a cell phone recycling program at the zoo. The aim of the program was two-fold. The first goal was to protect gorillas in the wild by limiting the demand for coltan, a mineral used in cell phones that is often mined near gorilla populations in Africa. Second, the program looked to reduce the number of cell phones in landfills to prevent the phones’ chemicals from seeping into the earth and groundwater.

The program was such a success that the Calgary Zoo has incorporated it as part of its larger conservation efforts.

“I’m incredibly excited that my coursework helped us take the right steps to making this happen,” McDonald said. “It’s really changed how I view my work.”

The program is open to anyone but is focused on professionals and government workers who manage environmental program campaigns as well as employees and educators at organizations like zoos and aquariums. Business professionals interested in understanding consumer behavior and promoting corporate behavior change will also benefit from the program. To find out more, call UC San Diego Extension at 858-534-8139 or go to

Jennifer Davies is the assistant dean of external affairs for UC San Diego Extension. She can be reached at

Source: DiscoverSD