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BPS updates, Climate and environment

Proposal to form a new Environmental Psychology Section

On 1 March 2024, the Board of Trustees considered a proposal under Rule 27(1) of the Society Rules to form a new section, the BPS Environmental Psychology Section.

05 June 2024

Following approval by the trustees, members were invited to express their interest in joining a new Environmental Psychology Section as part of the recent BPS election.

A total of 1,390 members indicated they would be interested in joining a new section, exceeding the one per cent of society members required for it to move forward.

Members will now be invited to vote on the proposal at our Annual General Meeting in July and, if they are in favour, the new section will be formed.

Read the full proposal here.

The proposal is being led by Dr Tony Wainwright, Dr Melissa Marselle, Dr Stephanie Wilkie, Dr Stacey Heath, Dr Edward Edgerton, Prof David Canter, Prof David Uzzell, and Dr Chris Jones. 

Dr Melissa Marselle said:

"Environmental psychology examines people-environment interactions - the psychological processes involved in individual or collective engagements with different types of places.  

"It investigates everything from the corner of a room to attitudes towards Earth and its natural resources - environmental psychology has introduced a physical dimension to psychological research and practice.

"Environmental psychology draws on, and contributes to, virtually every area of psychology."

BPS elections are managed via an online system – members who are eligible to vote will have received an email from our elections partner Mi-Voice, outlining the process. If you don't have an email address registered with us, or if you have opted out of online voting, you will receive a postal ballot instead.

Proposal summary

The proposal team has provided the following summary of the full proposal which was considered by the Board of Trustees on 1 March 2024.

What is environmental psychology?

Environmental psychology is the scientific study of the reciprocal, transactional relationships that people share with natural and built environments.

Areas of interest include understanding how we perceive and experience our environments, their influence on human behaviour and well‐being, and how we affect the environments around us.

As every aspect of human existence occurs in an environmental setting, environmental psychologists believe that psychological processes are 'situated', they are place-related and place-dependent.

In this way, environmental psychology introduces a physical dimension to psychological research and practice.

A section within the BPS is now crucial for the following reasons:

  • British environmental psychology is a mature and burgeoning subdiscipline of psychology with origins stretching back to the 1950s and 1960s. 
  • Recently, there has been an upsurge in professional and academic interest in environmental psychology.
  • There are many research groups dedicated to the pursuit of environmental psychology in universities across the UK and beyond.
  • Officially incorporating environmental psychologists into the BPS, will strengthen and add further credibility to psychologists' contributions to dealing with climate and ecological crises, and promoting healthy and inclusive societies.
  • This will enable the BPS to have a substantial role in developing the growing community of environmental psychologists in the UK and supporting the research, teaching, and professional practice of environmental psychology. 
  • Environmental psychologists are already collaborating with other branches of psychology (e.g., Educational, Organisational and Occupational, Clinical, Counselling, Health and Social).The new Section will strengthen those links because the problems which are at the heart of Environmental Psychology are best served by collaboration.

The societal relevance of environmental psychology is both unquestionable and growing.

In a fast-changing world of rapid urbanisation, biodiversity loss, climate chaos, changing working practices, increasing physical and mental health-issues, evolving socio-technical systems, etc. there is a need for environmental design decisions and policy formulation to reflect both

  • (a) the role of the physical milieu in personal and social experiences and actions
  • (b) the psychological processes influencing the modes of transactions with all forms of physical environment.

This is the preserve of environmental psychology; this is why it needs to be recognised by the BPS.

What is distinct about the proposed section?

Environmental psychology has been included in the BPS Textbooks in Psychology series (Steg & de Groot, 2019), demonstrating an acknowledgement by the BPS that environmental psychology presents a distinct field of study.

The proposed BPS section would cover a broad spectrum of people-environment issues that are currently studied by environmental psychologists, such as:

  • Understanding the psychological determinants of climate (in-)action and the design, deployment, and evaluation of theoretically informed behaviour change interventions for sustainable behaviour (e.g., conserve water, recycle)
  • Examining experiential aspects and psychological processes by which contact with natural environments facilitate mental well-being, to create nature-based mental health interventions
  • Investigating how place attachment and place identity can promote or inhibit urban regeneration, or the acceptance of low-carbon energy infrastructure, or the resettlement of refugees
  • Understanding use and user experience to improve the design, form and function of physical settings such as homes, workplaces, hospitals, schools, and other public spaces

Many of these topic areas are of applied relevance as they help address extremely important and current, real-world, societal issues.

Offering a distinct opportunity prospect for the BPS, the proposed Environmental Psychology Section would support the work of other BPS Sections and Divisions.

For example, environmental psychologists could positively collaborate with members of the Division of Health Psychology to provide a theoretical grounding to studies investigating restorative hospital environments, nature-based health interventions, 'green' social prescriptions, and the mitigation of environmental health risks (e.g. zoonotic diseases, poor air quality).

Environmental psychologists could work with the Division of Occupational Psychology by providing an environmental and design perspective to risk and safety in the workplace, and the influence of the office environment to help improve wellbeing at work.

Environmental psychologists could positively contribute to the Community Psychology section by helping to study the processes of creating better places for all, the influence of place attachment and place identity on community feel, or the mechanisms of community action and group work.

Presently, such collaborations tend to occur on an ad hoc basis - the proposed section would encourage more formal, systematic knowledge exchange across these different areas.

While the role of the BPS Climate Environment Action Coordinating Group (CEACG) is recognised as necessary to address the climate and ecological crises, it is insufficient to encompass the breadth of expertise that British environmental psychology has to offer.

As outlined above, environmental psychology has a broader scope than solely focussing on climate and ecological change.

Thus, while the proposed BPS Environmental Psychology Section can make a significant contribution to current environmentally-relevant provisions within the society – such as CEACG and the Planetary Health Subgroup of the Group of Trainers in Clinical Psychology (GTiCP) – our potential for contributing to the society's ongoing development is so much greater.

Why is this section beneficial for BPS members?

The proposed Environmental Psychology Section is consistent with, and stands to enhance, the BPS's purpose and vision, as laid out within its new strategy.

The work of environmental psychologists is an essential component of the BPS's vision of "building a world where psychology transforms lives".

The togetherness, openness, willingness, and aspirations of excellence, we believe, necessitates the creation of a section that recognises our mature, growing, and impactful community.

Here, we outline some of the benefits that we foresee coming with the creation of a section for new and existing members of the BPS.

The proposed section will benefit existing BPS members by connecting them to a community of like-minded peers dedicated to the pursuit of top-quality research and practice.

The section will provide a space for the exchange of ideas and knowledge pertaining to human-environment relationships and will lead to the co-development of projects and communications to better understand and address these relationships.

Being that environmental psychologists often work in applied, multi-disciplinary areas, the creation of the section will help to bridge the BPS and its members to a range of non-psychology contexts and disciplines.

The proposed Annual Environmental Psychology Section Conference will help to bring people together both from within and outside of academia, and within and outside of the BPS, to increase support for the section and communicate its relevance to diverse communities.

This includes, but is not limited to, other environmental psychology organisations and 
networks (such as APA Division 34, IAAP Division 4, IAPS, and BrEPS), which have their own conferences. 

Career development of environmental psychologists

The development of the section would assist in the career development of BPS members, further supporting the strategic aims of the society. BPS members (especially early career researchers) stand to gain leadership opportunities through participation in the section and its special interest groups.

Environmental psychologists who are presently BPS members may not currently be affiliated with any member networks within the society.

This excludes them from some awards and support initiatives(e.g. the International Conference Symposium Scheme; Sections Meetings and Events Support Fund).

The creation of an Environmental Psychology section will assist these members by providing them with a recognised membership network, thereby qualifying them for such support.

Additional income for the society could also be gained through the provision of CPD and professional development events in the area of environmental psychology.

These activities clearly align with strategic priorities focused on building the community of psychologists in the UK and further afield.

Sense of belonging to the BPS

At present, many UK environmental psychologists are not BPS members.

This is because they do not see what the BPS offers them.

If they are BPS members, there is no clear member network to be affiliated with.

In gaining supporters for this proposal, one senior academic wrote, there is "...not much in BPS membership for non-practitioners at the moment. And yes, I'd consider it if there was more reason to."

The development of the proposed section will benefit existing BPS members who identify as environmental psychologists by giving them a member network to call 'home'.

The creation of a new section would provide representation for UK environmental psychologists and support the BPS's strategic aims to be inclusive.

It will help environmental psychologists, who have been active in the UK for over 50 years, feel accepted and welcomed by the BPS.

We anticipate a spike in BPS memberships resulting from the creation of the Environmental Psychology section.

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