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Webinar: Amplifying Sustainability in Higher Education Through Organizational Behavior Change Principles

August 28 @ 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm EDT

Institutions of Higher Education (HEIs) are critical for a sustainability transformation given their role developing innovations and preparing future citizens and leaders. Yet, efforts to mobilize sustainable change in HEIs often focus on individual, private-sphere behavior like recycling, diet, or biking. Individual private-sphere action, while important, is simply no match for the massive infrastructures underlying our environmental crises. More progress will be made, and faster, by addressing the organizational influences that impact many people’s behavior.

Importantly, individual action can create systemic change within organizations. Thus, this session is designed to provide useful tools for faculty, staff, and students who want to help change their HEI’s approach to and practices with respect to sustainability. This session reviews strategies based on psychological science, including the psychology behind change management, transformational leadership, job design, goal setting and other motivational strategies, and how to build resilience for persisting in the face of such challenging work.

A key component of successful organizations is a strong organizational culture, or the shared set of assumptions that guide people’s thoughts and behaviors. As with broader societal culture, an organization’s cultural assumptions must change to reflect planetary boundaries in socially just ways. Well-established organizational change principles can be leveraged to simultaneously create culture change and ensure the alignment of structures and processes that support it. Throughout the session, we will share brief case studies that illustrate the application of these classic organizational change principles within HEIs. Also throughout the session, participants will be welcomed to ask questions and offer observations. We will also provide an organizational change worksheet for attendees which they can fill out as we work through the material. Thinking through the relevant information (who, what, when) about their own organizations will help attendees create a roadmap for culture change that fosters sustainable behavior at their HEI.

By the end of this session, attendees will be able to:

  1. Understand the importance of a shared understanding of sustainability
  2. Identify the characteristics of transformational leadership
  3. Articulate key types of engagement for building a sustainability culture
  4. Share strategies for building and maintaining resilience during change efforts
  5. Develop a concrete plan for fostering sustainable behavior within their own organizations

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Elise Amel, Professor of Psychology, University of St. Thomas

Elise L. Amel earned a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Purdue University and has been teaching at the University of St. Thomas for three decades. Amel is an award-winning Professor of Psychology; former Chair of the Department of Earth, Environment, & Society; Past-President for the Society of Environmental, Population, & Conservation Psychology; and is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association. She has co-authored an article in Science about the role of psychology in addressing environmental crises; a textbook, Psychology for Sustainability 5e; and a Springer series book, Fostering Sustainability in Higher Education: Leveraging Human Behavior in Organizations. She co-founded the St. Thomas Office of Sustainability Initiatives and has successfully led efforts at the University of St. Thomas to create a culture of sustainability leadership through systems-level changes including committing to carbon neutrality, embracing sustainability as a strategic priority, developing a strategic sustainability action plan for the university, and creating a system for integrating sustainability across the curriculum.

Christie Manning, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, Macalester College

Dr. Manning (she/her) has been teaching in the Environmental Studies Department at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota since 2008. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Human Factors Engineering from Tufts University and a Ph.D. in Cognitive and Biological Psychology from the University of Minnesota. Christie’s research focuses on the psychological factors that motivate community-level action. She has co-authored several reports on the mental health impacts of climate change and environmental injustice. Christie is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association.

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