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Emotional attributions of climate change

Final Report Summary - EACC (Emotional attributions of climate change)

One of the most significant challenges facing organisations in the 21st Century is the urgent need to redress continued ecological degradation and to prevent further degradation. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned in 2007 that immediate, significant, and sustained action is necessary in order to avoid irreversible and potentially catastrophic consequences of global warming (IPCC, 2007). Despite this urgency, scholars in the fields of psychology and organisational behaviour have been almost completely absent in discussions about how to promote environmentally responsible behaviour both within and outside organisations. The question remains, however, as to what can be done to promote more environmentally responsible behaviour. Through this research I aimed to address this question by examining individual behaviour within organisations. In doing so, this work makes a significant contribution to the UK Economic and Social Research Council’s (2013) strategic priority of ‘Influencing Behaviour and Informing Interventions’. This research programme furthers understanding of the drivers of behaviour in response to environmental issues and climate change particularly, thereby addressing a relevant and timely issue.
Managers, and their organisations, are under increasing pressure to respond to environmental issues, and to climate change in particular. Research has identified the important role that individuals play in affecting organisational change, yet more remains to be done. Despite past success of cognitive and behavioural perspectives in explaining pro-environmental behaviours, few researchers have explored its affective dimensions. The lack of affective research on environmental issues in organisations has meant that there is a lack of understanding of how emotion might affect behaviour, particularly in response to environmental issues.
This project has informed research in this area by addressing three key objectives to advance the state of the art by: (1) furthering understanding of the relationship between climate change attributions and emotional reactions; (2) furthering understanding of the relationship between emotional reactions to climate change and subsequent decision-making and behavioural responses; and (3) evaluating how emotions affect climate change responses over long-term change programs in organisations. This research programme thereby provides a significant move forward in the state of the art. Each objective is interrelated to the others and provides the coherent work programme that has been adopted throughout this research project.
At this final report stage, three studies have been completed to address each of the research objectives.
Study 1: The aim of this study was to apply and test the Cognitive-Motivational-Relational (CMR) theory of emotion (Lazarus, 1991b) in the context of climate change attributions, both inside and outside the workplace. The results of this study show that climate change workers experience a range of emotional experiences and levels of intensity in relation to climate change, ranging from anxiety, fear, and sadness to hope, compassion, and pride. One of the most interesting findings is in how participants enacted coping strategies, and in particular how some climate change workers were able to overcome negative emotions and adopt resilience strategies to motivate them to agitate for continued change in their organizations and wider society.
Study 2: The aim of this study was to understand the relationship between emotional reactions to climate change and subsequent decision-making and behavioural responses. The study used an experimental methodology to examine how climate change workers maintain resilience to their emotional reactions to climate changes. Results are likely to inform the future development of resilience strategies and training for those working in climate change related fields. Work from this objective was also developed by the integration of this work into an additional project on food waste. This study showed that emotions and habits were as important as attitudes in driving consumer food waste.
Study 3: The aim of this study was to evaluate how emotions affect climate change responses over long-term change programs in organisations. This objective was addressed using a longitudinal research design of interviews with senior executives. Data were collected from 17 senior managers and board members across three time points. Results from this study will aim to show how executives and board members respond to climate change over time, as their organisations embedded a sustainability programme.
This programme of research has resulted in the professional integration and research career development of the fellow over the course of this grant. This includes 10 journal articles, two book chapters, as well as 13 invited presentations and seven conference presentations. The research has informed and will continue to inform research-led teaching in programmes at the University of Leeds in Business and Environment; and the leadership of a research group on Businesses and Organisations for Sustainable Societies.