Can Psychology Increase Sustainability by Design? [Part 2]

By Ellen Poliakoff on behalf of SLH

As part of the British Science Festival, I wanted to hear how psychologists are bringing their insights to sustainability.

Prof Katerina Fotopolou from University College London began with some shocking statistics about clothing. Globally 10% of carbon emissions are from the clothing industry. And a single pair of jeans uses 10,000 litres of water; enough for a person to drink for 13 years. Current efforts to encourage people to choose more sustainable clothing are often driven by negativity – telling us to change and avoid feeling guilty.  Indeed, although the audience were positive about sustainable clothing, few of us actually knew what the clothing that we were wearing was made from. There was also a split in the audience with both high and low enthusiasm for buying second hand clothes.

Katerina argued that it would be more effective to design clothing, taking into account the human needs that are fulfilled by clothing; putting a person’s psychological wellbeing at the heart of design. As well as appearance and comfort, she also pointed out that the right clothing can also help us move and think more effectively. She gave an example of innovative modular clothing, where the components could easily be switched over (like jigsaw pieces) if part of the garment had worn out; but also pockets of different sizes could also be added and removed. 

Both psychologists emphasised the gap between our good intentions and what we really do. It was fascinating to see how both psychologists are working with designers and scientists from other disciplines, using psychology to make the circular economy work in practice.

Prof Katerina Fotopolou project:

Dr Ellen Poliakoff is the Recorder of the Psychology Section of the British Science Festival and Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Manchester.