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Psychosocial factors influencing the experience of sustainability professionals

Nadine Andrews (The Pentland Centre for Sustainability in Business, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK)

Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal

ISSN: 2040-8021

Article publication date: 4 September 2017




The purpose of this study is to gain insight into psychosocial factors influencing sustainability professionals in their work to lead by influencing and improving pro-environmental decision-making in their organisations and to increase understanding of psychosocial factors that affect their effectiveness in achieving desired results.


Using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis as a framework, the study enquires into the lived experience of six research subjects. The participants are sustainability professionals and leaders from the UK and Canada. The primary data source is semi-structured interviews, analysed with micro-discourse analysis.


Key psychosocial factors involved in participants’ experience are identified, specifically psychological threat-coping strategies, psychological needs, motivation and vitality, finding complex interactions between them. Tensions and trade-offs between competency, relatedness and autonomy needs and coping strategies such as suppression of negative emotion and “deep green” identity are modelled in diagrams to show the dynamics. How these tensions are negotiated has implications for psychological well-being and effectiveness.


The concepts and models presented in this paper may be of practical use to sustainability professionals, environmentalists and organisation leaders, for example, in identifying interventions to develop inner resources, support authentic and effective action and disrupt maladaptive responses to ecological crisis.


The study contributes insight to understanding of underlying processes shaping environmental cognition and behaviour, particularly in relation to psychological threat-coping strategies and interacting factors. With a transdisciplinary approach, the methodology enables nuanced interpretation of complex phenomena to be generated.



This work was funded by the Digital Economy programme (RCUK Grant EP/G037582/1), which supports the HighWire Centre for Doctoral Training, Lancaster University.


Andrews, N. (2017), "Psychosocial factors influencing the experience of sustainability professionals", Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, Vol. 8 No. 4, pp. 445-469.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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