Research Projects

Fostering Hope and Collective Behavioral Response in the COVID-19 Pandemic: Leveraging insights from sustainability and climate change

With support from Stanford University’s Stanford RISE Grants

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus the fragility of our highly globalized, interconnected society. Never before have we experienced such a large-scale opportunity to witness, in vivo, experiments in collective action occurring worldwide at a single point in time. Through this project we explore the intersectionality among various theoretical approaches on behavioral responses to COVID-19 and analogous sustainability fields, such as climate change. Using a variety of interventions that build upon the Lab’s prior work, such as postcards, interviews and the development of virtual communities, we employ humanistic modes of inquiry to understand the nexus of individual and collective emotional and action-oriented responses amid COVID-19.

Collective Action for Sustainability Solutions: How might design thinking catalyze shifts from individual to community mindsets?

With support from the Hasso Plattner Design Thinking Research Program

Arguably the most pressing and urgent threats to the health and well-being of our society--climate change, resource degradation and most recently, COVID-19--are at their core collective action issues. This project seeks to address how we can most effectively cultivate the transition from individual- to collective-action mindsets to advance sustainability solutions, leveraging process and insight-driven aspects of design thinking.

Research and Practice: Scholars and land managers collaborating for solutions

With support from the Realizing Environmental Innovations Projects (REIP) of the Stanford  Woods Institute for the Environment

This project works to engage Stanford-affiliated researchers from around campus, students, and land managers in collaborative endeavors to produce conservation solutions. Land trusts and open-space preserves have successfully conserved more than 56 million acres of land across the United States, yet land managers are often limited in resources and capital to make research- and data-based decisions. Building on a current Stanford applied course, Open Space Management Practicum, this project will provide tools, personnel, and forums to support affiliated faculty and students in integrating basic and applied natural and social environmental science research into land-trust conservation practices. Through partnerships with land managers, these collaborations will have the opportunity to contribute to decision-making around open-space reserve management and long-term conservation planning. Key to this project is the creation of a digital atlas coalescing existing remote sensing and mapping data as a starting point for co-developing research questions. The project will expand current university–land trust collaborations and use those existing relationships to develop a suite of tools that can help inform a model of how universities and land trusts might create on-the-ground conservation impact.

Collective Environmental Literacy: Processes and measures related to community action on sustainability and climate

With support from the Pisces Foundation

This project seeks to deeply understand how to foster and measure collective environmental literacy. Core to this work is examining the critical role of a community’s collective knowledge and action when identifying and confronting climate change and sustainability issues.

The Summen Project: Coastal fog-mediated interactions between climate change, upwelling, and coast redwood resilience

Named the Summen Project after the Native American word for “redwood,” this three-year, multi-institutional initiative is supported through NSF’s Coastal Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability (SEES) program. The study brings together ecologists, biologists, and social scientists to understand how climate change may affect the California coastal ecosystem and affect people’s climate-related perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors. We will initiate collaborations with community partners and California State Park representatives to address these ecological and social questions. More information on the project is available on our project website as well as in this story and this video about the study.

Environmental Learning and Behavior in the Bay Area: Networks, place connections, and stewardship

With support from the S.D. Bechtel, Jr., Foundation

The “Environmental Learning in the Bay Area” (ELBA) project is a multi-year project investigating these questions; more generally, the project explores how, why, where, and when people learn about the environment, and what motivates them to act sustainably.

This multi-phased, mixed-methods project examined how, when, where, and why people learn about the environment and are motivated to act sustainably within a community and regional context. Phase One consisted of two main studies: (1) a social network analysis of organizations and groups engaged with environmental learning, and (2) a sense-of-place and community engagement study among Bay Area residents. Phase Two consisted of in-depth case studies considering the impact of environmental learning on academic, conservation, and sustainability outcomes in a range of contexts.


See here for a dynamic site that includes data from the Bay Area survey.

Girls Learning Environment and Energy (GLEE): Dissemination and Sustainability

Girls Learning Environment and Energy (GLEE), a joint effort between Stanford University and the Girl Scouts of Northern California, teaches Girl Scouts and their families about the environment and energy conservation. This represents a continuation of an earlier effort, initiated with support from ARPA-E. The first phase culminated with publication of the initial findings in Nature Energy, emphasizing findings that GLEE participants had significant home energy savings immediately following the program and also at the delayed post measure. Their parents also demonstrated energy savings, suggesting the importance of family learning as well as of building a program and curriculum with a strong theoretically embedded structure. We are currently transforming the program into online modules to reach more scout troops, leaders, and service units; we also are working to develop a train-the-trainers structure.

Community Conservation: Examining environmental behavior as motivated by participation in aquarium programs

Working with WATCH, this research project explored the community impact of the conservation-focused teen program. This program, which has been in place for a decade, is delivered in three local high schools through close collaboration with a nearby aquarium. This study considered the effect of the program on its current and former participants’ environmental behavior, and compared that with students who did not participate. We studied how those behavioral impacts translated through participants’ social networks. In addition, we investigated how community leaders perceived the impact on the broader community.

Blue Habits: Motivating pro-ocean behaviors among nature travelers

The Blue Habits research project aimed to foster pro-environmental behavior after nature-based tourism experiences. The project built on visitor studies research and behavioral science to develop targeted post-trip activities that leveraged visitors’ spike in interest in the environment and stewardship. The research was conducted in conjunction with Oceanic Society and specifically their California whale-watching programs out of Half Moon Bay and San Francisco.

Facilitating Environmental Behavior: Leveraging nature-based tourism into everyday stewardship

With support from the Environmental Ventures Projects Program of the Woods Institute for the Environment and in conjunction with William Durham, Stanford University

This work examines nature-based tourism as an opportunity to facilitate environmental behavior. It builds on visitor studies research and behavioral science to develop targeted post-trip follow-up that leverages visitors´ pre-trip motivations and post-trip spike in interest in environment and stewardship. Core to the endeavor is a partnership with Stanford's Persuasive Technology Lab. The work also includes a pilot study at Año Nuevo State Park (CA) and a full study at Galapagos Islands National Park in Ecuador.

ee360: Strengthening research-and-practice connections

We are a partner in ee360, a five-year initiative of the North American Association of Environmental Education (NAAEE) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). We are working to strengthen research-and-practice connections, as part of the initiative’s broader goals of supporting environmental education (EE) leaders and mobilizing their use of high-quality resources. This project addresses the challenge of connecting practitioners with current research findings and research-based resources, and it extends our work of producing the Environmental Education Research Bulletins. Project activities include conducting in-person and online workshops that leverage design-thinking tools and mindsets to generate creative strategies for connecting research and practice. The workshops¾and the insights they generate¾will be relevant to environmental educators working in formal and/or informal settings, as well as professionals from a range of fields with interest in more effectively connecting research and practice.

eeWorks: Anecdotes to evidence

Partnering with the North American Association of Environmental Education (NAAEE), we are conducting systematic literature reviews that consider the research basis of environmental education. Derived from the findings of those reviews, NAAEE is developing collateral messaging and communication tools that expound upon the literature review findings. As part of the eeWorks initiative, we have been exploring different aspects of environmental education, including EE with K-12 students; the relationship between environmental education and conservation outcomes; and EE in early childhood education. The Journal of Environmental Education published that review in summer 2017. We are currently conducting two reviews: one that considers the relationship between environmental education and conservation outcomes and a second that explores EE in early childhood education. In 2018, we look forward to investigating new areas of environmental education research and sharing results from our current reviews.

Environmental Education Research Bulletins: Connecting research and practice

We produce the Environmental Education Research Bulletins, in partnership with ChangeScale and the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), with additional support from the US EPA through the ee360 initiative. The Research Bulletins synopsize recent research relevant for field-based environmental and sustainability education practitioners; each summary uses practitioner-friendly language and includes a "bottom line" for practice. We are conducting two research-and-practice studies using the Research Bulletins as a centerpiece. The Research Bulletins are available through the ChangeScale website and the NAAEE eePRO site.