On 24th June 2022 the webinar “Time for Change – The Role of Environmental Psychology in Promoting Sustainable Urban Environments“ took place. For the third webinar of the Urban Insight series hosted by CKS and Build4People, a special panel considered how to design sustainable cities that will enable sustainable human-environment interactions and foster these behaviors in the long term. The panelists presented about Global and Cambodian Sustainable Development Goals in relation to cities and settlements, and discuss the psychological determinants of pro-environmental behaviour in Phnom Penh and how environmentally-friendly behaviours can be supported. Insights on how environments can shape certain behaviours are drawn from the design strategies employed for example in the transportation sector of Singapore.

Therefore, the speakers Dr. Anke Blöbaum, Ms. Annalena Becker, Dr. Samuel Chng and Dr. Puthearath Chan participated in the webinar moderated by Dr. Try Thuon from the Center of Khmer Studies / Royal University of Phnom Penh. Dr. Anke Blöbaum, environmental psychologist and senior researcher at the Institute of Psychology at the Otto-von-Guericke University in Magdeburg, started her speech by explaining that environmental psychology is focussing on the interaction between environment and people as to look at how the environment impacts people’s behaviour and well-being and how people on the other hand affect the environment.

As the leader of the workgroup “Behaviour Change” of the Build4People project she then gave an overview of the main goals and research questions of the Build4People Project and highlighted the purpose of enhancing the quality of life for citizens through sustainable urban transformation in Cambodia (Phnom Penh) by apeople-led, cross-cutting and transdisciplinary approach – which is not only a technological challenge but also a social, cultural, economic and political one.

Dr. Anke Blöbaum stressed that transformation means time for change and time for change requires behavioural change – which is part of the research approach that WP1 of the Build4People Project is addressing. Ms. Annalena Becker, research associate in the division of Environmental Psychology at the University of Magdeburg, continued the webinar by explaining how environmental psychology asks the question which behaviours are sustainably relevant and looks at impacts and intends of these behaviours. So, in the context of Phnom Penh, the research goal is to find out which behaviours are environmentally friendly and what is determining them. During the first phase of the project it has already been discussed that the behaviours energy consumption, recycling/avoiding plastic and pro-environmental mobility behaviour are relevant sustainable behaviours. The next step is to figure out how to trigger these behaviours. To do so, psychological theories like the Value Belief Norm Theory are used in order to explain the relevant determinants of certain behaviours.

After explaining how the theory gives indications on how to support environmentally friendly behaviours, Ms. Annalena Becker gave an insight in the Behaviour Change Science Workshop that took place in Phnom Penh in March 2022 where the attendees reflected about how to use psychological and social scientific knowledge to shape the behaviour by changing the environment. Practical implications were for example found in the domains waste management and consumption behaviour.

Next Dr. Samuel Chng spoke about an environmental psychological approach applied in the transportation sector in the city of Singapore. Dr. Samuel Chng heads the Urban Psychology Lab in the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities at the Singapore University of Technology and Design. He is an applied social psychologist and his research focusses on human behaviour and decisions in cities across a range of areas including mobility, sustainability and wellbeing. 

Dr. Samuel Chng explained an integrative conceptual framework of diverse theories that he had developed with colleagues and that shows how complex decision-making processes of individuals are – also when it comes to (sustainable) mobility decisions.

This framework builds the theoretical foundation for the interventions that are used in Singapore to support a sustainable transportation system. For example, besides walking and cycling, affordable public transportation plays a very important role. The public transportation network connects all parts of the island with different types of transportation and there is a station for transportation within ten minutes walking distance of every residence. Thus, there is a very strong social norm and a positive attitude towards using public transport in Singapore. Private car ownership however is very costly and several regulations complicate car use. That is why only about 11 % of the Singapore population own a car. 

Unfortunately, the result is that car ownership has also become a status symbol in society so that the demand is increasing and if one owns a car it is used.

There are several ideas that address the problem and could be answers to the question what else can be done to support sustainability in the transportation sector in Singapore – such as car-free towns and car-lite precincts or autonomous or electric vehicles.

The last speaker of the webinar was Dr. Puthearath Chan who is currently a Laureate at the Korean Foundation for Advanced Studies (CHEY) and a National Coordinator for SDGs Financing Strategy Development in Cambodia (Frankfurt School & UNCDF). He has more than 10 years of experience working as a coordinator, consultant, senior technical officer, and researcher for various sustainable development and SDG-related projects and has been based in the Department of Green Economy, National Council for Sustainable Development/Ministry of Environment for more than 8 years. In the course of the webinar he talked about a case study from Phnom Penh concerning the influence of Urban Child-Friendly Initiative on environmental behaviour. It is a community framework which puts children’s rights first – as they build the majority of Cambodian population. The core conclusion of Dr. Puthearath Chan was that it is very important to listen to children and their needs, so to ask them what they wish for in their city/community.

Children’s health, children’s protection and children’s education as well as children’s participation play important roles.

Dr. Puthearath Chan presented the case of Smile Village Community – an initiative with the mission to improve livelihood of underprivileged families by considering environment, income, education, and community amongst other things. For example, there is a playground in the center of the community which children helped develop. It is a meeting point for both children and parents. Another example can be found in education programs for children that already include young children.

As a last statement Dr. Puthearath Chan explained that income and education – which play important parts in the Smile Village Community – build strong factors influencing environmental behaviour through environmental attitude in developing countries.

Finalizing the webinar, the speakers where asked questions by the moderator Dr. Try Thuon as well as from the public. Ms. Annalena Becker explained how behaviour change interventions can address different target groups by considering their different behavioural contexts, different scopes for decision making, different attitudes, values, (social) norms and so on. She stressed that it needs patience, time and many different solutions for change and that it is sometimes necessary to let go of old things and be open for new options and perspectives. Dr. Anke Blöbaum stated that it is always a strategic decision which behaviours are targeted first and that it makes sense to look at the impact of behaviours on one hand and at what is visible for people on the other hand. When a behaviour is targeted that is easy and people think is important but that in fact does not have the biggest impact, however there can be hope for a spill over effect which means that people get motivated and activated and thus switch to behaviours with a bigger impact.

When Dr. Samuel Chng was asked what experiences from Singapore can be applied to other cities or countries he focused on the mistakes that were made and that can be learned from – like making car ownership more expensive which led to other challenges. He underlined that it becomes more and more challenging to try to balance out the desire of people to have a better life and the necessity of more sustainable lifestyles. However, there are key lessons that were learned in Singapore in terms of planning, decision making and working together with different stake holders, so that Singapore can be used as a kind of leading example. Dr. Puthearath Chan was asked how children can be involved specifically into decision making, especially considering the cultural circumstances in Cambodia. His answer was to advice children to come to seminars and workshops where they can express themselves in different ways like for example drawing what they wish for in cities.

All in all, it can be concluded that development will take time and work and lots of different approaches but it definitely is time for change!

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