As one of the largest environmental nonprofits, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) successfully implements numerous non-partisan and multi-stakeholder environmental projects and policies. EDF works with other organizations to collaborate and share expertise, and in 2013, they developed a partnership with the University of Michigan (U-M).
One of the goals of the partnership is to explore social and behavioral science focused on environmental issues. EDF and U-M’s Graham Sustainability Institute organized summits in 2015 and 2017 to bring U-M faculty together with EDF staff to explore areas of interest and collaboration.
Social and Behavioral Studies
Two social and behavioral studies 1) “Empowering Change Agents through Climate Corps,” and 2) “Understanding Diverse Views of Natural Resources” focused on sustainability communication, are the result of the first round of EDF-U-M sustainability projects, and are outcomes of the 2015 summit. Led by Sara Soderstrom, Organizational Studies and Program in the Environment, and Todd Schifeling of the Erb Institute (a joint program of the School for Environment and Sustainability and the Ross School of Business), the “Empowering Change Agents through Climate Corps” project team used a suite of social science methods — archival analysis, surveys, interviews — to answer questions about how EDF sustainability leaders in the business sector interact with and leverage their networks. The U-M team also investigated the impact this method has on the success of sustainability leaders as change agents within their organizations. The project will improve EDF’s Climate Corps’ effectiveness and the effectiveness of sustainability advocates in general.
The project team for “Understanding Diverse Views of Natural Resources” worked to improve predictions about how certain groups will respond to messaging, enabling EDF and other organizations to better tailor their interventions to specific audiences with whom they wish to engage. The U-M team included psychology professors Stephanie Preston and Colleen Seifert from the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LS&A) working with research fellow Brian Vickers and graduate student Julia Liao.
To understand responses to messaging, the team used surveys to study how people of different backgrounds conceptualized the earth and use of natural resources. The team used these data to design experiments testing different messages. They analyzed the results to see if these different conceptions can predict pro-environmental motivations and people's willingness to join an environmental organization.
“Our work with EDF focused on understanding how beliefs affect motivations to act in ways that benefit the environment. We found that people have shared and distinct concepts of the earth and natural resources but that using pictures of the earth/planet can be a bad idea for motivating behavior. Diverse audiences were best reached by building on common feelings of awe for the beauty of the earth’s natural resources,” said Stephanie D. Preston, Associate Professor of Psychology, Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience Area.
New EDF & U-M Sustainability Projects
Following the 2017 summit four new EDF-U-M sustainability projects are ready to launch, led by five U-M faculty from the School for Environment and Sustainability, the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and the College of Literature Science and the Arts. Each of these new projects will promote the shared goals of EDF and U-M researchers, with the Graham Institute facilitating engagement among U-M faculty and EDF staff. The new project teams propose to 1) build a foundation for scientific management of Chilean fisheries; 2) test EDF’s groundwater policy game, which aims to teach groundwater principles and market-based management options to stakeholders; 3) understand how donation behavior changes in reaction to promotional materials featuring different species; and 4) develop a research roadmap to expand investment in flood hazard mitigation to improve community resilience. An initial workshop summary can be found at this link.
EDF and U-M TEAM MEMBERS
Chilean Fisheries Project Team
- Sara Adlerstein Gonzalez, Associate Research Scientist, U-M School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS)
- EDF partners: Rod Fujita, Director of Research and Development Fisheries Solutions Center; Erica Cunningham, Chile Program Senior Manager; Kristin Kleisner, Senior Fisheries Scientist
Groundwater Game Project Team
- Robert Goodspeed, Assistant Professor, U-M Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning (TCAUP)
- Colleen Seifert, Professor of Psychology, U-M College of Literature Science and the Arts (LS&A)
- EDF partners: Christina Babbitt and Ana Lucia Garcia Briones, CA Groundwater Program
Behavior & Predicting Interest in Giving Team
- Colleen Seifert, Professor of Psychology, U-M LS&A
- Stephanie Preston, Associate Professor of Psychology, U-M LS&A
- EDF: Rainer Romero, Senior Behavioral Social Scientist
- Potential EDF Partners: Ted Toombs, Audrey Archer, Chandler Clay, David Wolfe
Flood Hazard Mitigation
- Richard Norton, Professor U-M TCAUP
- EDF Partners: Steve Cochran, Vice President for Coastal Protection; Shannon Cunniff, Director of Coastal Resilience; Doria Gordon, Lead Senior Scientist; Diego Herrera, Economist; Will McDow, Director of Habitat Markets; and Rainer Romero, Senior Behavioral Social Scientist
- Philip Berke, Texas A&M University; Brian Boutin and Sarah Murdock, The Nature Conservancy; Sam Brody and Wesley Highfield, Texas A&M University Galveston; Jeffrey Czajkowski, University of Pennsylvania; Dr Gerald Galloway, University of Maryland; Bill Lesser and Molly O'Toole, Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration
- Tom Morey, Kansas Department of Agriculture; Doug Noonan, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis; Abdul Akeem Sadiq, University of Central Florida; David Salvesen, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; David A. Stroud, AMEC Foster Wheeler Environment and Infrastructure; Lindene Patton, Earth and Water Law.
- Graham Sustainability Institute
- Environmental Defense Fund
- Empowering Change Agents through Climate Corps
- Understanding Diverse Views of Natural Resources