Washington University Students for International Collaboration on the Environment

The psychological perspective of environmental change

Hi everyone!

My name is Jennifer Wei, and I’m a sophomore at Washington University studying Finance, Economics & Strategy, and Psychology.

As you may have guessed from my Finance and Psychology background, I’m interested in the interaction between the environment and the economy; more specifically -the role that businesses play in the bigger scheme of the environment and how they can help to change the world.

I’m also interested in how business concepts, such as rewards and motivations that companies use to boost productivity or sales, can be applied to the environment. On the surface, these two concepts may seem unrelated. However, just like how people are motivated by different forms of rewards (this can be extrinsic like money, and/or intrinsic like passion for their job and/or the respect they gain from peers) in the business world, environmental activists are also motivated by something. We are all human, and we all have rationales for our actions, otherwise they would be a waste of our time.

A recent tool environmental activists have employed is making environmentally sustainable actions “cool” and respectable. For example, the idea of picking up groceries with a reusable grocery bag and not plastic bags not only make people feel good about protecting the environment (intrinsic motivation), but also allow others to think they are fashionable, respectable, environmentally-aware, a good citizen, etc (extrinsic motivation). Similarly, Washington University’s LEED-certified buildings bring honor to the university.  That’s why you see those plates that tell you the building is LEED-certified. If the University only cared about the building being LEED-certified, there would be no need to put a medal up to show this off to the world.

So the question for environmental action becomes…how can we provide intrinsic and extrinsic motivations for businesses and individuals so that they desire and will act on this desire to make a difference?


At the end of this blog, here are two brief paragraphs on my background and my motivations to participate in an environmental collaboration between China and America:

Being born in China makes me Chinese. But having lived the majority of my life in America makes me feel just as American. When people ask me which country I like better, I tell them I don’t know not to make them feel good (or feel bad, depending on where they’re from), but because I truly have no preference for either nation. I love them both, equally.

Although on the surface, America and China seem to be quite cooperative in the political arena, there are many underlying issues and tensions between the two countries -one being the environment. As we move forward into the future, there will be many decisions that these two countries will have to make individually and together regarding the environment. I can only hope that environmental issues will only bring them together, and not tear them apart. This is why I’m so excited about this conference and am very excited to meet you all!


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