Gerdien de Vries poseert met bomen op de achtergrond
Gerdien de Vries: “I can really see how this project helps to make what we do on an academic level publicly available for the taxpayers.” (Photo: TU Delft)

Making green choices can feel like a hassle. While modernising an old home, climate psychologist Gerdien de Vries experienced that herself. It inspired her to make a podcast.

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“I am a behavioural scientist and my work at TU Delft involves studying and analysing the behaviour of people involved in climate and energy technology and policy. I have been labelled as a climate psychologist which is sometimes a bit confusing because people might think that I’m a clinical psychologist, but I’m not.

I study the behaviour of people but not people that, for instance, are depressed or eco-depressed. One of the fields that I study is people in their built environments making decisions about their own homes. And one of the studies I did was around how people perceive a lot of hassle when they have to take measures to make their house more sustainable. And whether these hassles are actually there or not, the perceptions are real.

The idea for the Groen Gedoe (green hassle) podcast (Dutch only) came because my partner and I moved to a new place. We previously lived in an apartment with an A+ energy label. Everything was very sustainable and green and well done. And then we decided to move to an old, detached house so there are no connecting walls to other neighbours.

It’s our dream house, but it’s an old house so we decided we needed to have a higher energy label than we did. I was also experiencing the hassle myself. So I thought this was a perfect way to use my personal situation and analyse my own behaviour from a psychological perspective and maybe help myself.

So I went looking for experts from TU Delft, but also from associations, companies, or organisations in the Netherlands that could help me with tips, tricks, and advice to reduce the hassle and to help me start making my own place more sustainable. I had my own case, but of course, the whole goal was to look at things in a scientifically based way to help other homeowners who are in the same situation.

‘Behavioural insights are really important for climate change technology and policy’

I applied for funding at the Urban Energy Institute and that’s how it started. We made six episodes which are available online. On 21 November there will be a symposium on the future of urban energy and there we will do the final podcast live on stage.

I started vlogging about five or six years ago and I have a YouTube channel where I talk about my work. I have thought about the possibility of making a documentary on this topic in the future. I recently spoke to someone who suggested I do something for sustainable aviation and someone who suggested that I can make an international version of the podcast because it’s in Dutch.

Or maybe we could do something about the water transition or gardens. I really like all these ideas. I did this project partly on my own time but I can really see how it fits the goals that I have as a researcher to make what we do on an academic level publicly available for the taxpayers. I think it’s really important to do this. For my whole academic life I have found this important and it’s why I do a lot of these things. So let’s see where it goes.

The goal for me is that all stakeholders - the policymakers, engineers, citizens, journalists, and researchers - understand that the issues related to climate change are not only to be solved by technology or money, but that there's a large behavioural piece.

We need to understand how people behave and understand the weird, irrational, automatic mechanisms that can play a role in our behaviour. So even if we know what we should do, and we have the money and the technology available, there are still psychological reasons why we don’t behave like we would want.

It’s my goal that we understand and that people realise that these behavioural insights are really important for climate change technology and policy.”

  • To learn more about De Vries’ work, watch thisonline lecture (in Dutch) she gave for the Universiteit van Nederland.

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