On Friday 26 April, Prof. Linda Steg has been appointed Knight of the Order of the Netherlands Lion. Steg (Ooststellingwerf, 1965), Professor of Environmental Psychology at the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences of the University of Groningen, is internationally recognized as one of the most prominent and undisputed experts in her field. During the last 25 years, she has developed and applied her area of expertise – environmental psychology – in an exceptional way and applied it to one of the most urgent social questions of our time: energy transition and climate change.
Domestically and internationally, Steg has established herself on the basis of her groundbreaking scientific work, which involves socially relevant research based on psychological theories, investigating the factors affecting human behaviour regarding the environment and energy. How can people be motivated to be more efficient in their use of energy? How can they be stimulated to consume sustainably produced food or to separate their waste? Which factors are important in the decision to purchase an electric car? These are a few appealing examples of applied approaches that stem from her translation of psychological insights to important social questions. She then proceeds to inquire about the possibility of developing effective interventions to stimulate these factors – and thereby to encourage environmentally desirable behaviour. With her research and together with her research group, she contributes substantially to lasting changes in these matters.
The great amount of recognition that she has received worldwide can be readily observed on the basis of her many publications in top scientific journals, such as Science, Nature Energy and Nature Climate Change. She is among the most cited scholars in the field of social sciences worldwide. She has been named three times by Thomson-Reuters as one of the world’s most influential social scientists: in 2014, 2016 and 2017. In 2017, she was awarded the position of member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) on the basis of her high-grade scientific achievements. As the scientific director of the national research school, the Kurt Lewin Institute, she is energetically engaged to stimulate both research in social psychology and its application.
Steg is considered one of the driving forces behind an integrated problem analysis and policy planning in the field of energy and climate, in which she is mostly concerned with the human factor. In doing so, she does not limit her activity to the field of her own discipline, but she consistently seeks collaboration with other disciplines. In this way, she succeeds in connecting insights originating in psychology with insights from many other disciplines, specifically also those of technical-scientific disciplines. She plays a central role within several multidisciplinary partnerships, collaborating with a wide array of scientists and scholars as well as with regional, national and international public authorities, industries and social organizations. For instance, she has worked with economists and traffic experts to develop smart incentives for sustainable mobility in the project ‘Urban Smart Measures and Incentives for Quality of Life Enhancement’. Such incentives consist of a combination of financial burdens and rewards, which allows them to be cost neutral, and participants can exchange permits with one another inside a virtual market environment.
Steg makes an exceptional effort to help insights from her research find practical applications. One example is the thorough report that she composed as a member of the Advisory Committee for Sustainable Lifestyles, which is part of the Council on Living Environment and Infrastructure. This report seeks to aid policymakers in applying behavioural knowledge in their environmental policy, using insights on promoting environmentally friendly behaviour. On the basis of these insights, a behavioural test has been created which policymakers can use to assess which factors are of impact and how they can use different policy instruments in stimulating environmentally friendly behaviour.
As the coordinator of the international Platform for Energy Research in the Socio-Economic Nexus, Steg has been actively engaged in promoting European top research on the topic of energy within social-economic academic fields since 2015. Additionally, she serves as an advisor to the European Commission in the field of energy as a member of the Expert Group RTD-AGE of the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation. She is one of the authors of the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 6th Assessment published by the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization. In the report, the best qualified researchers map global climate change, its consequences and possible policy options. Steg puts forward social-scientific knowledge in order to give governments and organizations more insight into strategies to counter climate change and to deal with it effectively. In her part of the report, she describes how policymakers can apply social science knowledge to develop sustainable and acceptable energy systems.
Summer School In 2009, Steg organized the first instalment of the international Summer School on Theories in Environmental Psychology. As president, she remains involved in this successful Summer School, which has been convened subsequently in Denmark, Italy and Ireland. During this Summer School, PhD researchers engage with practical problems which are provided by governments and companies. In the course of a week, and assisted by experts in environmental psychology, they put together a research proposal to address these problems. At the end of the week, they present their findings to governments and companies.
Steg is known to be an inspiring role model for young researchers and is very active as a supervisor, and according to many, a superstar. She has successfully supervised 15 PhD programmes and is currently supervising 16 PhD students and postdoctoral researchers. Her students publish in international top journals and find their way to careers at universities, government agencies and businesses. In 2016, Steg set up the Master’s degree programme in Environmental Psychology with the purpose of teaching students the knowledge and skills to comprehend the human dimension of environmental and energy-related questions. In this way, she is educating a new generation of students to perform research that exceeds the boundaries between disciplines, and to apply our knowledge of social sciences to help solve social problems in matters of environment and energy.
Prof. Hedderik van Rijn explains his research into the perception of time in a video lecture (in Dutch) by the Universiteit van Nederland.