“Understanding Social Norms Holds the Key to Sustainable Consumption”

For the Argentinian psychologist, Maria Victoria Ortiz understanding social dilemmas and what hinders or propels cooperation in society is an ongoing fascination. Her doctoral research focuses on consumption behaviours and lifestyles and how those could hold the key to counter an aggravating climate crisis. Ortiz, who is a Green Talents awardee, uses an experimental climate game approach to understand the (dis)connection from present to future generations. She chose the CSCP for her Green Talent research stay, engaging closely with our Sustainable Lifestyles (SL) Team.

The research stay abroad is a key element of the Green Talent Programme. How did you come to choose the CSCP?

As part of the programme, I had the chance to discuss with different German experts in the field of sustainability. Exchanges on topics such as eco-design, sufficiency, futurability or female leadership were inspiring, but the talk with CSCP’s Rosa Strube stuck with me. The CSCP is a space that bridges research and practice, working on topics such as behaviour change with a strong international and interdisciplinary approach. That’s why I felt at ‘home’ here.  Since March 2022, I am working with Dr. Imke Schmidt, with whom I defined my current research project on food waste and digitalisation.

You research sustainable consumption in the Argentinian context. Can you explain more?

My current research focuses on sustainable consumption and future generations. The main goal is to understand the most environmentally-costly behaviours in the Argentinian context, for example meat consumption or household energy usage, in order to promote more sustainable choices. Using an experimental game that models the intra- and the intergenerational dilemmas in climate protection, I set out to investigate whether different interventions that activate the connection between present and future generations can increase the willingness to change consumption habits and adapt more sustainable lifestyles.

You take a psychological and behavioural approach – how would you describe its added value?

I am convinced that the greatest challenge that lies ahead is changing our mindset and behaviours, particularly those governed by habit, social norms and the short-term view. We basically do what we are used to do or what others do, not taking into account our impacts in the long run. We need to tackle the problem at its core if we want to really make a change.

Is there any experience you found particularly interesting during your stay in Germany?

I’m not a huge fan of spending time in supermarkets, but in Germany I wander the aisles for “market” study purposes (laughs). Unlike in Argentina, there are many sustainable products and labels and the prices are quite competitive. This is a great incentive for consumers to choose sustainable alternatives. It hurts my eye to see so much plastic packaging, even when entirely unnecessary, but it makes me feel good when I see clear and effective separating cues that can help recycling.

Can you share an inspiring moment you had during your stay?

I had the chance to meet the other Green Talents as well as visit the Federal Ministry of Education and Research in Berlin. Discussing with inspiring people who are passionate about mainstreaming sustainability is heart-warming and stimulating. It made me feel even more committed to carry out research that gives valuable information how to reduce inequities while lowering the environmental impact. This is a challenge, certainly, but not impossible. We have to think strategically and connect people and communities – also with the support of digital technologies.

For additional questions, please contact Maria Victoria Ortiz.