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An environmental-psychological study of sustainable housing: a transactional approach.

Craig, Tony


Tony Craig


Martin Edge

Anna Conniff


The main aim of this thesis is to utilise the transactional approach from environmental psychology for the study of sustainable housing. The interdisciplinary field of environmental psychology has recognised for some time the importance of considering human behaviour not only in terms of personal psychological processes, but also in terms of the broader social and physical context in which behaviour occurs. This need to consider phenomena at different levels of analysis sits comfortably with the transactional-contextual approach described within environmental psychology. However, although the transactional approach is often affirmed by environmental psychologists, many studies do not in fact fully conceptualise human behaviour in the physical and social context. The phenomenon investigated by this thesis is 'sustainable housing'. As such, the phenomenon of 'sustainable housing' is first conceptualized within this thesis using person-in-environment as the unit of analysis, with the main focus being the relationship between individual environmental preferences and sustainable housing design. The first aim of the thesis was to outline a theoretical framework for conceptualising the person-in-environment relationship with respect to sustainable housing. This was done by building up a conceptual model from the literature in such a way that the 'transactional whole' is elaborated in much more detail than would normally be the case for a closely defined study of environmental attitudes or aesthetic preference. The individual component of the model is built around the theory of planned behaviour (TPB), which is expanded to include environmental perception and preference. The conceptual framework is then explored and developed using case studies that illustrate the importance of considering the individual, the socio-cultural context, and the environmental aspects of sustainable housing together. The first case study (N=74) looked at the psychological aspects of sustainable water and wastewater management within the domestic context. The findings suggest that greywater and rainwater systems are by and large fairly acceptable as a concept to the general public, although there are several concerns regarding the safety of such systems. There were more concerns raised about the idea of compost toilets, concentrating particularly on issues of odour and hygiene, with many people not believing that such toilets would be hygienic or odour-free. The second case study (N=844) examined the effect of building materials on environmental perception and behavioural intention. The results clearly demonstrate that the material used as cladding for house façades significantly influence people's attitudes and preferences towards particular houses. The findings of this study begin to show a link between environmental preference and behavioural intention. Subjective commentary clearly demonstrates that associative meanings are inferred from cladding materials. Following on from the second study, the third case study (N=108) examined the change in inferred meaning associated with a change in cladding material. Participants in this study were randomly assigned to one of four experimental conditions. Two factors were varied between the experimental conditions: the exterior façade material (timber or render), and the description ('standard' or 'sustainable'). Attitudes were found to be a significant predictor of behavioural intention for the survey where the house was described as sustainable. Interestingly, there were differences within the 'sustainable description' surveys which were related to the cladding material, with subjective norms being more strongly associated with behavioural intention when render was the cladding material. Therefore, environmental meaning is considered to be a moderating variable in the theory of planned behaviour. When the house was described as 'standard', environmental preference turned out to be a much better predictor of behavioural intention than any of the three TPB components. The final chapter discusses the major findings from the three case studies in relation to the conceptual model built up from the literature. The empirical data was found to provide considerable validating support for the conceptual model, and two refinements were made to the model following the three case studies. Suggestions are also made concerning ways in which the approach outlined can be taken forward, both within the academic domain of environmental psychology, and also into other areas, such as sustainable housing.


CRAIG, T. 2006. An environmental-psychological study of sustainable housing: a transactional approach. Robert Gordon University, PhD thesis. Hosted on OpenAIR [online]. Available from:

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Jun 17, 2022
Publicly Available Date Jun 17, 2022
Keywords Sustainable construction; Sustainable consumerism; Consumer psychology; Architecture and society; Architecture and psychology
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