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School of Social and Political Science: Staff profiles


Rachel Howell

Rachel Howell
Dr Rachel Howell
Lecturer in Sociology/Sustainable Development
6.25 Chrystal Macmillan Building 15a George Square Edinburgh UK EH8 9LD
+44 (0)131 651 1384
Research Interests
Sustainability, Promoting lower-carbon practices and lifestyles, Social movements for sustainability, Framing and communication of sustainability issues, Responses to energy technologies and policies, Education for Sustainability

Guidance and Feedback Hours

  • Mondays 9.30-11.30 am (Note that I am on research leave from Jan-July 2019 so guidance and feedback hours will recommence in Sept 2019)

Research interests

  • Lower-carbon/sustainable lifestyles
  • Pro-environmental behaviour change
  • Energy-related social practices
  • Social movements for sustainability
  • Climate change communications and discourses
  • Perceptions of, and responses to, unconventional energy, energy demand reduction technologies and energy/climate change-related policies
  • Sustainability, mindfulness, and well-being
  • Education for sustainability

I am an interdisciplinary environmental social scientist, interested in insights from many relevant disciplines (e.g. sociology, psychology, human geography, behavioural economics, science and technology studies, and environmental education). My research employs both qualitative and quantitative methods, often in combination.

Advisory Work

By invitation I have advised the Scottish Parliamentary Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee on aspects of the latest Scottish Climate Change Plan, and emissions reduction legislation, relating to behavioural and societal changes necessary to create a sustainable Scotland.


I am the Course Organiser of the second year course Perspectives on Sustainable Development and the third year course Responding to Sustainability Challenges. These are both core courses on the innovative interdisciplinary undergraduate MA in Sustainable Development.

I also contribute to the first year core course Introducing Sustainable Development and the postgraduate course Case Studies in Sustainable Development.

I aim to facilitate Education for Sustainability, rather than Education about Sustainability, offering students the opportunity to develop their own thinking on, and engagement with, the complex moral, social and political issues involved.

In May 2017 I won the EUSA Teaching Award for Best Personal Tutor and was a runner up in the Best Course category for my course Responding to Sustainability Challenges. You can read about the innovative design of the course, involving lots of active learning, on this blog. Thanks to all the students who nominated me!


Journal articles

Whitehead, M., R. Jones, R. Lilley, R. Howell, J. Pykett. (2018) Neuroliberalism: Cognition, context, and the geographical bounding of rationality. Progress in Human Geography, DOI:  10.1177/0309132518777624. Accepted version available here for those without journal access.

Howell, R.A. (2018) UK public beliefs about fracking and effects of knowledge on beliefs and support: A problem for shale gas policy. Energy Policy 113:721–730. Accepted version available here for those without journal access.

Howell, R.A. (2018) Carbon management at the household level: a definition of carbon literacy and three mechanisms that increase it. Carbon Management, 9(1):25-35. Accepted version available here for those without journal access.

Howell, R.A., S. Allen. (2017) People and planet: Values, motivations and formative influences of individuals acting to mitigate climate change. Environmental Values 26(2):131-155. Accepted version available here for those without journal access.

Howell, R.A., S. Allen. (2016) Significant life experiences, motivations and values of climate change educators. Environmental Education Research, DOI: 10.1080/13504622.2016.1158242. Accepted version here for those without journal access.

Howell, R.A., S. Capstick, L. Whitmarsh. (2016) Impacts of adaptation and responsibility framings on attitudes towards climate change mitigation. Climatic Change 136(3): 445-461. (Open access, available to all.)

Whitehead, M., R.A. Howell, R. Jones, R. Lilley, J. Pykett. (2016) (Re)Inhabiting Awareness: Geography and Mindfulness. Social and Cultural Geography 17(4):553-573. (Open access, available to all.)

Howell, R.A. (2014) Using the transtheoretical model of behavioural change to understand the processes through which climate change films might encourage mitigation action. International Journal of Sustainable Development 17(2): 137-159. Accepted version here for those without journal access.

Howell, R.A. (2014) Investigating the long-term impacts of climate change communications on individuals' attitudes and behavior. Environment and Behavior 46(1): 70-101. Accepted version here for those without journal access.

Howell, R.A. (2014) Promoting lower-carbon lifestyles: the role of personal values, climate change communications and carbon allowances in processes of change. (Thesis Summary) Environmental Education Research, 20(3): 434-435. Accepted version here for those without journal access.

Howell, R.A. (2013) It’s not (just) “the environment, stupid!” Values, motivations, and routes to engagement of people adopting lower-carbon lifestyles. Global Environmental Change, 23(1): 281-290. Accepted version here for those without journal access.

Howell, R.A. (2012) Living with a carbon allowance: the experiences of Carbon Rationing Action Groups and implications for policy. Energy Policy 41: 250-258. Accepted version here for those wihout journal access.

Howell, R.A. (2011) Lights, camera… action? Altered attitudes and behaviour in response to the climate change film The Age of Stupid. Global Environmental Change 21(1): 177-187. Accepted version here for those without journal access.

Books and book chapters

Whitehead, M., R. Jones, R. Lilley, J. Pykett, R. Howell. (2017) Neuroliberalism: Behavioural Government in the Twenty-First Century. Routledge: Abingdon, Oxon, UK.

Pykett, J., R. Howell, R. Lilley, R. Jones, M. Whitehead. (2016) Governing mindfully: shaping policy makers' emotional engagements with behaviour change. In: Jupp, E., J. Pykett, F.M. Smith (Eds) Emotional States: Sites and spaces of affective governance. Routledge: Abingdon, Oxon, UK.

Howell, R., J. Pickerill (2016) The Environment and Environmentalism. In: Daniels, Bradshaw, Shaw, Sidaway, Hall (Eds) An Introduction to Human Geography, Fifth Edition. Pearson: Harlow, UK.

Howell, R. (2015). The storyteller who wanted to change the world. In: Robison, R (Ed.) Sustainability: New Questions, New Answers. GSI: Cambridge, UK. Free download of the book available here.


Pykett, J., R. Lilley, M. Whitehead, R.A. Howell, R. Jones. (2016) Mindfulness, Behaviour Change and Decision Making: An Experimental Trial. ESRC Negotiating Neuroliberalism Project Report. Available here.

Lilley, R, M. Whitehead, R.A. Howell, R. Jones, J. Pykett. (2014) Mindfulness, Behaviour Change and Engagement in Public Policy: An Evaluation. ESRC Negotiating Neuroliberalism Project Report. Available here.

Whitehead, M, R. Jones, R.A. Howell, R. Lilley, J. Pykett. (2014) Nudging all over the world: Assessing the Impacts of the Behavioural Sciences on Public Policy. ESRC Negotiating Neuroliberalism Project Report. Available at

Howell, R.A. (2009) The Experience of Carbon Rationing Action Groups: Implications for a Personal Carbon Allowances Policy. UKERC Final Report, Environmental Change Institute, Oxford. Available here; executive summary here.


Howell, R.A. (2017) Book review: Nature, choice and social power by Erica Schoenberger. Local Environment 22(7): 900-902. Accepted version here for those without journal access.

Howell, R.A. (2014) Book review: 10 Billion by Stephen Emmott. Area 46(2): 225-226. Accepted version here for those without journal access.

Blog posts, videos, and other accessible summaries of my research

You can download a 3-page summary of my PhD thesis on Promoting Lower-Carbon Lifestyles, and watch a video presentation about it.

One strand of my research has involved investigating the values, motivations, and routes to engagement of people who have adopted lower-carbon lifestyles. Contrary to popular beliefs/stereotypes, they are not all ‘deep greens’ concerned primarily about ‘the environment’ per se, but are often motivated as much or more by concerns about social justice and the impacts of climate change on poor people (in so-called ‘developing countries’). Read a blog post about these findings here.

Another research strand has explored how climate change films might encourage viewers to take mitigation action (through lifestyle change and/or campaigning); here's a video of a 15-minute talk analysing four different climate change films in the light of the 'stages of change' model of behavioural change.

Previously, at Aberystwyth University, I was one of a team of researchers involved in the ESRC-funded project ‘Negotiating Neuroliberalism: changing behaviours, values and beliefs’; the project blog is at


I took up this Lectureship in August 2015 after holding a Research Fellowship in Human Dimensions of Climate Change at Aberystwyth University, funded by the Climate Change Consortium of Wales. Earlier I was a UKERC researcher in the Energy Demand Reduction research group at Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute, before completing my PhD on Promoting Lower-Carbon Lifestyles at the University of Edinburgh. My previous non-academic life involved working at grassroots level with marginalised people: asylum seekers, women involved in prostitution, and homeless people. I have also taught in the Further Education sector and was the joint co-ordinator of a national Quaker environmental charity called Living Witness Project.


PhD 'Promoting Lower-Carbon Lifestyles' (The University of Edinburgh)
MSc Environmental Sustainability (The University of Edinburgh)

Topics interested in supervising

I welcome enquiries from prospective students interested in research supervision in any of the areas of interest outlined above.

Completed PhD students:

Rhys Howell, In sight and in mind: social implications of marine renewable energy Maggie Laidlaw, Volunteering is a balancing act: who's got time for that?

Current research students:

Kay Fretwell, Going beyond Transmission: Promoting the Transformative Potential of Education for Sustainable Development (PhD)
Xin Zhang, What influences (non-)adoption of sustainable fashion by young female consumers? (MSc by Research)
Lisa Howard, Pro-environmental Voluntary Simplicity: the Lived Experience within Family and Domestic Life (MSc by Research)

If you are interested in being supervised by Rachel Howell, please see the links below for more information: