Applied Working Group

Sustainability Working Group

Applied Working Group team

Rebecca Koomen, Principal Investigator
Timothy Waring, Co-Investigator
Vanessa Weinberger, Project Manager


Key information

Full title: Growing an applied science of cultural evolution for a sustainable future
Workshop: May 2023, Universidad Mayor, Santiago, Chile

Working Group activities: Over the course of the following year, we will hold an open global discussion about the best ways to apply cultural evolutionary research, theories, insights, and methods to sustainability problems through policy, intervention and activism. We will hold a set of open virtual meetings to refine our global research agenda on this application process, which will culminate in a set of outreach materials and networks. This process will be refined with a small invited workshop in May 2023, and the conversation, materials and networks will be shared with everyone who participates.
Get involved: Join our open network Evolve & Sustain


Applied Working Group overview 

Human activities around the world have escalated environmental crises from pollution, overfishing, deforestation, and species extinction to the existential threat of global climate change. Our species has never faced such incredible challenges. It is now clear that, to minimise harm to our health, livelihoods, and habitats, we will have to change our behaviours, our economies, our laws, international agreements, and cultures. Such societal change could usher in a new era of human cooperation, equality, and sustainability. But how do we make such societal and cultural changes?

One of the central problems is that sustainability efforts often focus on changing the behaviour and choices of individuals rather than groups. Examples include encouraging people to switch to LED light bulbs or smart meters and incentivizing the purchase of electric vehicles. What this approach overlooks is the importance of human sociality, normativity and interdependence. These interconnected aspects of human nature are the central focus of cultural evolution science. Cultural evolution research examines how behaviours spread through society, how cooperation can emerge to solve problems, and how societies adapt to new circumstances through cultural change and evolution. The science of cultural evolution can help accelerate the spread of sustainable behaviours, enhance the ability of groups to adapt to new challenges, and assist in the emergence of new levels of cooperation for a more sustainable society.

Working together is central to sustainability – Photo by Dio Hasbi Saniskoro from Pexels

Our working group will help accelerate positive cultural change for sustainable outcomes at many levels through a year-long global engagement between sustainability experts, conservation leaders, policy makers, and scientists of cultural evolution from around the world. Together, we will gather the best approaches for applying cultural evolution to promote sustainable outcomes. We will then create a set of outreach materials (e.g., policy briefs, infographics, perspective paper) for each approach. Finally, we will cultivate a network to share these materials among conservation and sustainability organizations, government agencies, and grassroots organizations around the world.


AWG Contacts

If you would like to contact the project team, please email the grant management team in the first instance, at ces.transformationfund@durham.ac.uk.

Rebecca Koomen: Website, Twitter
Tim Waring: Website, Twitter