Ellen, Van der Werff, PhD

Ellen, Van der Werff, PhD

Assistant Professor

+31 50 3639098

Grote Kruisstraat 2/1
9712 TS Groningen
the Netherlands

Room 455

Summary of work:

I am interested in factors influencing environmental behaviour and strategies to change environmental actions. My main research interests are environmental self-identity, values and incentives to promote behavioural change. I enjoy collaborating with researchers from other disciplines and applying my research to real life problems.

Research Projects

SMARTEST: Electric vehicle as gateway to smart and sustainable energy use

The fast adoption of electric vehicles in the Amsterdam region will cause capacity problems on the grid. To prevent these problems people need to adopt various smart and sustainable energy behaviours. Business models need to be developed that support the adoption of various sustainable energy technologies and behaviour. The NWO-URSES project SMARTER suggests that the reasons for adopting an electric vehicle are crucial for the adoption of such complementary sustainable behaviours. More specifically, consumers are more likely to adopt these complementary sustainable energy behaviours if they adopted an electric vehicle for environmental reasons rather than other reasons (e.g., financial), as this will strengthen their environmental self-identity. But what strategies can be employed to strengthen environmental self-identity when environmental reasons did not play a key role in the decision to adopt an electric vehicle? The main research questions in this project are:

How to promote sustainable smart energy systems in the Amsterdam area by promoting complementary sustainable behaviours among people who adopted an electric vehicle for non-environmental reasons? How to develop profitable business models that facilitate sustainable use of electric vehicles?

We will test two novel strategies to promote complementary sustainable energy behaviours among those who did not primarily adopt an electric vehicle for environmental reasons: via one’s organizational identity and via feedback on the environmental impact of one’s electric vehicle. We will develop business models to support sustainable energy behaviours. Furthermore, we will integrate our findings into algorithms developed by the ENBARK+ project to test overall grid performance.

PENNY: Psychological, social and financial barriers to energy efficiency

The project aims at improving our understanding on behavioural mechanisms in energy efficiency, following an

interdisciplinary and broad behavioural science approach. The project will provide an empirical and numerical assessment of the psychological, social, economic and financial factors that influence energy efficiency in the residential and industry sectors By paring with energy utilities and retailers in different European countries, the project will conduct scientific experiments (A/B testing) which will enhance the design of policies aiming at maximizing energy efficient behaviors. The project will use novel data from different European countries to take into consideration institutional and political factors. The project will analyze consumers’ behavior related to the consumption of energy, the investment in energy efficient products, as well as the renovation of buildings. Finally, ex ante assessment will be executed using improved energy economy models, which will generate quantitative information with regard to expected impacts of EU and global policies. Project

U-SMILE: Urban Smart Measures and Incentives for quality of Life Enhancement

Accessibility and sustainability are important conditions for vital and resilient cities, but are under pressure especially in urban areas. Congestion, local air quality, parking; these are different challenges that, however, have in common that effective solutions require behavioural change in addition to technological innovation. This project aims to develop, test and evaluate “smart” measures to affect behaviour. The measures are smart in the first place because they offer an innovative mix of negative and positive financial incentives, thus bypassing some of the main disadvantages of pricing (notably a very limited acceptability) and of rewarding (in particular limited budgets and induced demand). The measures are also smart because they have a highly innovative technological character, not only from the conceptual viewpoint (e.g. tradable driving permits) but also from the technological perspective (e.g. linking real time automated vehicle identification to virtual market environments). These smart measures will be studied from a multidisciplinary perspective, where forces are joined among economists, psychologists, traffic engineers and policy analysts, and will be evaluated from the perspectives of effectiveness, acceptability, and efficiency – paying attention to key urban challenges such as accessibility and environmental quality. The project has a very strong rooting in the urban reality as the case studies are undertaken jointly with Amsterdam Zuidas, Rotterdam, Groningen, and the Amsterdam ArenA area.

Individual and contextual factors influencing recycling

This project aims to study how individual factors, such as perceived costs and benefits and moral motivations, and contextual factors, such as characteristics of waste collection systems, affect recycling behaivour. The project is part of a large multidisciplinary project on sustainable packages. The project is funded by TI Food and Nutrition. Researchers involved: Josefine Geiger MSc, dr. Ellen van der Werff, dr. Berfu Ünal, prof. dr. Linda Steg

In collaboration with: TIFN, Kennisinstituut Duurzaam Verpacken, prof. dr. Hans van Trijp, Ir. Marieke Brouwer, Nigel Steenis MSc, prof. dr. Ulphard Thoden van Velzen, dr. Erica van Herpen, dr. Ivo van der Lans (Wageningen University), Bjorn de Koeijer MSc., dr. Maaike Mulder-Nijkamp, prof. dr. Jörg Henseler, (UTwente), dr. Tom Lighart (TNO), prof. dr. Renee Wever (Linköping University), Nicolas Go MSc. (University of Aachen).

Realizing the smart grid: aligning consumer behaviour with technological opportunities

.Reliable scenarios for consumer adoption and use of smart energy systems (SES) at the neighbourhood

level are essential to secure stability of the grid. The transition to SES is a radical and systemic innovation that is expected to greatly increase heterogeneity in consumers‟ energy behaviour, which results in a need for micro-level models of consumer behaviour. The envisioned benefits of smart energy systems will only be realized if consumers (1) adopt smart energy technologies, and (2) use these technologies in a way that is aligned with energy system reliability, efficiency, and sustainability. However, the energy behaviour of consumers has proven difficult to influence and is a major source of uncertainty in the development of smart energy systems. This proposal therefore addresses the question:

Which individual factors predict, explain, and influence consumer adoption and use of smart energy technologies that will result in a reduction of uncertainty in smart energy systems?

This proposal addresses this uncertainty using a novel approach that links the adoption of smart energy technologies to the use of these technologies through the theoretical concept of environmental selfidentity. Furthermore, we will combine the empirical analysis of factors influencing adoption and use with unique detailed data about the current diffusion and use of different smart energy technologies (including grid connected electric vehicles and solar panels), and data about the current electricity network to

construct evidence-based SES development scenarios from the bottom-up and to come to evidencebased recommendations for further SES development both for stakeholders and policymakers.



Supervising PhDs:

Coordination tasks

  • I am the master theses coordinator of Social and Environmental Psychology

Supervision of theses

  • Master theses
  • Bachelor theses

Individual Courses

Designing interventions

The products we buy cause waste problems, youngsters fight against the police, patients do not take their medicine as prescribed. These problems can all be solved by changing the thinking or behavior of people; this is the expertise of the social psychologist. This course aims at teaching a structured method that will lead to effective, theoretically well-founded interventions to solve all kinds of practical problems.

In the course students will design an intervention to solve a real life problem that a company or organization is dealing with. At the end of the course students will present their intervention to the company or organization. Next, they will design an intervention to solve an individual, social or societal problem of their own choice.

The method taught in this course will teach you how to design effective interventions. Also, several guest lecturers will explain how they use this social psychological knowledge in their own organization or company.

The method consists of four steps:

1. Make an in depth-analysis of a practical problem and determine what the thinking or behavior is that should be changed in order to solve the problem.

2. Gather many possible explanations for the behavior, from different perspectives and form a limited number of core causes.

3. Develop a process model in which different causes of the thinking or behavior are related and find scientific evidence for all relations.

4. Develop the intervention to solve the problem. Choose the causal variable(s) you want to change, the channel to reach the target group and the intervention method (e.g., feedback) and design the strategies. Lastly, take measures to be sure that the intervention will be applied as planned.

Social aspects of sustainability

In order to promote a sustainable society, an optimal balance is needed between economic, environmental and social aspects of sustainability. After all, we can hardly speak about sustainability in a broad sense when environmental goals are met, while social quality of life is seriously threatened. Therefore, it is essential to consider the social dimension of sustainability. In the course, we focus on four important topics that address this issue. First, a sustainable society means that the environmental impact of environmental behavior is reduced. Hence, people need to change their behavior and act more pro-environmentally. For example, we need to use less energy or switch to renewable energy sources. How can such behavior changes best be realized? Which factors should be considered to promote the relevant behavior changes? Second, technological changes or changes in the system of energy production may be needed. Such changes need to be acceptable to be successful. Therefore, it is important to understand how the acceptability of the relevant technologies or systems can be enhanced, and to adapt the technologies or systems as to enhance their acceptability. Third, changes towards a sustainable society may also entail changes in the social structures. For example, people may need to generate their own energy together with their neighborhood. Are people willing to do this and what are the consequences for their social relationships and well-being? Finally, in order to become a sustainable society, it is important that any changes needed do not reduce people’s happiness. To what extent do pro-environmental lifestyles affect well-being, and how can we assure that environmental quality is enhanced while at the same time individual quality of life is secured? During this course, you will learn to critically reflect on these issues. Furthermore, you will learn to design research and interventions addressing sustainable issues from a social perspective. Students are expected to actively participate in the course with assignments and discussions.

Please include references according to APA

Scientific Publications

Van der Werff, E., Perlaviciute, G. & Muinos, G. (2016). Current developments in environmental psychology: topics and researchers: Special issue: Young researchers in Environmental Psychology. Psyecology: Bilingual Journal of Environmental Psychology, 7(3), 229-235.

Van der Werff, E., & Steg, L. (2016). The psychology of participation and interest in smart energy systems: Comparing the value-belief-norm theory and the value-identity-personal norm model. Energy Research & Social Science, 22, 107-114.

Van der Werff, E., & Steg, L. (2015). One model to predict them all: Predicting energy behaviours with the norm activation model. Energy Research & Social Science, 6, 8-14. doi:10.1016/j.erss.2014.11.002

Steg, L., Perlaviciute, G., & van der Werff, E. (2015). Understanding the human dimensions of a sustainable energy transition. Frontiers in Psychology, 6.

Van der Werff, E., Steg, L., & Keizer, K. (2014). Follow the signal: When past pro-environmental actions signal who you are. Journal of Environmental Psychology,40, 273-282. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2014.07.004

Van der Werff, E., Steg, L., & Keizer, K. (2014). I am what I am, by looking past the present: The influence of biospheric values and past behaviour on environmental self-identity. Environment and Behavior, 46(5), 626-657. doi. 10.1177/0013916512475209

Leijten, F., Bolderdijk, J.W., Keizer. K., Gorsira, M., Van der Werff, E., & Steg, L. (2014). Factors that Influence Consumers’ Acceptance of Future Energy Systems: The Effects of Adjustment Type, Production Level, and Price. Energy Efficiency.

Bolderdijk, J.W., Van der Werff, E., & Steg, L. (2016). De psychologische effecten van prijsprikkels. Tijdschrift Vervoerswetenschap.

Steg, L., Perlaviciute, G., Van der Werff, E., & Lurvink, J. (2014). The significance of hedonic values for environmentally-relevant attitudes, preferences and actions. Environment and Behavior,46 (2), 163-192. DOI: 10.1177/0013916512454730.

Van der Werff, E., Steg, L., & Keizer, K. (2013). It is a moral issue: The relationship between environmental self-identity, obligation-based intrinsic motivation and pro-environmental behaviour. Global Environmental Change, 23, 1258-1265. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2013.07.018.

Van der Werff, E., Steg, L., & Keizer, K. (2013). The value of environmental self-identity: The relationship between biospheric values, environmental self-identity and environmental preferences, intentions and behavior. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 34, 55-63. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2012.12.006.

Book Chapter:

Van der Werff, E., Perlaviciute, G., & Steg, L., (2016). Transition to smart grids: A psychological perspective. In Smart grids from a global perspective. Eds. Beaulieu, A., De Wilde, J. & Scherpen, J.

Other Publications

Van der Werff, E. (2016). Het stimuleren van milieuvriendelijke gedragingen. The Inquisitive Mind, 4.  

NRC 21 november 2016. Korter douchen.

BNR nieuwsradio – factcheck 14 maart 2016. http://www.bnr.nl/?player=archief&fragment=20160314155400180

De volkskrant zaterdag 5 december 2015: ‘Wat doet u voor het klimaat’. Alinea’s over mijn onderzoek in zaterdagartikel volkskrant (genoemd op voorpagina).

Dagblad van het Noorden. 1 december 2015. ‘Mag het een graadje minder?’ Input van mij over mijn onderzoek voor artikel over gedragsverandering

Reviewer for: Nature Climate Change, European Journal of Social Psychology, Global Environmental Change, Environment and Behavior, Sustainability, Journal of Environmental Psychology, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly,  Energy Research and Social Sciences