Assistant Professor, IRES
Assistant Professor, Psychology
Canada Research Chair (t2, Behavioral Sustainability)

What is psychology good for? How can psychology contribute to sustainability? To answer these questions, Dr. Zhao aims to use psychological principles to design behavioral solutions to address sustainability challenges. This approach offers insights on how cognitive mechanisms govern human behavior, and how behavioral interventions can inform the design and the implementation of public policy. Dr. Zhao is currently examining the cognitive causes and consequences of scarcity, what behavioral interventions improve the performance in low-income individuals, how to promote recycling and composting behavior, water and energy conservation, what cognitive, motivational, and sociocultural factors shape the perception of climate change, and how to engage the public on biodiversity conservation.

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PhD Student

Vikas is a PhD student at IRES, working with Dr. Hisham Zerriffi since Fall 2014. He completed his Mechanical Engineering (with a Masters  degree in Energy Technology) education in 2009 from Indian Institute of Technology Madras. He worked in the area of climate change consulting for 3 years, covering renewable energy and energy efficiency projects across India and South East Asia, followed by 2 years in the area of business research.

His research interests lie at the convergence of sustainability, technology and development. He is interested in the interaction between climate change ideas and society at large.

I am a PhD Candidate working with co-supervision of Dr. Jiaying Zhao (Psychology/ IRES) and Dr. John Robinson (Munk School of Global Affairs U of T/ IRES). My research question is focused on what motivates pro-environmental behaviour change, with majority of projects concentrated in recycling and composting participation and accuracy. Additionally I’ve examined how education and engagement in nature (at UBC Botanical Gardens) impacts people’s ecological knowledge, willingness to act and connections with nature.

Theoretically I am synthesizing insights from environmental psychology, socio-cultural theories and complex systems thinking how various elements come together to form sustainability pathways over time. Key elements I focus on involve material artifacts (things and their use), motivation (culture, social norms, context) and knowledge (information, know-how, bodily performance). My research is supported by the SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship and the UBC 4 Year Fellowship.

Prior to coming to UBC I completed a Master’s of Environmental Studies at Queen’s University (Kingston, ON) and a B.A. from Carleton University (Ottawa, ON) in Environmental Studies (minor in Political Science). I love being involved in community/ campus sustainability: at UBC I worked as a Zero Waste Coordinator with Campus Sustainability & Community Planning for 2 years which provided me with valuable practical experience in rolling out campus-wide zero waste strategy.

PhD Student

Rocío López de la Lama is a PhD student exploring people’s motivations for setting up Private Conservation Areas in Peru (her home country). Although the government does not provide economic incentives (i.e. tax reductions, property rights) for their implementation, their coverage continues to expand and currently protect ~300,000 ha of the Peruvian territory. Therefore, Rocio’s research seeks to identify what motivates people to set up these areas and how effectively they are contributing to nature conservation and human well-being. Rocio is working under the supervision of Kai Chan, and is part of the CHANS Lab. She has an MPhil in Conservation Leadership from the University of Cambridge (UK), and a BSc in Biology from Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia (Peru). Her previous work has focused on sustainable seafood, small-scale fisheries, gender studies and exploring people’s relationship with nature.

PhD Student, Liu Scholar

Rumi is a Ph.D. student in the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability (IRES) at the University of British Columbia (UBC), focusing on behavioral psychology applied to conservation and natural resource management in tropical landscapes. She is also a Liu Scholar at the Liu Institute for Global Issues and a UBC’s Four Year Doctoral Fellowship recipient. Drawing on insights from cognitive psychology, her doctoral studies will investigate: 1) how land-users perceive conservation challenges differently and make subsequent land-use decisions; and 2) what interventions might facilitate desired behavioral change for sustainability.

Prior to starting her doctoral studies at UBC, Rumi worked with an Indonesia-based consulting firm, Starling Resources, as a senior project manager on a number of projects concerning collaborative land-use planning, forestry policies, reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+), ecosystem restoration, sustainable peatland management, agroecology, and community-based economic development. She holds a Master’s degree in International Affairs from the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University in New York, with a focus on Environmental Policy Studies for Southeast Asia.

In her spare time, she enjoys training capoeira, traveling, hiking, and pottery.