From indirectly to directly positive: the contribution of a positive orientation to environmental policy

Shula Goulden, Dorit Kerret

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Policy goals regarding many environmental topics have undergone a shift in recent decades, from environmental protection and elimination of hazards to the enhancement of sustainability. Yet the concept of sustainability is critiqued for its vague definitions, playing host to competing value systems that are often poorly articulated. In parallel, the field of psychology has experienced a broadening of focus from psychopathologies to positive psychology, with its emphasis on enhancing psychological wellbeing. Using a framework of categories for positive psychology, we conceptualize changes in sustainability policy as a ‘positive orientation’ in environmental policy. Examples from various areas of environmental policy illustrate the differences in approach that have already taken place. The framework is then used to reconceptualize familiar tensions in sustainability policy, such as the need to articulate localized rather than globalized goals and the risks of greenwash, as outcomes of an uncritically positive approach. From a practical perspective, the positive orientation framework can encourage policy-makers to contextualize environmental issues within a broader system and thus ensure a holistic, indirectly and directly positive, policy response for the benefit of human and planetary wellbeing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)837-851
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Environmental Policy and Planning
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2021


  • Environmental policy
  • environmental governance
  • positive psychology
  • sustainability


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