Lauren Highleyman — Manager, Projects & Partnerships at Root Solutions
Lauren is a communicator and behavior change strategist with experience in strategic communication, fundraising, and project and event coordination for non-profits, public agencies, and higher education institutions. After studying environmental policy and economics at UC San Diego, she saw a need for greater evidence-informed decision making, programs, and communication in the non-profit space and returned to school at the University of Michigan for a Master of Science in Natural Resources & Environment.
After three very cold years in Michigan studying and teaching other students about behavior change for environmental stewardship, Lauren is applying her expertise at Root Solutions by helping non-profits, campuses, and government agencies use behavioral science to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their initiatives.
What is the educational and career path that led to your current career?
While doing my undergraduate studies at UC San Diego, I knew I would dedicate my career to solving environmental problems. However it was not until I entered the full-time work force that I became fully aware of the importance of communication in doing so. Through working in various positions after college, I observed and grew fascinated by how much the success of any initiative depends on how information is framed and presented to the people involved.
During this time I also realized that my efforts to drive less, eat sustainably produced food, and reduce my material consumption and waste are results of both experiential learning opportunities and moments when information was presented to me in ways persuasive enough to change both my opinions and behavior. It was realizing the importance of communication and education in my own journey that motivated me to go to graduate school to focus my career on environmental behavior, education, and communication.
What environmental issues are of most concern to you?
Picking one environmental issue that is of most concern is a tough one for me – because I see them all as being so interconnected! While the environmental issues that concern me are many, what connects them is my deep interest in mitigating them through education and communication practices that more effectively create behavior and policy change.
However if I have to pick one, I am especially interested in how we can make our food system healthier for both people and the planet, not only because of issues like climate change and soil degradation, but also because the food we eat has such important consequences for human well-being and our ability to grow the next generation of healthy, intelligent, thoughtful leaders!
What are your suggestions on how WEN members can become more involved in your sector of the environmental movement?
I encourage WEN members to try to attend a training about how to motivate positive environmental behavior change. We have so much data about environmental problems, as well as many of the technical and policy solutions available to mitigate them. The biggest challenge lies in being able to effectively communicate about those problems and solutions in ways that resonate with the values and motivators of your audience.
Fortunately, various fields — including behavioral science, environmental psychology and community-based social marketing — provide us with ways we can be more effective at achieving pro-environmental behavior change at scale! Root Solutions offers trainings and resources on this topic, and we are working on a book that will be published in 2020. There are also lots of free resources online about this topic; for example you can check out the Society of Conservation Biology’s Conservation Marketing & Engagement Group, SMANA (Social Marketing Association of North America), NNOCI (National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation), and BECC (Behavior, Energy and Climate Change). I’m happy to talk more with anyone interested in learning more about this field!