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Steven Westlake

Dr Steven Westlake

Research Associate

School of Psychology

Tower Building, 70 Park Place, Cardiff, CF10 3AT


I am a PhD researcher exploring how leading by example can influence behaviours and attitudes towards climate change. For instance, if someone high profile like Greta Thunberg stops flying because of climate change, how does this affect our thinking and our actions? And what if a politician or celebrity chooses to have only one child because of climate change, or a local community leader gives up their car to reduce their environmental impact?

This research will provide insights into how social influence and leadership can feed into the necessary and rapid transition to more sustainable lifestyles. The research contributes to the ongoing debates about “individual action versus systems change”. It draws on theories of social influence, cultural evolution, leadership theory and practice theory. Underpinning the research is the idea that “action is communication”.


Undergraduate Education

Manchester University (1990-1993). Degree: BSc Hons Computer Science (2:1)

Postgraduate Education

Birkbeck University (2015-2017). MSc Climate Change Management (Distinction)


Committee on Climate Change (CCC) (Feb 2016 – August 2018)Communications Officer


The Conversation: Climate change: yes, your individual action does make a difference (Westlake, 2019)

The Independent: How even the smallest act can help fight climate change (Westlake, 2019)







In Phase 1 of my PhD research I conducted focus groups with members of the public in London and Cardiff to explore reactions to “strong” pro-environmental behaviour from leaders. These behaviours included flying less, driving less, eating less meat, and choosing a smaller family size. Concurrently I interviewed UK Members of Parliament (MPs) to gather data from a top-down perspective on how plausible they think such behaviour is.

Phase 2 of the research is employing an experimental survey to quantify the effect of leaders adopting such behaviour. In addition, I am gathering data from members of the public who have chosen to take strong pro-environmental behaviour to see if and how they were influenced to make this choice.

The working title of my PhD is: “The role of leading by example to promote pro-environmental behaviour – towards radical shifts in consumption”.

This research builds on my Masters Degree research entitled “A Counter-Narrative to Carbon Supremacy: Do Leaders Who Give Up Flying Because of Climate Change Influence the Attitudes and Behaviour of Others?


The role of leading by example to promote pro-environmental behaviour – towards radical shifts in consumption