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Environmental Influence

A multi-disciplinary journey of discovery

“This is the land of the four-minute shower, mate!” These are words that changed Sri Lankan-born Anji Perera’s perspective on living in Australia.

University of Canberra Teaching Fellow and PhD candidate Anji Perera emigrated to Australia five years ago from Colombo, Sri Lanka, where she says a long, luxurious shower did not seem extravagant nor out of the ordinary.

Anji’s move to Australia sparked an entirely new career for her after relocating with her family to start a new life in Canberra in 2014. From an illustrious career in the corporate sector as a Chartered Marketer, steeped in the heart of marketing communications and brand management, Anji always aspired to teach and clearly this passion has expanded into reality when she joined the University of Canberra.

“Since joining the University I have convened, lectured and tutored in a wide range of units in the discipline of communication and media in the Faculty of Arts and Design in both undergraduate and master’s degree programs and some transnational teaching as well,” said Anji.

Anji’s PhD study which investigates the interplay between attitudes and motivations around water conservation using an audience segmentation approach has taken her on a multidisciplinary journey of discovery in the overarching discipline of environmental communication. Her study has extended her horizons beyond the teaching halls of the Faculty of Arts and Design to engage with the News and Media Research Centre, the Institute of Applied Ecology, and industry leaders in the Australian water sector.

“I will be looking at water conservation through the lens of behavioural science. It’s an attempt to gain fresh empirical insights around attitudes and motivations around water conservation and explore communication strategies that resonate with the disengaged subsets of the population,” she said.

“Community understanding around water conservation is still critical even though there is a plethora of major technological fixes. Community engagement campaigns are important to get people to take responsibility for their water consumption, understand demand management, supply challenges and options available to them to meet their needs.”

Since her school days, Anji has shown a keen interest in global climate change issues. She held leadership roles in environmental clubs and societies focused on addressing environmental issues and climate change awareness, stemming from her belief that awareness should always spark action and result in behaviour change.

“My research is something that I am personally motivated to do. To engage or not engage around the environmental issues around us has become a lifestyle choice. We are part of a globally networked culture, and an information eco-system. Therefore, communication influences and informs our choice” said Anji.

Anji’s focus is on creating communities that are water smart, resilient to future challenges they may face, ready to adapt their behaviour at times of crisis and aware of what future generations may face.

This is the backdrop against which Anji will be presenting at the upcoming Australia and New Zealand Communications Association (ANZCA) Conference in the first week of July.

Anji will be sharing her thoughts on the dynamics of audience segmentation and applications in environmental communication and reviewing a theory in the context of pro-environmental behavior.“We cannot wait until we are in a crisis to initiate and expect a change in behaviour. The way we communicate has changed. So, we need to understand the audience, the differences that exist within different subgroups of the population and intelligently frame communication with a broader socio-cultural understanding of the issues,” she said.

“Change needs to be progressive. Environmental communication should be embedded within our culture and environmental wisdom handed down from generation to generation.”

“A lot of people are aware of radical climate change issues but through lack of engagement do not treat it as a priority unless they find themselves in the deep end or at a point of crisis.
I believe this is a timely phenomenon, given that the consumer and media landscape is drastically changing, coupled with a rapid change in population demographics,” said Anji.

This suggests that communication and engagement strategies need to be executed using the right platforms, message frames and media channels targeted to the right audience.

“We are all part of the environmental nexus. Both engineering and communication solutions can influence each other in sustainably addressing environmental challenges. Behaviour changing communication is essential to securing their success,” said Anji.

Anji is two years into her PhD study and is excited to see how environmental action translated through effective communication will transform human behaviour, more will be revealed as she progresses with her research. An unfolding story, for sure!

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