Research Project – A Brighter Tomorrow: Hope College Students’ Actions and Attitudes About Sustainability
By: Cindy Alexander and Dr. Stephen C. Scogin
Historically, colleges struggle reducing energy consumption, due in part to a lack of student fiscal accountability. Nonetheless, Hope College is committed to building a sustainable institution, and thus seeks to reduce energy consumption and promote green actions such as recycling. This mixed methods study sampled 685 students living on campus during the 2016-2017 school year. Students in three different residential locations (dorms, cottages, apartments) answered 24 Likert and open response questions about their attitudes and actions regarding energy and recycling activities and their opinions about sustainability practices. A one-way ANOVA was used to compare students’ responses regarding sustainability practices based on residential location.
Inductive qualitative analysis was used to identify the most common suggestions of how to encourage sustainability practices on campus. Results indicate: (1) The most common suggestions were to increase education through posters and flyers, increase the number and convenience of recycling receptacles, and encourage competitions to reduce consumption, (2) Students in cottages acted more sustainably, while students in dorms tended to act least sustainably, and (3) Student attitudes did not always match actions.
From these results, we conclude that further steps to achieve a more sustainable campus should aim to increase education, particularly targeting students in dorms as they are in the greatest need of an intervention and also represent the largest proportion of on campus students. In addition, providing more recycling cans in convenient locations would likely improve recycling participation. Finally, organizing competitions between on campus residents would encourage energy reducing habitats, educate students’ on their usage, and promote cognitive dissonance in students who are not acting in accordance with their attitudes about sustainable practices.