Education for sustainable development and campus greening: the impact on students' energy saving attitudes and behaviours

This source preferred by Chris Shiel

Authors: Shiel, C., Cotton, D. and do Paco, A.

Start date: 21 June 2015

The role of higher education in contributing to a sustainable future has been consistently highlighted in global policy documents: Higher Education has a key role to play in: educating leaders who will manage more sustainably in the future; contributing to sustainable development through research and; reducing the environmental impact of estates and thus, contributing to lower carbon emissions. In regard to the latter, initiatives led by the Estates function within institutions as part of campus greening serve to reinforce for students that higher education is responsive to environmental concerns and that behaviour change is important. Further, combined with integrating education for sustainability within the curriculum, energy conservation projects in the extra-curricular sphere, should ultimately contribute to behaviour change. Very little research to date, has evaluated whether EfS and energy conservation projects impact in this way on student behaviour. A supposition might be that the more effectively and comprehensively an institution addresses energy conservation in both the educational and extra-curricular spheres, the more likely it is that there will be a positive impact on behaviours. This study explores that proposition by comparing students’ energy-related attitudes and behaviours across three distinctly different institutions, two in the UK and one in Portugal. The two UK institutions have both championed EfS but with different approaches: one has acknowledged the need to integrate EfS with extra-curricular and co-curricular initiatives; the other has had less success with EfS and less integration between campus and curriculum. The Portuguese university has not developed a strategic approach in relation to sustainable development and has very little in the way of formal policies. Survey data from students at the three institutions is used to explore the similarities and differences between the student populations in terms of their energy-related attitudes, behaviours and perspectives on their institution’s energy saving activities. The results demonstrate that there are significant differences between the students’ responses and that these are likely to relate, in part to the efforts, or lack of efforts made by each institution in particular areas. The conclusion suggests that there is value in combining Efs with extra- curricular initiatives but that this will require closer working relationships between academics and professional services staff within institutions. Future research might explore those factors that facilitate or inhibit such integrated ways of working. Robust measures for evaluating the extent to which particular sustainability initiatives and approaches influence behaviour change need to be developed.

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