USC and other universities share approaches to measuring sustainability literacy

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education hosted a webinar on Wednesday for universities, including USC, to share their approaches to measuring sustainability literacy and culture on their campuses.

More than 5,000 USC students, postdocs, faculty, and staff participated in USC’s first annual sustainability survey in April. The survey was conducted to help the University inform campus sustainability education and engagement programs and establish a baseline against which to measure the University’s progress toward its sustainability goals. “Duty: Earth” 2028 commitment, and its results were published in August.

On average, respondents scored 61.5% on 10 general questions about sustainability literacy and 52.3% on questions about sustainability behavior and culture. The survey found that more than 50% of respondents had a moderate or strong interest in learning more about sustainability practices and 47% of respondents were interested in getting involved in sustainability efforts or groups. USC, but had not yet done so. More than 50% of respondents said they “usually” take steps to be more sustainable, such as reducing energy use and plastic waste, and conserving water and paper.

The University first passed the assessment of AASHE’s Sustainability Monitoring, Evaluation and Rating System – a self-reporting framework that helps universities assess their sustainability performance – in 2021, achieving a silver rating. 577 universities, including all CUs, have STARS ratings, which are based on performance credits earned in areas such as academics, engagement, operations, planning and administration and innovation and development. leadership.

The webinar began with a brief overview of two STARS credits universities can earn through sustainability culture and literacy assessments. STARS AC-6 requires inquiry focused on knowledge of sustainability topics and challenges, while STARS EN-6 requires inquiry into values, behaviors, beliefs, and awareness of campus sustainability initiatives. Universities can administer both surveys to the entire campus community either directly or by representative sample.

USC kept both meeting STAR requirements and measuring progress against USC-specific goals in mind when designing its sustainability survey.

“Definitely use your survey to fill data gaps, not just AC-6 and EN-6 credits,” said Julie Hopper, data analyst for USC’s Office of Sustainability. “In addition to STARS, we have implemented a survey to measure progress on our other sustainability goals at USC.”

Hopper described the process of developing, distributing, and reporting on USC’s Literacy and Culture of Sustainability Survey with representatives from three other institutions — Weber State University, Ramapo College, and Williams College.

Highlights from the Weber State survey included the need to work on including social justice in understanding sustainability, lower frequency of civic and political engagement among sustainability behaviors, and higher concerns concerning the climate than the national levels. Through the Ramapo College survey, students and faculty recommended that the university find ways to integrate sustainability into the curriculum. The Williams College survey is still collecting responses.

From development to distribution, Hopper noted that the investigation process took four months. Office of Sustainability staff and interns reviewed sustainability surveys from more than 30 STARS-reporting universities to select common questions, which they edited for clarity and relevance to USC. Staff also created additional questions to incorporate into the survey to better serve USC’s sustainability goals.

The survey then went through a series of comments and revisions. Selected USC students, postdocs, staff, and faculty reviewed the initial and final drafts of the survey. After incorporating their feedback, the Office of Sustainability team sent it for external review to sustainability staff at Arizona State University, California Institute of Technology, and University of California, Los Angeles.

Once the team completed the survey and launched it into USC Qualtrics, they distributed it by emailing the wider university community, encouraging USC organizations to share it with their members and putting up signs on campus. Each entrant also had the chance to win one of 20 $100 USC Bookstore gift cards as an incentive to complete the survey.

After the survey closed in late April, the team cleaned, analyzed and visualized the data using tools such as Qualtrics, R and Excel. Hopper said the university was transparent about the data and its limitations.

The University also created reports tailored for specific populations like Keck Medicine, which Hopper recommended other universities do with their survey results.

“That way you really target the interest of those population groups at your university,” Hopper said. “Know your audience, when you do these personalized reports, think about what’s important to them. What can they do with this information and distribute specific results to those with the power to implement change? »

The University’s survey, along with Weber State’s, assessed both sustainability knowledge and culture. The Weber State survey was based on a broad definition of sustainability.

“We define sustainability holistically, environmental, social and economic domains are all included,” said Alice Mulder, director of the Weber Sustainability Center.

Weber State’s survey questions included developed and tested knowledge and attitude questions such as the Sustainability Knowledge Assessment and the Super Short Six-Americas Survey.

Williams College also developed its sustainability survey following reviews of existing sustainability culture and literacy assessments, including Ohio State’s ASK, SULI test, and surveys developed by Colby, Furman, Cornell, ASU and College of the Atlantic.

Williams considered combining the literacy and sustainability culture assessment into a single survey to “reduce survey fatigue”, but ultimately decided to develop a separate sustainability culture survey.

“We decided after entering [the review and research] that we would separate the two investigations,” said Tanja Srebotnjak, director of the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives at Williams. “We felt in particular that we would need more immersion in sustainability culture, research and literature to fully grasp the state of the art and transfer it meaningfully to the Williams College context. .”

Williams shared the correct answers to her sustainability literacy questions after respondents submitted their form, which USC did not. Whether or not to share the correct answers afterwards was a point of discussion for the universities present.

“We skew the results, potentially for next year if we use the same survey questions, and we want to be consistent with our survey questions so we can compare over time,” Hopper said. “[But] ultimately is it bad that they know the answer because now they’re educated and so it doesn’t matter if they do better which I’m leaning towards a bit but I’m very interested by this question. That’s such a good question.

About Shirley L. Kreger

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