Community college students' pro-environmental behaviors and their relationship to awareness of college sustainability strategy implementation

WCU Author/Contributor (non-WCU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
James David Hutcherson (Creator)
Western Carolina University (WCU )
Web Site:
Meagan Karvonen

Abstract: The impact of humans on the environment has caused a need to evaluate why individuals act in non-sustainable ways. How to change current non-sustainable behaviors is a focus in current social research. Authors have written about the use of varied strategies to change specific non-sustainable behaviors, but few have actually evaluated how such strategies influence general pro-environmental behaviors (PEBs). Higher education institutions have been called upon to increase knowledge and awareness of environmental issues in order to change these behaviors, not only through curricula but through modeling of sustainable practices. Many articles have been written describing such initiatives. However, few studies have actually evaluated how these initiatives have their impact on college students’ behaviors. One of the ways to study such behaviors and antecedents of those behaviors is through the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB). This theory states that behavior is predicted by intention which is in turn predicted by attitudes, subjective norm and perceived behavioral control. The purposes of this study were to determine whether the TPB could be used to predict general environmental behavior of students on community college campuses, to determine how aware students were of sustainable strategy implementation by those colleges, and to evaluate whether there was a relationship between student awareness of such initiatives and the constructs of TPB. Study participants included 724 curriculum students at four different community colleges in NC purposefully selected for differences in sustainability strategy implementation. Three of the colleges were considered high implementation colleges and one was considered low implementation. Variations on scales previously used by other researchers studying such relationships were used to collect data. Scales were built using confirmatory factor analysis. The reduced sets of items were combined for each construct and first used to test the model of the TPB using path analysis. Antecedents of intention did predict intention with subjective norm and perceived behavioral control having the most influence. Intention also predicted PEB. None of the other constructs had a direct influence on PEB. Next, respecifications of the models were created based on the influence of low awareness and high awareness on the constructs in order to compare influence of awareness levels, and were found to be different for the two groups. General awareness of sustainable strategy implementation of the community college students was also assessed. Overall, students were not very aware of the strategies occurring on their campuses and they sometimes reported being aware of activities that did not exist. It did appear that students enrolled in the college that instituted many sustainable practices and activities, and promoted these initiatives, did have higher awareness. Implications from this study include the need for social marketing strategies which highlight initiatives on campuses and make PEB easier. In addition, this study highlights the need for similar studies that not only include students but faculty and staff, and the need for an instrument that measures awareness of initiatives.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2013
community college, environmental, higher education, pro-environmental behavior, sustainability, theory of planned behavior
Community college students -- Behavior -- North Carolina -- Case studies
Community college students -- North Carolina -- Attitudes -- Case studies
Community colleges -- Environmental aspects -- North Carolina -- Case studies
Environmental responsibility -- Social aspects -- North Carolina -- Case studies
Environmental sociology -- North Carolina -- Case studies

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