Archive for August, 2011

Understanding how to change behavior to increase campus sustainability

This post is by guest blogger and COS Summer Research Student John Hollis ’12.  He is studying how peoples’ attitudes affect environmental behavior.


At William and Mary many of us continually strive to maintain and improve the culture of sustainability, and it these motivated and dedicated individuals who are most likely here reading this blog. People such as you, humble reader, who no doubt make a real and tangible difference for the good of our community and the environment.



 Supposing that you’ve made all the reasonable changes to your lifestyle to better the environment, it so happens that the only thing left to do for the environment is to share your new found views and actions (with accompanying peace of mind) with your friends and the W&M community at large. So perhaps you join SEAC, wherein you meet a bunch of like minded, motivated individuals who reinforce your beliefs and help you find new ways to live more sustainably. You become a paragon of the green movement, a shining energy efficient beacon.

 If the above paragraph describes you, please don’t take my survey, you’ll skew the results.

 Unfortunately most of us do not fulfill that hypothetical, and while there is a very strong culture of sustainability here at W&M, we have no real measure of how well it is embraced by by the student community at large. SEAC has 1,000 students on their listserv, and there are no doubt thousands more on campus who consider themselves environmentally friendly, our emerging pro-environmental culture urges us in that direction. But there is a significant portion of the W&M population who are indifferent, unconvinced, or merely ignorant. No doubt there is a similarly significant number of students who feel like they could do more, but do not know how, or find it too difficult.

 This becomes a problem when we attempt to encourage pro-environmental behavior, particularly at a campus wide scale. When trying to encourage sustainable behavior, its vital to understand our target audience so we can address the specific factors that we must overcome, whether logistical, (“The recycling bin is just so far away!”) or personal (“I’m just not convinced what I do makes a difference.”).

  The goal of my research is to solve this problem by better understanding W&M students, their actions and attitudes towards the environment, with a focus on how we can most successfully encourage pro-environmental behavior. With this understanding we can assist the College in either facilitating change through logistical changes, (many of which are already well under way to great effect) or through targeting their messages to the students who could most benefit, and framing the message in such a way that these students would pay attention.

But more important than anything the College sends out about the environment, is what we hear from our friends and our community’s standards. So talk to your friends, and strive to raise our standards.

Thanks for reading!

August 2nd, 2011


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