PurposeThe purpose of this study was to explore college students’ understanding of sustainability and, specifically, the extent to which students see social justice as being integral to sustainability.Design/methodology/approachBetween fall 2015 and 2017, an online survey study was deployed to students at a Midwestern University in the USA to assess attitudes and concerns about environmental issues and awareness of the university’s activities related to these issues. This analysis included ten assessment items from a larger study, of which 1,929 participants were included in the final sample. A chi-square goodness-of-fit and variable cluster analysis were performed on the included items.FindingsItems such as “recycling,” “economic viability” and “fair treatment of all” were identified as integral to the concept of sustainability, while items such as “growing organic vegetables” and “reducing meat consumption” had high levels of “not applicable” and “don’t know” responses, with differences arising across gender and class standing. Social justice-related items were seen as more distally connected to sustainability.Research limitations/implicationsThis study is limited by a non-random sample of students.Practical implicationsCollege students tend not to recognize the integral nature of social justice or the relevance of food to sustainability, providing an opportunity for universities to better prepare their students for a sustainable future.Social implicationsUniversities might adopt policies and curricula that address these areas of ignorance.Originality/valueThis study is among the first to identify specific areas of college students’ lack of understanding about sustainability.
International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education – Emerald Publishing
Published: Jan 30, 2020
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