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Dissonance in students' perceptions of sustainable development and sustainability: Implications for curriculum change

Fumiyo Kagawa (Centre for Sustainable Futures, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 17 July 2007




An online questionnaire survey was conducted to explore University of Plymouth students' perceptions and understandings of, and attitudes towards, sustainable development and related concepts and issues. In general, student perceptions of sustainable development have been under‐researched. This research sought to go some way towards filling the gap by providing insights for those working in the field of education for sustainable development (ESD) in higher education.


The survey was administrated in autumn 2005 by the Centre for Sustainable Futures at the University of Plymouth. The closed‐category statements were analyzed in terms of frequencies and percentages. A comprehensive set of cross tabulations and χ2 tests were also conducted using SPSS. Responses to open‐ended questions were coded and categorized according to emerging themes.


Key findings include, first, that a majority of student respondents think sustainability is “a good thing” their positive response not particularly correlating with their degree of familiarity with either of the concepts of sustainable development or sustainability. Second, students strongly associate the concepts of sustainable development and sustainability with their environmental as against economic and social aspects. Third, in terms of personal change for a sustainable lifestyle, “light green” actions addressing responsibility as consumers such as changing purchasing habits, recycling, and saving energy and/or water were most frequently articulated. Fourth, respondents harbour mixed feelings regarding the future of society in the face of sustainability‐oriented challenges.


The paper highlights the importance of ESD curriculum development that more explicitly addresses the interconnectedness of different aspects of sustainable development and which also employs pedagogies that help students to take action towards realizing their preferred futures. It also suggests future study directed towards identifying various means of facilitating students' pro‐sustainability behaviours.



Kagawa, F. (2007), "Dissonance in students' perceptions of sustainable development and sustainability: Implications for curriculum change", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 8 No. 3, pp. 317-338.



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Copyright © 2007, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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