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Education for sustainable development beyond attitude change

Katherine D. Arbuthnott (Campion College, University of Regina, Regina, Canada)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 10 April 2009




Many education for sustainable development (ESD) programs are designed to change attitudes and values toward the natural environment. However, psychological research indicates that several factors in addition to attitude influence behavior, including contextual support, social norms, action difficulty, and habitual behavior. Thus, if attitude change is to translate into altered behavior, education must extend beyond attitudes to assist people to act in ways consistent with their values. The purpose of this paper is to review the psychological research showing weak correlation between attitudes and behavior, the factors that mediate this relationship, and to describe the implications of these findings for university institutions and ESD programs.


The paper is organized as a review and editorial article, describing relevant research, and outlining implications and suggested actions.


The results of the reviewed research indicate that attitude‐behavior correlations are mediated by several factors, including contextual conditions such as inconvenience and personal factors such as habits.

Practical implications

The implications of these findings are that ESD programs should specifically address factors that mediate the attitude‐behavior relationship, including contextual changes and the development of personal management plans. Examples for each type of change are suggested.


The implications of these findings for ESD programs have not previously been highlighted. Specifically, to achieve sustainable development requires attention to these mediating factors as well as to knowledge generation and attitude change. Thus, the value of this paper is to encourage ESD developers to expand their programs to encourage contextual change and personal behavior management plans.



Arbuthnott, K.D. (2009), "Education for sustainable development beyond attitude change", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 10 No. 2, pp. 152-163.



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Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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