College students' perceptions of campus sustainability

Richard Emanuel (Department of Communication, Alabama State University, Montgomery, Alabama, USA)
J.N. Adams (Department of English, Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, Alabama, USA)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Publication date: 11 January 2011



The purpose of this paper is to ascertain whether or not there are differences between college students in Alabama and Hawaii based on three questions: are students concerned about the present/future? What do students know about sustainability? Who is responsible for sustainability?


Two approaches were used to address these questions. First, a summary of sustainability efforts at universities in Alabama and Hawaii is provided. Second, a random sample of 406 undergraduate students at two universities in Alabama (n=258) and at a community college in Hawaii (n=148) were surveyed.


The data indicate that sustainable programs and practices are being implemented on a number of college campuses in Alabama and in Hawaii. Students surveyed in both states are concerned about wasteful consumption and pollution. Respondents' were similar in their self‐assessed knowledge about sustainability. Respondents were also similar in their views about who is responsible for sustainability. However, a consistently larger proportion of Hawaii respondents expressed concern for and willingness to participate in sustainable practices. So, there seems to be little or no “knowledge gap” when it comes to campus sustainability, but there does seem to be a “commitment gap.” Possible reasons for this are discussed.


Since the 1980s, many universities in the USA have elected to incorporate sustainability practices into campus development and day‐to‐day operations. They are now emerging as environmental leaders and innovators. An understanding of students' perceptions of sustainability may give insight into whether or not and how they are likely to engage in sustainable practices.



Richard Emanuel and J.N. Adams (2011) "College students' perceptions of campus sustainability", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 12 No. 1, pp. 79-92

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