To read the full version of this content please select one of the options below:

Let's get personal: making sustainability tangible to students

Ann E. Savageau (Design Program, University of California, Davis, California, USA)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 4 January 2013




Most students report giving little thought to their consumption and waste, and when confronted with issues of sustainability still find them either distant and impersonal or overwhelming. One area that has been relatively unexplored is the concept of a self‐audit and self‐reflection in the development of intrinsic motivation for living sustainably. The aim of this paper is to describe the results of a case study that addresses this issue.


As part of an integrated course, Introduction to Sustainable Design, undergraduate students participate in the creation and use of a personal Resource Consumption and Waste Audit that makes tangible their resource consumption and waste generation and that forms the basis for self‐reflection throughout the course. The instructions to the students for the three‐day audit are provided along with the results as self‐reported by the students.


Students generally express surprise and dismay at their levels of consumption and waste, and state that they are motivated to change behaviors. Many call the audit “life‐changing” and add that everyone should do a similar audit if our society is to become more sustainable.


The audit provides a novel, simple and cost‐effective way for students to assess their own resource consumption and waste generation, and it lays the groundwork for behavioral change based on self‐reflection around these issues. It has the additional advantages of requiring no special technology, being adaptable to different courses and majors, and providing a basis for development of quantitative and longitudinal studies.



Savageau, A.E. (2013), "Let's get personal: making sustainability tangible to students", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 14 No. 1, pp. 15-24.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Related articles