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

Is sustainability knowledge half the battle? An examination of sustainability knowledge, attitudes, norms, and efficacy to understand sustainable behaviours

Alexander John Heeren (School of Environment and Natural Resources, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA)
Ajay S. Singh (School of Environment and Natural Resources, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA)
Adam Zwickle (School of Criminal Justice, Environmental Science and Policy Program, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA)
Tomas M. Koontz (School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, University of Washington-Tacoma, Tacoma, Washington, USA)
Kristina M. Slagle (School of Environment and Natural Resources, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA)
Anna C. McCreery (Department of Research, Elevate Energy, Chicago, Illinois. USA)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 5 September 2016

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this study is to examine the relationship of sustainability knowledge to pro-environmental behaviour. A common misperception is that unsustainable behaviours are largely driven by a lack of knowledge of the underlying societal costs and the contributing factors leading to environmental degradation. Such a perception assumes if individuals “only knew better” they would engage in more sustainable behaviours. The “knowledge deficit model” has been critiqued for not including social psychological research about how knowledge is incorporated into decision-making and its subsequent effect on human behaviour. The theory of planned behaviour (TPB) model has been used extensively to examine intention to engage in a variety of behaviours, therefore this model is applied to examine the effect knowledge has in predicting behaviour.

Design/methodology/approach

To better understand these relationships, the authors examined the relationships between sustainability behaviours through an online survey of over 500 students at a large university in the USA.

Findings

Results indicate that knowledge had a significant, albeit weak, bivariate correlation with behaviour (r = 0.113, p < 0.001). However, when controlling for TPB variables (attitudes, norms and perceived behavioural control), knowledge was not a significant predictor of behaviour.

Research limitations/implications

The authors conclude with several implications to guide university sustainability programmes.

Originality/value

This study places sustainable knowledge in the context of other social psychological factors which also influence behaviour. The results show that as the students are educated about sustainability, fostering behaviour change will require education not only about how actions affect sustainability but also about social norms, attitudes towards sustainable behaviours and the level of self-efficacy in doing those behaviours.

Keywords

Citation

Heeren, A.J., Singh, A.S., Zwickle, A., Koontz, T.M., Slagle, K.M. and McCreery, A.C. (2016), "Is sustainability knowledge half the battle? An examination of sustainability knowledge, attitudes, norms, and efficacy to understand sustainable behaviours", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 17 No. 5, pp. 613-632. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-02-2015-0014

Publisher

:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited