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Campus prosociality as a sustainability indicator

Timothy M. Waring (Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions and the School of Economics, University of Maine, Orono, Maine, USA)
Abigail V. Sullivan (School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, USA)
Jared R. Stapp (Ecology and Environmental Sciences Program, University of Maine, Orono, Maine, USA)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 7 November 2016




Prosociality may in part determine sustainability behavior. Prior research indicates that pro-environmental behavior correlates with prosocial attitudes, and separately, that prosociality correlates with social support in homes and communities. Therefore, prosociality may constitute a keystone variable linking human well-being with pro-environmental behavior. The purpose of the paper is to test this conjecture.


Data from a multi-year student survey at the University of Maine on environmental behavior, prosociality and experienced social support are used. A two-stage least-squares regression is applied to explore the relationships between these variables, and sub-scale analysis of the pro-environmental responses is performed. Additionally, spatial statistics for the student population across the state are computed.


The data corroborate previous findings and indicates that social support within a community may bolster the prosociality of its members, which in turn may increase pro-environmental behaviors and intentions.

Research limitations/implications

Cross-sectional data do not permit the imputation of causality. Self-reported measures of behavior may also be biased. However, student prosociality surveys may provide an effective and low-cost sustainability metric for large populations.

Social implications

The results of this study corroborate prior research to suggest that pro-environmental and prosocial behaviors may both be enhanced by bolstering social support efforts at the community level.


It is suggested that prosociality could become a keystone sustainability indicator. The study’s results extend the understanding of the connections between prosociality, social support and pro-environmental behavior. The results of this study suggest that efforts to simultaneously improve the well-being and environmental status might focus on building prosociality and social support systems at the community level.



The authors are grateful to the students of the ECO 381 for their data collection efforts; Sujita Pandey, for ensuring data quality; and Mario Teisl, Kathleen Bell, Todd Gabe, Caroline Noblet and Mark Anderson, for comments on the manuscript. The National Science Foundation Award EPS-0904155 supported study design, data collection, analysis and writing, while NSF award SES-1352361 and USDA Hatch project 1003317 supported final analysis, writing and manuscript preparation.


Waring, T.M., Sullivan, A.V. and Stapp, J.R. (2016), "Campus prosociality as a sustainability indicator", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 17 No. 6, pp. 895-916.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Timothy M. Waring, Abigail V. Sullivan, Jared R. Stapp

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