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Living green: examining sustainable dorms and identities

Lesley Watson (Department of Sociology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA.)
Cathryn Johnson (Department of Sociology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA.)
Karen A Hegtvedt (Department of Sociology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA.)
Christie L. Parris (Department of Sociology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA.)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 5 May 2015




The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of living in “green” dorms on students’ environmentally responsible behaviors (ERBs), in concert with other factors, including individual identity and social context in the form of behavior modeling by peers.


The sample of 243 consists of students who resided in two newly constructed, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Gold-certified dorms and two conventional dorms. The authors analyze the data collected at the end of the respondents’ freshmen year at Emory University using seemingly unrelated regression analysis.


Findings indicate that students who live in “green” dorms engage in more recycling and advocacy behaviors than students in conventional dorms. Environmental identity and perceived behavior modeling by peers positively affect recycling, advocacy and conservation. Furthermore, results indicate an interaction between dorm and identity whereby students with weak environmental identities experience a greater increase in ERBs from living in green dorms than do students with strong environmental identities.

Practical implications

These results show that universities do promote students’ ERBs through the construction of green residence halls. Universities can also facilitate ERBs by encouraging students to develop strong environmental identities and fostering opportunities for them to engage in ERBs with their peers.


This study is valuable for both its practical implications and the theoretical implications for predicting ERBs. The findings indicate that to predict ERBs, it is necessary to consider both contextual and individual level factors.



We wish to thank the editor and anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.


Watson, L., Johnson, C., Hegtvedt, K.A. and Parris, C.L. (2015), "Living green: examining sustainable dorms and identities", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 16 No. 3, pp. 310-326.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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