Links between sustainability-related awareness and behavior: The moderating role of engagement

University of Michigan

Publication Release Date: Nov. 4, 2019
Date Posted: May 11, 2020
Submitted by: Genevieve LaMarr LeMee
Sustainability Topic: Campus Engagement
Content Type: Publications
Publisher: Emerald Publishing Limited
Periodical Name: International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education
Type: Journal Article


Purpose Sustainability literature has cited the influential role of both awareness and engagement in facilitating increases in pro-environmental behaviors. The purpose of this study is to compare these links across behaviors and explore their interactive influence.

Design/methodology/approach Two research questions were examined: 1) Is awareness about campus efforts regarding waste-prevention and sustainable travel/transportation options associated with increases in student waste-prevention and sustainable travel/transportation behaviors? 2) Is the link between sustainability awareness and changes in behavior conditioned by student engagement (i.e. participation) in campus sustainability activities and events? Research questions were examined using data from the University of Michigan Sustainability Cultural Indicators Program. A sample of freshmen completed a Web-based survey in 2012, and again as seniors in 2015.

Findings Greater awareness of campus waste-prevention efforts in 2015 was associated with significant increases in student waste-prevention behaviors from 2012 to 2015. Also, among students who were engaged (i.e. reported participating in a campus sustainability activity/event), greater travel/transportation awareness in 2015 was associated with a significant decline in sustainable travel/transportation behavior. Consistent with previous studies this study found a link between sustainability awareness and increases in sustainable behavior. However, this study also indicates that this link is not present for all behaviors (i.e. use of sustainable travel/transportation). This study also found that engagement does not amplify the awareness–behavior link.

Originality/value Understanding key drivers of changes in sustainable behavior for specific behaviors can inform the allocation of resources and help university campuses reach their sustainability goals.