By Robert W. Taylor
At the start of the 1990's the Talloires Declaration enunciated
the view that Higher Education needed to respond to the challenge
of environmental pollution and depletion of natural resources
by taking on the role of change agent based on the goals of environmental
sustainability. After reviewing various models and indicators
of environmental sustainability this study involved a content
analysis of 390 websites of randomly selected institutions of
higher education in the United States to determine whether there
has been wide acceptance of the principles of sustainability as
the decade comes to a close. The survey reveals that higher education,
for the most part, has not accepted the basic principles of environmental
SUSTAINABILITY INDICATORS AND MODELS
Various models of environmental sustainability for institutions
of higher education were reviewed. One model of sustainability
dealing exclusively with the college curriculum was established
by Michael Edelstein at Ramapo College of New Jersey as part of
a grant to infuse environmental literacy into the broad curriculum
of the college. This goal was accomplished through the use of
over sixty faculty participants as paid consultants spread throughout
the college and outside of environmental programs. The group sought
to integrate ecological perspectives and concepts into their existing
courses. By targeting general courses in the curriculum the Ramapo
model sought to reach the entire student body of 4,800 students
Other models of sustainability for institutions of higher education
deal exclusively with campus operations and specific indicators
of sustainability. Traditional indicators of success such as peer
reputation, student SAT scores, endowments, government-funded
research, percentage of students graduated, and percentage of
faculty with doctorates, do not take into consideration the institution's
impact on its natural environment. Two specific models of higher
education performance that use environmental sustainability indicators
are the Penn State model and the Campus Ecology model. The Penn
State model (1998) provides ten categories and thirty-four indicators
of sustainability. A group of students and professors evaluated
Penn State according to each indicator in their recent study.
A report by the Campus Ecology Program (1998) of the National
Wildlife Federation discusses twenty-three case studies that highlight
cost-saving conservation initiatives at fifteen colleges and universities
that saved close to seventeen million dollars. This model emphasizes
"best practices" in campus sustainable operations at
a variety of institutions.
For the purposes of this study, the concrete application of
sustainability includes the analysis of three major areas of higher
education: curriculum; campus operations; and community outreach.
Environmental literacy, which prepares students to be global citizens
with an understanding of the principles of sustainability, is
most realized through a broad curriculum emphasizing environmental
issues. Campus operations are an effective measure of whether
these organizations are practicing sustainability; and community
outreach discusses the broad impacts that these higher education
institutions make at the local, regional and global level.
SURVEY OF INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER EDUCATION
This study involves a content analysis of the web sites of randomly
selected institutions of higher education in the United States
through the internet. Web sites were selected because it was possible
to complete the survey with a limited budget; because web sites
project the values and image of the institution to the broader
world; and because an institution's web site is becoming a more
important information source. The limitations of such an approach
is that web sites might not reflect all the sustainability efforts
that an institution is making. And, there might exist a bias in
favor of larger and wealthier institutions that can afford the
construction of a more elaborate web site. Yet, the fundamental
premise of the use of web sites is that they can provide the researcher
an insight into the self-perception of the institution and hence,
whether it places a priority on environmental sustainability and
study of the natural world.
A questionnaire containing four basic questions was developed
that analyzed the word content of an institution's web site. Barron's
(1998) was used to provide a list of all four-year institutions
of higher education that offer degrees and are either fully accredited
or are recognized candidates for accreditation. There are 1650
of these institutions and they represented the total population
from which the sample was drawn. A stratified sampling approach
was used where institutions were selected by geography, making
sure that all fifty states and the District of Columbia were represented.
Every fifth institution was selected based on alphabetical order
in a systematic procedure. Institutions were coded as a "no
response" if they did not have a web site or if researchers
evaluated the web site as being too limited. Researchers pretested
the questionnaire so that proficiency could be obtained. The content
analysis questionnaire was delivered over two months, during October
and November of 1998. The results of the survey are shown in Table
Table 1 - Survey Results
of Higher Education Institutions on Environmental Sustainability
(figures in percentage of total respondents)
|Q. Does the institution display
an interest in the natural environment in its mission statement?
|Q. Does the institution list
or discuss any environmental projects?
|Q. Does the institution have
an environmental major(s)?
|Q. Does the institution engage
in environmental outreach?
|Web Site Score: Calculated from
the answers from the four questions listed above.
The web site content analysis survey revealed that institutions
of higher education in the United States have, for the most part,
not accepted the basic principles of environmental sustainability.
To the first question "Does the institution display an interest
in the natural environment in its mission statement?", the
researchers were only able to code "yes" to 10% of the
surveyed institutions. A coded answer of "yes" produced
words or phases such as "environment or environmental,"
"stewardship," "sustainable future," "sustainability,"
"nature," "natural resources," "preservation,"
and "conservation." These words or phases were viewed
in a specified mission statement or its approximation in the institution's
history, background or profile statement. Less than 7% of the
web sites surveyed were coded "yes" to the second question,
"Does the institution list or discuss any environmental projects?"
Examples of projects were recycling programs, desert landscape
projects, agricultural and forestry projects, contaminated site
clean-up projects, environmental justice projects, web site projects,
and field research projects. The largest "yes" response,
38% of the surveyed web sites, was for the third question, "Does
the institution have an environmental major?" Many of these
majors were clearly identified as operating out of a specific
department (30%), or were part of a professional program (29%),
i.e. forestry, agriculture, architecture, engineering, etc. Only
20% identified themselves as "multidisciplinary," a
key element of environmental sustainability. And finally, only
20% of the institutions were coded "yes," to the question,
"Does your institution have environmental outreach?"
Yes responses included: river ecology programs, sponsoring ecology
fairs, environmental conferences, tropical field studies, internships,
community research projects and environmental auditing, biological
and coral reef field stations, student environmental community
advocacy, and elementary and high school environmental education
An institutional web site "sustainability score" was
calculated by giving a score of "2" to each institution
coded as "yes," and "1" to each institution
coded as "no" to the four questions described above.
These scores were added up and divided by four, producing a web
site "sustainability score" for each institution. A
score of 1.25 or below was "low," 1.50 was "moderate,"
and 1.75 or above was "high." Slightly under 75% of
the institutions were scored as "low," which reinforced
the findings that environmental sustainability has not taken hold
in the institutions of higher education in the United States,
at least when viewing their web sites.
While these findings were glaring, a survey objective was also
to provide a profile of institutions of higher education that
scored highest in environmental sustainability. To undergo this
analysis, variables such as geographic region, size of full-time
student enrollment, whether the institution was public or private,
tuition, location (urban, rural, suburban small town), and math
SAT scores were analyzed (Table 2). This data was supplied in
Barron's (1998), and the data was interpreted through the analysis
of cross-tabulations and chi square values. The variable web site
sustainability score was cross-tabulated against an institution's
size of full-time student enrollment and whether it was public
or private. This analysis revealed that the larger the full-time
enrollment size of the institution the greater the probability
of it having a higher sustainability web site score. Public institutions
displayed a greater tendency to have a higher score than private
Table 2 - Survey Results
of Selected Variables for Institutions of Higher Education
(figures in percentage of total respondents)
|Variable: Geographic Region
1000 to 5000
5001 to 10,000
|Variable: Size of Student Enrollment
$6,000 to $12,000
$12,001 to $18,000
|Variable: Type of Institution
501 to 600
|Variable: SAT Mathh Score
When the variable majors (whether the institution had environmental
majors) was cross-tabulated against the variables region, full-time
student enrollment size, tuition, and math SAT scores, the following
results were found. Institutions located in the Northeast registered
the highest incidence of environmental major(s). The larger the
institution the greater the probability of it having an environmental
major(s). Institutions with tuition under $6,000 indicated the
greatest propensity of having an environmental major(s) followed
by institutions with tuition over $18,000. Public institutions
tended to have a greater probability of having an environmental
major(s) compared to private institutions. And, institutions with
higher SAT math scores had a higher incidence of environmental
major(s), with institutions between 500 and 600 particularly well
Statistically speaking, the above relationships are highly significant.
The significance level for web site score and student enrollment
size is P=.009, for web site score and institution type (public
or private) is P=.012, for majors and geographic region is P=.004,
for majors and institution type is P=.000, for majors and tuition
is P=.009, and for majors and SAT math score is P=.008. For example,
a P value of 0.009 for the chi square value of web site score
and student enrollment size reveals that there is 9 chances in
a thousand that the relationship described above may not hold.
This survey of the web sites of higher education institutions,
the face that the institution displays to the public, only a small
percentage of these institutions recorded a high priority given
to the goals of environmental sustainability. A number of possible
reasons can be surmised for this statistically supported observation.
Higher Education is not driven by regulatory bodies to meet specific
environmental standards as is Industry. And, until recently, Higher
Education does not have the mechanisms or institutional policies
in place to support environmental management systems. The advent
of the ISO 14000 series for environmental management, the recent
literature on the competitive nature of environmentally efficient
businesses, and the cost-savings associated with effective environmental
management systems, all have made believers of corporate business.
A survey by the management consulting firm of McKinsey & Company
found that 92% of CEOs and Board Members believe that the environment
should be a top management priority (Jubeir, 1995). Institutions
of higher education need to be so enlightened. A possible driver
for Higher Education may be in the creation of regional consortiums
or partnerships of higher education institutions devoted to putting
in place the basic principles of environmental sustainability.
Such a partnership model has been recently developed in Northern
New Jersey between eight institutions of higher education through
a grant by the Geraldine Dodge Foundation (Wheeler, 1998). The
effectiveness of this model still awaits analysis.
Association of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future, 1998.
The Declaration. Vol. 2, No. 2 Winter.
Barron's, 1998. Profiles of American Colleges, 23rd edition.
Hauppauge, NY: Barron's Educational Series.
Eagen, David J. and Julian Keniry, 1998. Green Investment, Green
Return: How Practical Conservation Projects Save Millions on Americas
Campuses. Washington, D.C.: National Wildlife Federation's Campus
Edelstein, Michael, 1998. Executive Summary: Environmental Literacy
in the Undergraduate Curriculum. Ramapo, New Jersey: Ramapo College.
Jubeir, Julie, 1995. "Educating Environmental Managers for
Tomorrow," EPA Journal, p. 31-33, Spring.
Keniry, Julian, 1995. Ecodemia: Campus Environmental Stewardship
at the Turn of the 21st Century. Washington, DC: National Wildlife
Smith, April and the Student Action Coalition, 1993. Campus Ecology:
A Guide to Assessing Environmental Quality and Creating Strategies
for Change. Los Angeles, CA: Living Planet Press.
Students and Faculty, 1998. Sustainable Penn State: The Indicators.
University Park, PA: Penn State.
Tibor, Tom and Ira Feldman, 1996. ISO 14000: A Guide to the New
Environmental Management Standards. Chicago: Irwin.
Wheeler, Donald. 1998. Draft of Proposal to the Dodge Foundation
for the Establishment of New Jersey Higher Education Partnership
for Sustainability (NJHEPS). Union, New Jersey: Kean University.
Special thanks to my graduate students in environmental studies
who were primary researchers for the survey and contributed their
comments on various models of environmental sustainability. Also,
special thanks to Andrea Kluchiwsky who coded the surveys for
computerized statistical analysis, the Department of Earth and
Environmental Studies which provided funds for a student worker,
the faculty research released time program and my colleagues in
the New Jersey Higher Education Partnership for Sustainability.
Robert W. Taylor is a professor of urban and environmental
studies in the Dept. of Earth and Environmental Studies at Montclair
State University in northern New Jersey. He is also a member of
the New Jersey Higher Education Partnership for Sustainability.
Dr. Taylor can be reached at Montclair State University, Upper
Montclair, NJ 07043; tel: 973-655-4448.
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