The path less taken: The lowest-ranked sustainability action was “go the WCU Gorden Natural Area” seen here or other green spaces for restorative time or recreation. 

Last month West Chester University presented the results of its first-ever Sustainability Census. The goal of which was to measure sustainable knowledge, behaviors, and sociodemographic variation on campus in order to help guide the work of West Chester’s Sustainability Council. 

“Ideally, results from the Sustainability Census may be used to better educate our campus community and foster a culture of sustainability at WCU,” said Professor Aliza Richman, the survey’s lead researcher and Chair of West Chester University’s Sustainability Council.

To do this researchers collected 2228 responses from students, faculty, staff, and administrators representing roughly 11 percent of the campus population. 

So what did they learn? Among the key takeaways was action does not match stated desire. 


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According to survey results, 44 percent of respondents reported that their participation in sustainable activities did not change or grew only a little since being at WCU. This is in contrast to the nearly 84 percent of participants that agreed with the statement, “The climate crisis is urgent and I must take action now.”  

The results point to an opportunity and a need for the university to do more to convert desires into action. “This is an indicator we have some room for improvement to make behaviors easier and more attainable,” Dr. Richman told WCU students and other campus sustainability leaders.

Among the sustainability actions the WCU community is taking, reducing energy usage topped the list with nearly 80% participation followed by recycling/composting and reducing air travel. 

Among the actions of most interest to researchers, only “reducing air travel” ranked among the most performed actions. Other actions, “Making dietary choices for sustainability reasons” and “eat less meat or follow a plant-based diet” ranked far lower. Ninth and 10th, respectively, out of the 12 provided actions.  

“We will continue to follow 3 and 9, 10 because research has shown that these are the ways individuals can make the biggest impact,” said Dr. Richman, a sociologist and demographer.  

This is only the beginning. “The Sustainability Census is planned to be a longitudinal study,” Dr. Richman shared via email.  A second survey to a student subsample will begin in 2024 and a full campus check in is planned during the 2026-27 academic year.

Originally published, May 26, 2023

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