Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sustainability Survey Results: An Overview

Last week, the results of the Sustainability survey carried out by Project Hilltop and CNDLS (with early recommendations put in by EcoAction members) were released. The survey, which was conducted in mid-January, had 645 respondents, which is about 10 percent of the undergraduate population.

With any survey, one runs into the risk of a self-selecting audience of test-takers; however, the feedback gained provides valuable starting point for understanding how the Georgetown student body envisions sustainability at their university now and into the future.

Most survey takers deemed the sustainability initiatives discussed "important" or "very important." Recycling, often the most visible form of sustainability, was valued by 94% of the survey takers. At the low end of the spectrum were purchasing local or organic food (55.5%) and including sustainability in curricula (55.5 percent). As we have seen a growing interest in food issues (with a well-attended screening of Food, Inc., and lecture by Joel Salatin), I was shocked to see the low valuation of food; however, it gives us an idea of how to formulate future messaging campaigns.

The only category for which students said that they were "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with Georgetown's efforts was recycling (55.7%); no other category saw a majority of students satisfied. Over half of the students participating in the survey, moreover, were unsure of Georgetown's efforts in investment in sustainable funds and endowment transparency. This latter point has been one of our major weaknesses in the Annual Green Report Card.

The survey results also showed a dichotomy between student's views and their practices. 82% of respondents claimed that water conservation is important , but only 48% reported that they take shorter showers (under 5 minutes) "always," "frequently," or "occasionally."

There was also a divide between students' perceptions of their own behaviors and those of their peers. For example, more than 65 percent of students reported always turning off the lights when they leave a room, but only 4 percent thought that their peers "always" do the same.

Overall, the survey proved that people do care, but that they are unsure about what Georgetown is doing. The promotion of knowledge and the creation of convenience are vital steps in moving ahead.

For graphs from the survey, visit here.

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