Overall Rating Gold
Overall Score 75.14
Liaison Kylee Singh
Submission Date July 10, 2023

STARS v2.2

California Polytechnic State University
AC-6: Sustainability Literacy Assessment

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 2.00 / 4.00 Hadley Willman
Assistant Director
Initiative for Climate Leadership and Resilience
"---" indicates that no data was submitted for this field

Does the institution conduct an assessment of the sustainability literacy of its students?:

Which of the following best describes the literacy assessment? The assessment is administered to::
The entire (or predominate) student body, directly or by representative sample

Which of the following best describes the structure of the assessment? The assessment is administered as a::
Standalone evaluation without a follow-up assessment of the same cohort or representative samples

A copy of the questions included in the sustainability literacy assessment(s):
A list or sample of the questions included in the sustainability literacy assessment or the website URL where the assessment tool may be found:

Knowledge Section

1. Define Sustainability:
a. Protecting the environment
b. Ensuring the needs of today are met without harming the ability of future generations to meet their needs
c. Reducing, reusing, and recycling
d. Providing resources to those in need
e. I don’t know

2. Which of the following best characterizes sustainability?
a. Social Justice
b. Environmental Stewardship
c. Economic Security
d. All three
e. I don't know

3. What aspects of the human population and its activities impact the Earth?
a. Size of the population
b. Amount of materials used per person
c. Use of technology that lessens our impact
d. A, B, and C
e. A and B
f. B and C
g. A and C
h. I don’t know

4. Which of the following statements about water is true?
a. Globally, water for personal use such as washing dishes, doing laundry, and bathing is the
major user of water resources.
b. Globally, freshwater reserves (aquifers) are used faster than they are replenished.
c. Floods and severe weather will increase the availability of clean drinking water.
d. Because water is a free and abundant resource, it is not a major concern for most
e. I don’t know

5. Of the following, which would be considered living in the most environmentally sustainable
a. Recycling all recyclable packaging
b. Reducing consumption of all products
c. Buying products labeled "eco" or "green"
d. Buying the newest products available
e. Don't know

6. Imagine that we had to pay for all the costs associated with the goods we use every day.
What would go into calculating the true costs of a product?
a. The cost of raw materials to make the product
b. The cost of environmental damage caused by production
c. The cost of healthcare for employees who manufacture the product
d. All of the above
e. I don’t know

7. Define economic sustainability:
a. Distributing money and resources equally so that all can obtain basic human needs
b. Distributing money and resources based on what people can afford to buy
c. Eliminating money from the world so as to wipe out all greed
d. When cost equals revenue
e. I don't know

8. Which of the following is an example of environmental justice?
a. Corporations build factories in developing countries where environmental laws are less
b. The government dams a river, flooding a rural community, in order to generate
hydropower for a nearby metropolitan area
c. Urban citizens pass a bill to have toxic waste taken to a rural community
d. Indigenous community is involved in setting a quota for the amount of wood that can be
taken from a protected forest near their village
e. I don't know

9. Which of the following countries has produced the most carbon dioxide emissions over
a. United States
b. China
c. Brazil
d. Sweden
e. I don’t know

10. The term circular economy refers to which of the following?
a. Print recycling labels on all products.
b. Continually re-use resources so that no waste is created.
c. Send goods through a linear path of extraction, processing, manufacturing, consumption,
and disposal.
d. Recycle first, and then reduce what cannot be recycled.
e. I don’t know

11. Which of the following statements about greenhouse gasses is true?
a. Greenhouse gasses allow solar radiation to escape from Earth’s atmosphere.
b. After water vapor, carbon dioxide is the most abundant greenhouse gas.
c. Greenhouse gasses help cool the Earth.
d. Carbon dioxide is the most potent greenhouse gas in its contribution to global warming.
e. I don’t know

12. Which sector produces the most greenhouse gasses associated with the Cal Poly campus?
a. Transportation
b. Food and dining services
c. Non-dining product purchasing
d. Academic buildings
e. Housing buildings
f. I don’t know

13. What is the source of drinking water at Cal Poly?
a. Cayucos Creek
b. Whale Rock Reservoir
c. Salinas Reservoir
d. I don’t know

A brief description of how the literacy assessment was developed and/or when it was adopted:

Cal Poly produced and delivered its first sustainability literacy and culture assessment to students and faculty in 2018. To support the advancement of sustainability education on campus, the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology formed an interdisciplinary faculty learning community in 2016 focused on “Teaching Sustainability Across the Curriculum.” This faculty group, representing four of six academic colleges, works to improve students’ sustainability learning through the creation and promotion of educational experiences based on current best practices. Within the group discussions, anecdotal evidence and faculty experiences pointed to a consensus that implementation of sustainability goals was at best limited in the current campus climate, despite ongoing institutional efforts. Therefore, a campus-wide survey was proposed to assess student and faculty sustainability knowledge and awareness in order to make more informed future decisions.

In late 2022, a team of faculty and staff from the Sustainability Office, Initiative for Climate Leadership and Resilience, and NRES (Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences) academic department got to work revitalizing the assessment. The team evaluated the results and methodology for data collection from 2018, as well as dozens of other sustainability literacy assessments from other higher education institutions, to best inform new processes and the adaptation of the questionnaire. The most notable difference between the 2018 and 2023 assessments is that the former was administered to both faculty and students, and the latter only to students for the purposes of accelerated data collection so that it may be included in the 2023 STARS report. Additionally, the number of literacy questions was raised from 10 to 13 to ensure a spread of questions that touched on all three pillars of sustainability (economic, social, environmental), global issues, and local issues. Though additional questions were approved, they eventually got removed to ensure the survey was quick enough to take so that students would not start the assessment and then quit given the time needed to complete it.

The survey was approved for human subjects research by Cal Poly’s Institutional Review Board in early March 2023, and data collection commenced immediately before concluding in mid April. It is planned to deliver the survey annually, compare data as students advance from one grade level to the next, and evaluate whether adjusted/increased curriculum/event opportunities correlate with higher sustainability literacy, values, and campus culture across grade levels.

This study seeks to understand how the perception of barriers to and solutions for the integration of sustainability in teaching and learning correlates with sustainability knowledge, in order to identify opportunities for improving sustainability education. To achieve this goal, students from across the six colleges were assessed using qualitative methods to determine in-depth understanding of both sustainability knowledge and the identification and overcoming of barriers to integrating sustainability in higher education curriculum.

A brief description of how a representative sample was reached (if applicable) and how the assessment(s) were administered :

Selection of participants for the STARS Sustainability Literacy Assessment was done via systematic outreach to academic departments across all six colleges on campus by representatives of the assessment. The main metric for achieving a representative sample of students was to ensure representation from students enrolled in all six colleges and all grade levels. Representatives of the assessment included staff members from Cal Poly’s Initiative for Climate Leadership and Resilience, Sustainability Office, and student College Corps fellows that are placed within the Sustainability Office.

Department heads and administrative assistants were contacted via email and asked to share with their faculty the opportunity for an assessment representative to visit professors’ classrooms and deliver the survey to students in real-time. The student fellows emailed their own professors to ask to present and deliver the survey to their own classes. When needed, individual professors from the different colleges were emailed directly and general education classes were prioritized to ensure a representative sample was reached. For example, many of the student fellows were enrolled within CAFES (the College of Agriculture, Food, and Environmental Sciences), and so non-CAFES colleges, departments, and professors were the target of additional outreach to ensure representation. 30 classes in total were presented to; these classes were taught across all six colleges and spread across 100-500 levels, to students pursuing both undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Once professors agreed to use their class time for the assessment, an assessment representative would:
- Visit the allotted class period,
- Present a slide with a QR code to the survey and quick details on the survey,
- Introduce the purpose, method, and instructions for the survey verbally, and
- Remain in the classroom for the next 10-15 minutes as students took the survey in real-time.

The survey was also shared with students via flyers, email campaigns, social media, and Earth Week events.

A brief summary of results from the literacy assessment(s):

There were 724 responses to the survey, representing a significant portion of Cal Poly’s student population. The first 13 questions of the assessment were literacy questions, and students were graded on their multiple choice answers. The average score was 7.91 out of 13, or 60.8%; comparatively, in 2018, the average score was 6.424 out of 10, or 64.24%. This difference may be attributed to asking more questions in 2023, and attempting to remove what was determined to be leading language from the 2018 assessment.

For 9 of the 13 questions, the average correct response rate was 60.40% to 91.57%. The 4 questions with the worst averages, in comparison, got a correct response rate average of 17.82% to 38.54%. The 4 questions students consistently did worst on were the two with a Cal Poly focus, and the two related to greenhouse gas emissions.

Score increased with the number of classes taken that taught sustainability topics (participants were able to indicate having taken 0, 1-2, or 3+ courses on sustainability). There is a positive relationship between score on the assessment, and ranking of the importance of sustainability in the values/culture (participants were asked to rank the importance of sustainability on a 0-5 scale).

Website URL where information about the sustainability literacy assessment is available:

Additional documentation to support the submission:

Data source(s) and notes about the submission:

The information presented here is self-reported. While AASHE staff review portions of all STARS reports and institutions are welcome to seek additional forms of review, the data in STARS reports are not verified by AASHE. If you believe any of this information is erroneous or inconsistent with credit criteria, please review the process for inquiring about the information reported by an institution or simply email your inquiry to stars@aashe.org.