Overall Rating Gold - expired
Overall Score 70.69
Liaison Careen Arsenault
Submission Date March 8, 2013
Executive Letter Download

STARS v1.2

Cornell University
ER-13: Sustainability Literacy Assessment

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 0.00 / 2.00 Dan Roth
Director of the Campus Sustainability Office
Energy & Sustainability
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Has the institution conducted a sustainability literacy assessment?:
No

Did the assessment include a baseline evaluation of students and then a follow-up evaluation of the same cohort?:
No

A copy of the questions included in the sustainability literacy assessment:
A copy of the questions included in the sustainability literacy assessment :
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A brief description of how the assessment was developed:

In 2007 a survey was developed by a Communications Dept. faculty member to assess undergraduate knowledge and attitudes about climate change and carbon reduction activities. A sample size of 3,347 students, or roughly 25% of the undergraduate population was included in the survey.


A brief description of how the assessment was administered:

Upon our official request, the University Registrar pulled a random sample of netIDs of freshmen, sophomore, juniors, and seniors with the same gender and minority breakdown as the undergraduate population. The final sample size was 3,347, or roughly 25% of the undergraduate population. In addition to netIDs, the University Registrar provided information regarding gender, year in school, ethnicity and New York state residency. Prior to any data collection, course approval to conduct the research was received from Cornell’s Institutional Review Board (Protocol #07-09-069). The approval does not allow for any public presentation of the results by the students or instructors beyond internal use at Cornell. Permission was also sought from Susan Murphy, Vice President of Student and Academic Services.
The research team converted the netIDs into email addresses and sent introductory e-mails with a link to an online questionnaire to all potential respondents. Students who did not respond to the first e-mail received a reminder e-mail with a link to the online questionnaire one week later; those who did not respond to the second e-mail were sent a final reminder e-mail one week later with a link to the questionnaire. As an incentive to complete the survey, potential respondents were told that 30 respondents would be drawn at random to receive a $3 gift certificate to Manndible Café, Mann Library’s new sustainable dining establishment. The first round of questionnaires was mailed on October 7, 2007. Reminder e-mails were sent on October 14, 2007. A third round of questionnaires was e-mailed to all non-respondents on October 21, 2007. Data collection ended on October 25, 2007. Approximately 1% (n=35) of the e-mails were returned as undeliverable, leaving a usable sample of 3,312. Of these, 16.36% (n=542) completed the questionnaire.


A brief summary of results from the assessment:

President Skorton’s signing of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment acted as a primary motivator for this research project. We used one item to measure students’ familiarity with the commitment. Responses to this question show that Cornell undergraduate students are unfamiliar with Cornell’s carbon neutrality commitment, which means that much work remains to inform students about Cornell’s commitment.Another set of questionnaire items focused on students’ knowledge of global warming, which may influence students’ willingness to promote carbon neutrality at Cornell. Our results indicate that the majority of students recognize the processes contributing to global warming and believe that human activities, especially the emission of greenhouse gases, contribute to global warming.We used one questionnaire item to determine whether or not students recognized that the processes behind global warming present a serious problem. An overwhelming majority of students, almost 85%, agree or strongly agree that global warming is in fact a serious problem. We also wanted to assess students’ willingness to contribute additional time (in the form of volunteering) and funds to carbon neutrality. Students were much less willing to take extra time and money to help reduce Cornell’s carbon footprint, responding positively toward these items (“Very likely” or “likely”) less than 50 percent of the time for every item. This indicates that although students are willing to expend small amounts of effort to contribute to climate neutrality (i.e., “Take notes using both sides of the paper,” “Switch off the lights if I’m the last person to leave a room.”), they are much less willing to be supportive of efforts that that elicit more significant personal costs of time and monetary resources.


The website URL where information about the literacy assessment is available:
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A new comprehensive sustainability literacy survey is under development

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 and complete the Data Inquiry Form.