Overall Rating Platinum
Overall Score 85.05
Liaison Careen Arsenault
Submission Date March 5, 2020
Executive Letter Download

STARS v2.1

Cornell University
AC-6: Sustainability Literacy Assessment

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 4.00 / 4.00 Sarah Brylinsky
Sustainability Communications & Integration Maanger
Campus Sustainability Office
"---" indicates that no data was submitted for this field

Does the institution conduct an assessment of the sustainability literacy of its students (i.e. an assessment focused on student knowledge of sustainability topics and challenges)?:
Yes

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::
Pre- and post-assessment to the same cohort or to representative samples in both a pre- and post-test

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

Cornell has a variety of sustainability literacy assessments that are administered to its undergraduate students. Three assessments are outlined in this credit. The first is a standalone evaluation run by Professor Bruce Monger with his Oceanography class (over 1000 Cornell undergraduate students) that includes questions about climate change, oceans, and sustainability. The second is a pre- & post- assessment focused on sustainability literacy and behaviors for incoming students (and outgoing seniors) that was administered to a representative sample of the predominate student body. The third is a collection of assessments run by a Natural Resources class at Cornell, and distributed broadly to Cornell undergraduates as standalone assessments.

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1) Oceanography Class assessment (see attached document)

Sample questions:
- Which of the following best defines Sustainable Development?
a. Development that will last a person’s lifetime.
b. Development that nurtures a positive view of the natural world within all people.
c. Development that diminishes the quality of life of the present generation by a small amount so that future generations can meet their basic needs.
d. Development that meets the needs of the present generation, without compromising the future generations’ ability to meet their own needs.

- The Paris COP-21 consensus statement, signed in 2015 by essentially every leader of every nation on earth, stated that we need to take the entire planet’s energy system to net zero carbon emissions by mid-century in order to stay below a 2C global warming and prevent destabilization of human civilization.
a. True
b. False

- Are humans now powerful enough to prevent a future ice age from happening/
Yes, No

- Average US families would pay less for energy bills with fossil-free energy.
a. True
b. False

- Methane emission reduction is critical to staying below the COP-21 target of 1.5ºC global warming threshold.
a. True
b. False

- How much has the earth warmed since the beginning of the Industrial Era?
0.25C, 1.0C, 1.5C, 2.0C

- How soon might we see the Arctic Ocean completely ice-free during summer periods? Ice free by as soon as 2020, 2035, 2075, 2100

- One of the key goals contained in the Paris COP-21 consensus statement, signed in Paris in 2015 by every single leader of every single nation on Earth, is that we should work to prevent the earth from warming beyond 2C. In that same consensus statement, what must happen to global CO2 emissions to stay below a 2C warming? The entire planet has to go to net zero emissions by: 2025, 2050, 2100, 2150

- What is holding us back from decarbonizing the global energy system?
Lack of appropriate technology, cost to transition would crash the global economy, political leadership

- The atmosphere plays central role in weather. The ocean plays a central role in climate. True of False

- How much of the known fossil carbon energy reserves in the form of oil, gas and coal must remain in the ground if we are to avoid crossing the 2C warming threshold? Less than 10%, About 25%, About 75%, Greater than 95%

- Studies have shown that Solar PV and Wind could meet our energy needs by 2040. True or False

- What is the target date Cornell has set to become carbon neutral? 2022, 2035, 2050, 2100

- How long can oil spills continue to have a detrimental impact on marine ecosystems? On the order of several months, several years, several decades

- What is the main contributor of mercury to the global ocean?
Factories that discharge water into the coastal ocean, runoff from roads, unregulated coal power generation of electricity, leaching from plastic pollution

- What is the benefit of high biodiversity?
More stable ecosystem, more productive ecosystem, great level of ecosystem services provided to humans, all of the above, none of the above

- About how many species currently live on our planet?
About 1 million, 9 million, 38 billion, 90 billion, 160 billion

- About how many species face extinction according to Intergovermental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)?
1 million, 10 million, 1 billion, 10 billion

- More than half of the world's marine species may stand on the brink of extinction by 2100 according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission. True or False

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2) Sustainability and Climate Literacy assessment

Sample question:
To the best of your knowledge, which do you think is the largest contributor to Cornell’s greenhouse gas emissions? (choose one)
o Heating, cooling, and powering campus buildings
o Sending waste to landfills
o Fertilizer use
o Food in dining halls and other events
o Transportation

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3) Natural Resources assessments

Additional surveys were conducted between 2015-2019 to assess sustainability and climate change literacy of Cornell undergrads. The assessments were developed and administered by a Cornell Professor of Environmental and Indigenous Studies along with students from his NTRES/AIS/AMST 3330 and NTRES 6330 course "Ways of Knowing: Indigenous and Place-Based Ecological Knowledge." Here are a sample of the questions included in these assessments:

Assessing climate change knowledge
- What anthropogenic activity do you think is the leading cause of climate change? Fossil fuel burning, animal agriculture & byproducts, industrialization, transportation emissions, other
- Briefly, please list some impacts of climate change that you know of (open-ended question)
- Humans are a contributing cause of climate change (strongly agree to strongly disagree)
- List ways Cornell can reduce its impact on the environment (open-ended question)
- Climate change should be mitigated by institutions like Cornell University (strongly agree to strongly disagree)
- Communities across the world are impacted equally by climate change (strongly agree to strongly disagree)
- Greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere negatively affect our planet (strongly agree to strongly disagree)
- Climate change impacts you personally (strongly agree to strongly disagree)
- Climate change is a fallacy (strongly agree to strongly disagree)
- What actions are you taking towards the mitigation of climate change? (Transportation, purchasing, chemical uses, water use, energy use, food, recycle, compost, none at all, other)

Assessing waste stream knowledge:
- How do you know what to do with disposable forks and spoons?
- What do you do with an empty coffee cup?
- What do you do with half a sandwich you don't want?
- How did you learn what to do with your waste? Parents? Schools? Society?


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

1) Oceanography Class assessment
Developed and implemented over the past several years by Oceanography professor, attached questions were from Fall 2019

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2) Sustainability and Climate Literacy assessment
This assessment was developed by the Campus Sustainability Office staff, Communications Department faculty, and the Director of Human Resource Analytics. The assessment was designed as a sustainability literacy and behavioral survey assessment for incoming students that was administered in 2016. A follow up survey was sent in 2019 to assess changes in knowledge over time.

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3) Natural Resources assessments
Additional surveys were conducted between 2015-2019 to assess sustainability and climate change literacy of Cornell undergrads. The assessments were developed and administered by a Cornell Professor of Environmental and Indigenous Studies along with students from his NTRES/AIS/AMST 3330 and NTRES 6330 course "Ways of Knowing: Indigenous and Place-Based Ecological Knowledge." Surveys were sent out broadly to the Cornell community, and respondents may not be representative of the predominant student body.


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

1) Oceanography Class assessment
Assessment was administered to over 1000 undergraduate students during class

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2) Sustainability and Climate Literacy assessment
The survey questions for first-year and transfer students were distributed digitally through their residence hall staff during the first month on campus. Matched pairs were targeted as outgoing seniors for comparative analysis.

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3) Natural Resources assessments
Surveys from the NTRES/AIS/AMST 3330 and NTRES 6330 course were sent broadly to the Cornell community through listservs, social networks, etc. Over 700 responses were collected, although respondents may not be representative of the predominant student body.


A brief summary of results from the literacy assessment(s), including a description of any measurable changes over time:

1) Oceanography Class assessment (standalone assessment)
Assessment determined that most students accurately responded to core sustainability and climate change literacy questions

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2) Sustainability and Climate Literacy assessment (longitudinal assessment)
Initial results from 2016 provided insights on incoming student knowledge and behaviors. Results from the longitudinal study will be available later this semester (spring 2020)

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3) Natural Resources assessments (standalone surveys)
- Students overwhelmingly understand that greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere negatively affect our planet
- Students demonstrate knowledge that climate change impacts include melting ice caps, rising sea levels, and extreme temperature and weather patterns.
- Students demonstrate knowledge of ways Cornell can reduce its impact on the environment (e.g. switching to renewable energy, turning off unused lights, banning sale of plastic water bottles).
- Students demonstrate cognitive dissonance between understand causes of climate change and changing behaviors to reduce their climate change impacts
- In CALS (one of Cornell's colleges), students are generally well-informed when it comes to the impacts, causes, and possible solutions of climate change. Conversely, other Cornell colleges showed more variability in demonstrated knowledge.


The website URL where information about the programs or initiatives is available:
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Additional documentation to support the submission:

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