Sustainable Literacy at uOttawa

planet art from Vancouver, uottawa, office of campus sutainability, literacy

The results are in for the 2014 uOttawa Sustainable Literacy Survey and the results are... well I don't know. They aren't good but they definitely aren't bad either.

Last year, students from a first year Environmental Studies program participated in the distribution of a sustainable literacy test on campus. Students approached campus community members, including professors, students, and external community members, and asked them to fill in a simple 11 question test. The questions were multiple choice and all the tests were conducted in person. The results.... on average a score of 54% was achieved.

So just in case you don't know, a sustainability literacy test is essentially a tool that helps measure understanding of sustainability concepts. The hope is that with a tool like this you can help increase knowledge about sustainability, and by extension promote more sustainable practices. Furthermore, organizations can use this tool to measure the impacts of messaging campaigns.

The test, although quite brief, asked questions related to the three pillars of sustainability, social, economic, and environmental. The questions were designed to be a bit tricky but they did not require any special knowledge about sustainability. Essentially, you could ace this test with some good ol' common sense.

The idea behind this kind of literacy testing isn't new. Groups like The Natural Step and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education have been working on sustainability literacy for quite some time. Many groups are starting to partner up to discuss a common test that could be administered across large populations. The hope is that the results of a large scale study would tell us if we are doing a good enough job as a society when it comes to teaching people about the complex idea of sustainability.

The study conducted by our office yielded some pretty interested results. Of note, external community members had an average score between 19% and 26% lower than professors, undergraduate students, and support staff. This implies that there is some degree of sustainability knowledge that resides in the uOttawa community. Surprisingly, there was no real differences between age groups. Older and younger respondents seemed to fair just as well.

I guess you are pretty interested now in knowing what questions really stumped people and which ones didn't. I won't spoil it for you by giving the answers, but here is the list of questions in order of most correctly answered to least correctly answered.

  • Ozone forms a protective layer in the earth's upper atmosphere. What do you think ozone protect us from? (70% - Potential strong word in the correct response option may be a hint.)
  • What is the most commonly recognized definition of sustainable development? (63%)
  • Which of the following is an example of sustainable forest management? (62%)
  • What is the most significant driver in the loss of species and ecosystems around the world? (58%)
  • What is the name of the primary federal agency that oversees environmental regulation? (56%)
  • Which of the following do you believe is the primary reason why gasoline prices have risen over the last several decades in Canada? (54%)
  • Why do many economists argue that electricity prices in North America are too low? (46%)
  • Which of the following is considered a leading cause of the depletion of fish stocks in the Atlantic Ocean? (44%)
  • What would you think is the most common cause of pollution of streams and rivers? (33%)
  • Which of the following has been identified as a potential effect of global climate change? (32%) 
  • Which country do you believe produces the most waste per capita? (8%)

So, how do you think you would have done? If you are interested in taking the sustainability literacy test in the future, send me a message and I will send it off your way. In the future, we are hoping to create a much bigger test (maybe 20 to 25 questions). We are also hoping that some of these results will give us a good idea of where we need to work on our messaging.

A huge thank you to the many many students who distributed the tests. And of course a hug thank you to Wesley Chu who conducted all the statistical analysis of our results!!

~ jON - campus sustainability manager