January 29, 2013

Cornell University Will Use Survey to Improve Conservation on Campus

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A recent report revealing that 96 percent of Cornellians surveyed support conservation practices also found that peer pressure is a key factor that influences their involvement.

The report used survey data from Spring 2012 to measure attitudes toward energy conservation in the workplace.  It questioned participants about their attitudes toward conservation, their perceived ability to control their energy use and their beliefs about others’ attitudes toward conservation.

According to Prof. Katherine McComas, communications, the data collected showed that respondents’ perceptions of others’ opinions about conservation affected their decisions about energy use.

“Peer pressure plays a huge role [in conservation],” McComas said. “Although support is almost 100 percent, our respondents believed that only 50 percent of their neighbors are concerned. But if they think that more people are concerned, they reportedly will do more themselves.”

McComas also noted the importance of recognizing one’s personal role in conservation efforts.

“In order to create a workplace culture change, it will be necessary to show people their own control over their energy usage,” McComas said.

Though addressing a well-known issue, the survey sets itself apart from other studies.

“The study is unique because it is one of a handful in the past few years to deal with conservation in the workplace,” said Mary Beth Deline, a Ph.D. candidate in communications, who co-authored the study. “But we have to understand what people are actually thinking before we can work with them to conserve energy.”

The survey ­­–– which was completed by nearly 3,000 faculty, staff and graduate students from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management and the College of Engineering ­–– also found differences in respondents’ attitudes based on their college affiliation. For instance, Johnson School students were less familiar with ways in which they can engage in energy conservation behaviors.

“We are still trying to figure out whether those differences are meaningful,” McComas said.

These differences may be important in Cornell’s approach to sustainability in the future.

“Using this report, we know that we need to design conservation campaigns that reflects each college’s culture,” said Graham Dixon, a Ph.D. candidate in communications and a co-author of the study.

The study will affect the way Cornell approaches energy conservation, starting with the College of Engineering, which will implement a new program allowing it to measure its energy use in real time, according to Erin Moore, the energy outreach coordinator of the University’s facilities services.

“We are creating engagement and  education strategies based on the community and personal interactions within each college,” Moore said. “As we move this program to different colleges, we will structure it based on the community setting and attitudes to engage the majority of the campus. The study helped us realize the need for engagement on a college-specific level in order to have a University-wide impact.”

According to Moore, continued conservation education within the community is important for effective change..

“One thing that we learned from the survey is that our engagement should include consistent communication,” Moore said. “Regardless of whether you work in the CALS or the College of Engineering, everyone should know that their actions really do make a difference.”

Original Author: Carolyn Krupski