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  • 1. European Journal of Social SciencesISSN 1450-2267 Vol.29 No.2 (2012), pp. 194-208© EuroJournals Publishing, Inc. 2012http://www.europeanjournalofsocialsciences.com Environmental Sustainability: Exploring the Intersections ofTransformational Experiences and Action among Young People Anthony Kola-Olusanya Dept of Geography and Resource Studies, Osun State University, Nigeria Abstract The great challenge of our time is to build and nurture sustainable communities, that is, communities designed so that ways of life, businesses, economies, physical structures and technologies do not interfere with nature’s inherent ability to maintain and preserve life. According to UNESCO (2004) a sustainable society should incorporate learning as an intrinsic and continuous part of the social process of environmental protection and sustainability. The underlying assumption is that if people are aware of the need for and the ways of protecting the environment they will act to preserve it. This realization has set the tone for the perception of learning as a veritable and potent tool towards the attainment of sustainability and environmental protection. In this regard, environmental learning and sustainability initiatives focused on knowledge, skill building, values, attitudes, motivation and active learning or participation, should involve learners in interrelated ways of understanding. Such learning is essential to help young-adults build their “personal and social capacity” (Scott & Gough, 2004, p. 3) to grapple with the challenges and benefits of sustainability in their own lives and work. This paper is therefore an exploration into how young adults’ environmental experiential experiences intersect with their pro- environmental actions. Keywords: Environmental sustainability, pro-environmental, sustainability, transformational experienceIntroductionIn its preamble to the Decade of Education Sustainable Development, UNESCO (2002) stated that we must learn constantly, about ourselves, our potential, our limitations, our relationships, our society, our environment, our world. Education for sustainable development is a life-wide and lifelong endeavour, which challenges individuals, institutions and societies to view tomorrow as a day that belongs to all of us, or it will not belong to anyone. (n.p.) This realization has set the tone for the perception of learning as a veritable and potent tooltowards the attainment of sustainability and environmental protection. The term sustainability refers tothe systemic continuity of the economic, social and environmental aspects of human society. It is apositive concept that relates to achieving well-being for people and ecosystems as well as reducingstress or negative impacts on them. According to Fien and Rawling (1996) “sustainability implies the use of resources in a mannerwhich does not jeopardize the environment and the well-being of humans living on other continents,and which does not destroy the capacity of future generations to satisfy their needs adequately” (p. 47).By raising young peoples’ awareness and sensitivity to environmental and developmental issues,
  • 2. European Journal of Social Sciences - Volume.29, Number.2 (2012)environmental sustainability indicates the possibility of fundamental change in our collective view ofthe purposes and nature of learning, a change that could be critical to the quality of life for futuregenerations (Sterling, 2006). It has also become a strong force in shaping thought in the area of globalcitizenship particularly in the development of global strategies for environmental action to promotesustainability (Bonnett, 2002; McNaughton, 2004). In this context, attaining environmental sustainability is more of an approach than a discipline.It has become an integrating concept, a way of thinking about how humans fit within the biological andphysical world (Falk, 2005; Lieberman & Hoody, 1998). Issues related to knowledge andunderstanding of environmental processes (environment and sustainability, in particular) is not easilyconfined into the rigid, disciplinary-focused curriculum of traditional schooling and hours (Falk, 2005).Hence, the emphasis of environmental sustainability learning is on experiential learning rather thanteaching, instruction, training or other input processes. Accordingly, the experience of learningpresented in this paper is inclusive and draws on all learning experiences between birth and death. As noted by World Bank (1998) promoting sustainable practices among young adults, whocomprise about 30% of the world’s population, and educating them about the impact of theirconsumption on the environment, sustainable communities could be achieved. While this assumptionmight seem to be true, studies have shown that pro-environmental attitude, environmental knowledgeand awareness, played little or no role in pro-environmental behaviour (cf. Chawla, 1998; Hines,Hungerford, & Tomera, 1986-87; Kollmus & Agyeman, 2002). Since “more education does notnecessarily mean increased pro-environmental behaviour” (Kollmus & Agyeman, 2002, p. 257),emphasis should therefore shift towards “learning for change” (Sterling, 2003, p. 3). In this regard,environmental learning and sustainability initiatives focused on knowledge, skill building, values,attitudes, motivation and active learning or participation, should involve learners in interrelated waysof understanding. Such learning is essential to help young-adults build their “personal and socialcapacity” (Scott & Gough, 2004, p. 3) to grapple with the challenges and benefits of sustainability intheir own lives and work. Specifically, environmental knowledge and learning should lead to a broaderadoption of sustainable practices and a broader interest in environmental issues. To this point, much attention has been paid to exploring the nature, process and sources ofyoung adults’ environmental sustainability knowledge and information. Awareness of theirsurroundings, needs, values and visions of their future lives directly affect the young adults’ ability tolocate and assess solutions to current environmental problems. Learning and knowing about currentenvironmental problems, their causes and the barriers to their resolution will, I argue, motivate youngadults to consciously look for and choose suitable actions and behaviours in their everyday life, actionsand behaviours that will lead to a balance between development and the environment and between theircurrent needs and those of future generations (Dolores, Otero, & Mira, 2003). As Trisler (1993) notes, “When studying about global issues, the goal needs to be more thanmerely acquiring scientific knowledge. A relationship must be made between the individual action andresponsibility to the global issue”. Trisler adds that “young adults must be knowledgeable aboutproblem identification, interrelationships and alternatives before they can address global environmentalissues” (Trisler, 1993, n. p.). Monroe and Kaplan (1988) identify the important elements required fortransforming learning and knowledge into action. Among them are: knowledge of environmental andsustainability issues, a sense of responsibility and commitment, knowledge of action strategies thathelp resolve issues, locus of control and empowerment. Emmons (1997, p. 35) defines environmental action as “a deliberate strategy that involvesdecisions, planning, implementation and reflection by an individual or a group. The action is alsointended to achieve a specific positive environmental outcome, either small or large” (Schusler &Krasny, undated). Through environmental learning young people are able to develop an understandingof environmental concepts and develop the abilities, skill and attitudes that are critical to theirparticipation in environmental action - environmental action which occurs at the intersection ofecological, economic, social and political systems (Battistoni, 2002; Dryzek, 1997). This learning also 195
  • 3. European Journal of Social Sciences - Volume.29, Number.2 (2012)increases young adults’ ability to make choices rather than accept the prescriptions of others, and toexert influence in public issues (see for example, Fien, 1993; Fischer, 2000; Freire, 1973; Newmann,1975) particularly those relating to environmental problems. In this paper, I explore how young adults’environmental knowledge intersects with their pro-environmental actions. As other researchers have noted knowledge is an important precursor to one’s willingness totake action (cf: Jasanoff, 2002; Kaplan & Peterson, 1993). The underlying assumption is that if peopleare aware of the need for and the ways of protecting the environment they will act to preserve it (Tikka,Kuitunen, & Tynys, 2000). Studies linking knowledge with willingness to take environmental action,show that the level of information young people have corresponds to the environmental actions theytake. (see Gigliotti, 1994). The importance of knowledge and the impact of lack of knowledge in thedecision-making process have been demonstrated in numerous studies (see, for instance, Sharifah,Paim, & Yahaya, 2005). Similarly, several studies have concluded that information and knowledgeabout recycling are both significant predictors of recycling behaviour (Corral-Verdugo, 1996).Research MethodologyThis study provides an understanding into the nature and scope of young-adults’ activities in relation tosustainability and environmental protection and their engagement in them. The central question thatshaped this research is: How do young adults’ learning and experiences influence their decision to livesustainably? More specifically, this research seeks to answer the following questions: • What are young peoples’ views about environmental issues like climate change? • What are the sources for learning about environment and sustainability issues? • How do their learning encounters and engagements in turn affect the young adults’ actions toward environmental protection and decision making? This research pursues a transformative response to sustainability. To answer the key researchquestions, data were obtained using a qualitative phenomenographic research approach and collectedthrough 18 face-to-face interviews with research participants. This present study examines the lived experience of young-adults from a phenomenologicalpoint of view with regards to environment and sustainability issues. In this study, I focused on thenarratives of the research participants, this work has avoided appropriating their voices,misrepresenting them or imposing theories on what they said and did. As noted by Dei, Butler,Charania, Kola-Olusanya, Thomas-Long, Opini and Wagner (2010), qualitative research methodologyrelies on the words of participants to reveal the subjective tensions, struggles, contradictions andambiguities regarding the issues at hand. The importance of “voice” in qualitative research cannot be overemphasized. Voices conveypersonal feelings, thoughts, desires and politics. Voices allow readers to bring their own interpretationsto the data (Dei, 2010). By showcasing the actual voices of participants, the discussion moves beyondan abstract and theoretical observation of phenomena. This study is based on individual interviewswith each of the 18 young adults who were enrolled in three Canadian universities at the time of thisstudy. In the interviews, I explored how research participants’ life experiences have played out in theircommitment towards pro-environmental actions. I also explored their context of these transformationalexperiences. However, the focus in this study is not an examination of their level of awareness orbehaviour. Its aim is to enhance the descriptive rather that evaluative elements of the lived experiences. As Denzin and Lincoln (2000) state, professional etiquette informing research with humansubjects asserts that no one deserves to be harmed or embarrassed as a result of research practices.Hence the protection of participants’ anonymity is viewed as a central and guiding principle in ethicalresearch practice to safeguard against unwanted exposure and the disclosure of private knowledge.Pseudonyms were assigned to protect the research participants’ identities and ensure their anonymity,as well as all recognizable information mentioned in the interviews. 196
  • 4. European Journal of Social Sciences - Volume.29, Number.2 (2012) The interview questions were designed to elicit information based on Patton’s (2002) fiveprimary question categories: 1. Experience/behaviour (what a person does or has done); 2. Opinion/value questions (aimed at understanding the subjects cognitive and interpretive processes); 3. Feelings (emotional responses to experiences and thoughts); 4. Knowledge (factual information); and 5. Sensory experience (what is seen, heard, touched, tasted and/or smelled). The range of the questions covered sources of knowledge, learning influences, experiences, andactivities related to environmental sustainability and consumerism or consumer culture. This researchfollows a qualitative research design to address the research questions. Through semi-structuredinterviews I engaged the participants in conversation to understand how their actions and thoughts havebeen shaped by the knowledge of environmental sustainability issues. As Clarke (2002) observes, “one of the key problems with qualitative research is organizing thedata in such a way that they facilitate systemic analysis” (p.178). Recognizing this problem, I followedGlesne’s (1999) analysis process, which involves organizing what you have seen, heard and read sothat you can make sense of what you have learned. Working with the data, I describe, createexplanations, pose hypotheses, develop theories and link your story to other stories. To do so,categorized and organized these nodes into a hierarchical system and finally into a common structure,or an overarching framework “by which to understand and later speak about the data as a whole”(Kahn, 1999, p.86). According to Ely, Anzul et al (1991) making categories means reading, thinking,trying out tentative categories, changing them when others do a better job, checking them until the verylast piece of meaningful information is categorized and, even at the point, being open to revising thecategories (Tsouluhas, 2005).Results and DiscussionI begin with a discussion on how young adults’ environmental learning experiences have contributed tothe development of empathy and sensitivity for the environment. I then explore the links between theyoung adults learning and environmental actions, as well as the locations and processes of theiractions.Working towards Environmental Protection and QualityEnvironmental quality can be defined as the balance of nature and human-made objects that are createdfor the benefit of the sustenance of human-beings and nature (Richert, 2001). In simpler terms,environmental quality is aimed at protecting public health and the environment by controlling presentand future sources of air, water and land pollution. Environmental quality has both direct and indirectconsequences for human health and quality of life. It is also used as a measure of the absence ofpollution (Maradan, 2005). In general, environmental quality is a narrow term for environmentalprotection in its broadest sense. When asked to explain what environmental protection means to them, the young adults in thisresearch study provided a variety of responses. The range of definitions they presented reflects themultiple, varied and differential understandings that shape definitions of environmental protection andits meanings. Regardless of the varied nature of their definitions, the use of constructs, such assustainable, conserving, ecological footprints, regeneration and preserving resources during the courseof the interviews shows that the participants were clear in their understanding of environmentalprotection. The young adults spoke with passion about what environmental protection is and why itmatters. The use of common environmental terms helped them to articulate their definitions. For 197
  • 5. European Journal of Social Sciences - Volume.29, Number.2 (2012)example Mia (an eighteen year old female, undergraduate university student) defined environmentalprotection as follows: I’d say that environmental protection means trying to save the resources that we have now so we can live more sustainably, and also trying to lessen the impact that humans have on the earth. [File YA02: text Units 212 - 221] Brooklyn (a 22year old female, 4th year undergraduate university student) responded asfollows: I think environmental protection to me means conserving trees and wildlife and animals, but also conserving what we use. I think we need to reduce the effect we have on the environment, so I guess, our ecological footprint; conserving energy, turning off the lights, living our lives in such a way that we’re not having a huge impact on this earth. We only have one planet that we can live on; that we know of right now. [File YA05: Text Units 250 - 262] Mia and Brooklyn view environmental protection as the preservation and conservation of thenatural resources that sustains humans continued existence on earth. Both young women believe thathumanity should control the activities that degrade, or are capable of degrading, the naturalenvironment. On other hand, Maddox (a 20 year old male, fourth year undergraduate universitystudent) states that environmental protection equals sustainability, because the environment to me regenerates itself; so being able to sustain the environment is what environmental protection is… it will allow the environment to sort of do its own thing naturally. [File YA14: Text Units 179 - 188] Maddox’s comment that the environment regenerates itself indicates his belief that the naturalenvironment is “self-perpetuating.” According to Maddox humans should take a step back to allow thenatural environment to evolve naturally. For Jared, environmental protection means providing balanced and continuous outcomes for humanity and for the environment....while we can meet our needs. It means preserving your resources for a very long time; so if I don’t protect my resources I will lose all my fun or my life very soon. I will die soon. [File YA15: Text Units 227 - 238] Jared contends that it is essential to preserve the natural resources and stop humanity’s un-abating intervention in the natural environment, because the consequences of its depletion aredangerous. Both Maddox and Jared use the term “sustainability” or its synonyms (for example:preserving, sustain, naturally, continuous outcome) to describe their understandings and the importanceof the protection of natural resources and natural resource management to humanity’s existence onearth. Chloe (an 18 year old female, undergraduate university student) describes environmentalprotection as just something that everybody needs to be involved with, and it’s primarily the only thing that we have. A lot of people say that you can’t really control nature, but it’s the one aspect of nature that we can control and that’s our individual ability to do what we can to protect the state of the environment and keep it at it’s healthiest, and be able to say “Well while I lived on this planet I did make a difference” or I did do something, and it’s a way to enhance moral values through actual initiatives that you personally take; but it’s a feeling that you have the control to change your own actions and your own habits, to do something positive and it affects every single one of us. I think that’s how I would explain it... [File YA08: Text Units 216 - 238] Chloe’s definition points to the importance of working with nature so individuals can claim tohave played a part in protecting the environment. She suggests the need for a change in human’santhropocentric tendencies that view the environment and nature as something to be plundered orpillaged. Chloe’s definition also addresses the ethical question of the human relationship with natureand environment. 198
  • 6. European Journal of Social Sciences - Volume.29, Number.2 (2012) Chloe’s comments can be interpreted as embracing the principles of sustainable development orenvironmental sustainability in her call for an intergenerational commitment to the management ofearth’s natural resources. A related justification for environmental protection in her definition revealsthe need to keep the environment “healthy,” because our own health and well-being are dependent onthe healthy state of the environment and its resources. Following the research participants’ definitions and descriptions of environmental protection, Iasked them about their recent action(s) to improve environmental quality. Scarlet (a 23year old, female,5th year undergraduate university student), for example, illustrates her effort at attaining environmentalquality from her home. I recycle at home and I sort my waste always, the bottles and the cans into the same box...we tie up the newspapers and...put the leaves into a separate bag [because] it is organic; the other waste goes into a separate bag too. I recently got a minivan, but I don’t drive it to school...because I know [the impact of vehicle emissions on the] environment. [File YA04: Text Units 473 - 500] Instead of driving to school Scarlet prefers “to use the mass transit, because it is cheaper andsafer for the environment.” By using public transit, Scarlet believes she has less impact on theenvironment. Scarlet’s comments imply an understanding of environmental quality as synonymouswith attaining a sound level of environmental health, by removing waste from the environment in anenvironment-friendly manner or reducing pollution. Other young adults, such as Chloe explain that doing something that promotes environmentalquality brings good feelings and satisfaction, the result of being involved in pro-environmentalactivities that “pay off.” Commenting on a recent action she took to promote environmental qualityChloe states, I work at an art store and I recently got my art store to push a rule that we would recycle all our paper waste and everything, and that was like a month ago; and I went tree planting as part of my university outreach program in the past month or so.... Seeing the tree that you’ve planted is such a good feeling; so a lot of it has to do with just feeling good about the actions you’re taking and knowing that there is something you can do; it’s not hopeless. You can do something. [File YA08: Text Units 757 - 779] Having a sense of connection with the environment is clearly the motivation for engaging inactivities that directly support or improve the quality of the environment. Pushing for the recycling ofpaper waste and engaging in tree planting suggest that Chloe attributes great value to environmentalsystems. Being able to attach such value to environmental systems underscores her commitment andthe time she puts into engaging pro-environmental activities. Other young adults though conscious ofthe benefits of promoting environmental quality, relate experiences of feeling powerless and not beingable to do enough. Liam is one example: I think again as a poor student who can’t actually afford to buy a vehicle or a house.... I’m just renting so I don’t have control over my building, because there’s a huge energy loss through the buildings windows; so I have very little control over my environmental impact. At the same time…I recycle and I compost and do all the small things within my power…. as a consumer I look forward to the period when I can make an environmental choice.... when I can afford it I definitely would take that route and the same thing for energy efficient housing. You look at our building code … it’s pathetic. And I think as a purchaser of a new home, I know that buying an energy efficient home is not that more expensive if you do it up front. …. So it’s about when you can make the decisions and when you’re empowered; and as our generation becomes empowered with the financial ability to make those decision then we will be saying “No I don’t want the building code home, I want to own a zero emission home” ... I’m going to be reducing my [ecological] footprint. [File YA17: Text Units 766 - 800] 199
  • 7. European Journal of Social Sciences - Volume.29, Number.2 (2012) Liam illustrates the limits of what an average young adult can achieve in promotingenvironmental quality. Although young adults may be very conscious of the goodness linked to qualityenvironment, being a “poor student and a renter,” has large implications for what they can achieve in itbroadest sense of environmental quality. Although Liam engages in the most basic activities, including recycling, composting and otherbasic waste management efforts within his power, he has a feeling that he is not doing enough towardspromoting and attaining environmental quality because, according to him, “I have very little controlover my environmental impact.” Liam’s comments also point to the very strong link between incomeper-capita and environmental quality. Supporting evidence can be found in Bruneau and Echevarria’s(2003) study that environmental quality deteriorates with income at low to middle levels and improveswith income at middle to high levels.Locating Action in Environmental Protection and Quality: Where and How?Environmental action competence, according to Jensen (1993), includes skills at a general level,knowledge of and insight into environmental problems and possibilities of solving them,environmental commitment, vision about the future, and environmental action experiences. Tounderstand how young adults in this research study approach environmental sustainability, I soughttheir views regarding what they considered as essential action to environmental sustainability, thelocation of such an action and what it is about. The environmental practices discussed in this section include purchasing environmental-friendly goods, household practices like shorter showers, turning off the tap when you’re brushing yourteeth, biking to school and walking. In response to the question whether these practices are essential tosustainability, some of the participants argued that while they may be important they are not entirelyessential. They contend that to attain environmental sustainability, essential environmental practicesshould include dealing with the sources of pollution and reducing their impact on the environment.Layla (a fourth year female undergraduate university student) responds: Essential? I don’t think so; well it is important of everybody, for each individual to try to do those things to reduce their environmental impact in small ways; however, the biggest causes of environmental damage are bigger than that, and I think they are influenced by a lot of things that are bigger than us, such as the government and/or industrial practices; and even though making people feel that they can reduce their impact on the environment in small ways, their most important role is to influence those industries and governments that are damaging the environment in much greater ways than leaving the tap water running for two minutes more than they should have. [File YA06: Text Units 521 - 551] In agreement with Layla, Brooklyn (a fourth year female undergraduate university student)notes that such practices are just small steps, and humans must do more towards addressing theproblems of environmental sustainability. They’re baby steps to obtaining sustainability and to living in a sustainable manner, and they are such a small things to ask for. How can someone say, “No I’m not going to turn off the tap when I brush my teeth” if they are educated…? I think the mentality that most people currently have… is “Why should I?” It’s inconvenient and what am I, little old me, going to do if I don’t turn off the tap. I’m not changing the world in any way. But the fact is that if everyone did it we would conserve a lot of water. I think they’re baby steps but I think that they are just the tip of an iceberg. They is so much more that we need to be doing before we reverse the effects of environmental degradation, climate change, global warming. [File YA05: Text Units 578 - 599] Other young adults believe that taking part in such environmental practices that are consideredinconsequential by many is one of the many ways to galvanize human beings into action towards 200
  • 8. European Journal of Social Sciences - Volume.29, Number.2 (2012)attaining environmental sustainability. This group of young adults believe that if the whole worldengages in one small pro-environmental practice or activity, it will engender a feeling of responsibilityand concern in everyone’s minds; and this type of feeling will impact other areas of humanity’srelationship with the environment as well. Scarlett mentioned that such little steps will ultimately leadto change that could go a long way in positively impacting the environment. I believe every little step counts so whether that means you take a short shower...or ride a bicycle to school, [it ] definitely contributes to [environmental protection]; because if everybody has that same mentality then it will result in change. It will have an effect on the environment; so yes I think it’s important. Yeah, every little thing counts, right? [File YA04: Text Units 421 - 443] Dakota contends that millions of peoples must adopt such practices before they can lead tosignificant change; efforts on an individual basis would be meaningless. I think it would be essential if more people would take them on, which I think is part of the problem, cause you’re thinking what if I turn off the tap in the two minutes that I’m brushing my teeth that’s not going to make a difference; but if it’s something that happens, a concerted effort is made amongst millions and millions and millions of people, then obviously you will see a significant change; but if it’s happening on an individual basis as opposed to a collective one, then the differences are not very significant, but again that’s like with any other practice. You have to have enough people doing it for it to be worthwhile. [File YA09: Text Units 466 - 479] Taegan and Zoe note that beyond awareness, such practices can contribute to environmentalsustainability. They personally engage in such practices, because they believe it is better for theenvironment in the long term: Taegan: I do all of the things actually. I started taking three minute showers, I ride my bike everywhere… turn the tap off in between brushing teeth, etc. I think that it’s is important. If you’re looking at it from an incredibly environmental aspect, then you know people might scoff at it and say, “Oh, you’re only turning off the tap” and people might look down upon it. I’ve had people that are very environmentally conscious, you tell them about a little thing and they’ll say, “Oh that’s nothing.” But… you have to look at it in the grand scheme of things. If everyone takes two minute showers that’s a lot of water conserved, and… if a larger majority of people ride bikes, then that’s less carbon dioxide, less CO2. So I think it’s really important, not so much individually, but collectively. [File YA10: Text Units 630 - 648] Zoe: I don’t let the water run when I brush my teeth. I do take shorter showers. My sister picked up one of those reusable grocery bags, so we use that when ever we go out; and my dad asked us not to use the car unless we can’t get there by bus, and he’s pretty strict about that kind of stuff… and if I don’t compost, he’ll get on me to take the compost out.... I know for a fact that it’s so much better for the environment. [File YA07: Text Units 475 - 487] Scott contends that people should be interested in engaging in pro-environmental practicesbecause of the associated financial benefit of doing so. He suggests that pro-environmental practiceswill ultimately add up to savings on hydro and gas bills. In the long run, saving the environment alsomeans saving funds. By saving water and by turning off all the lights when you leave the room, you’re saving electricity; by turning your computer off at night, you’re saving electricity, you’re saving money on all your bills; by turning down the heat in the winter time, you’re saving on your heating bill; by turning down your air-conditioner in the summer, you’re saving on your electricity bill again. So in some ways the environment and economics are in the same direction. You want to save money, but at the same time you’re saving the environment, [be]cause we’re reducing our energy levels. So I 201
  • 9. European Journal of Social Sciences - Volume.29, Number.2 (2012) definitely think those small changes over the entire globe add up. So I do my part. I do all those things you mentioned [File YA17: Text Units 681 - 743] Scott’s views point to the need to move away from the unsustainable and needless wasteassociated with things many humans take for granted. In a similar manner, Mia notes the relationshipbetween these practices and environmental protection and sustainable development. I think they are essential towards sustainable development, because a lot of them are related to environmental issues, and if everyone did these things it would all add up and it would have a greater impact than if just one person did it. So I think they are, because if you use less water there’s more fresh water to use for drinking water, and other things. [File YA02: Text Units 655 - 684] Mia relates these practices to water conservation. According to her, efficient water use can go along way to protect freshwater sources from depletion, as well as, save many freshwater species fromextinction and thus preserve the valuable ecological services they provide. These ecological servicesinclude filtering and cleansing water supplies, mitigating floods and droughts and delivering nutrientsto the sea (Postel, 2002). Overall, the young adults’ responses highlight the need to encourage pro-environmentalpractices that can make a positive difference to the environment. They also point to the connectionamong positive environmental attitudes and behaviours and attaining global environmentalsustainability. Without a positive change in attitude and behaviour on the part of individuals andsociety, it will be difficult to attain environmental sustainability (Bazerman, Wade-Benzoni, &Benzoni, 1996). General awareness of the long term benefits of sustainable practices are required forpeople (particularly young adults), either at the individual or societal level, to change their attitudesand behaviours in relation to the environment (Bazerman et al., 1996; Tenbrunsel, Wade-Benzoni,Messick, & Bazerman, 1997). The young adults in this research study identified the following as someof the most important environmental/sustainable practices: The use of public transit for transportation,building energy efficient homes, composting organic waste, integrated waste management (reductionof waste, reuse and recycling), and selective cutting and organic farming. Integrated wastemanagement, that is, reduction of waste, reuse and recycling and renewable energy were considered themost important among these practices. The young adult participants recognized the core principles ofsolid waste management, the three Rs, that is, Reuse, Reduce and Recycle, as having the greatestimpact on waste reduction Cadence explains, Number one is reduction of waste, reduction of use, bringing your own water-bottles, packing your own lunch, reusing the plastic wrap that you wrap your sandwich in one day and using that same plastic wrap the next day. So recycling is great and wonderful...and... effective ... Recycling practices are good, but if you decrease your waste, you are directly contributing to…making the earth a fairly cleaner place. So I think it’s a reduction of waste period that needs to be adopted. [File YA12: Text Units 382 - 392]Zoe adds, Composting is good, because then you don’t waste, and you don’t create more garbage, while the [organic] fertilizer may be used for planting a garden in the backyard. [File YA07: Text Units 375 – 385] Cadence and Zoe suggest the ways in which proper management and disposal of waste at homecan help the environment. Recycling solid waste materials and composting organic and food wastehelp to reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills. When less waste is generated, theenvironment benefits, and the fertilizer from compositing can be used for planting gardens or lawn re-grassing, among other uses. In contrast, although Maddox agrees that recycling can be a productive exercise if followedthrough, he argues that many people, particularly young adults, are helpless when it comes torecycling. 202
  • 10. European Journal of Social Sciences - Volume.29, Number.2 (2012) In my hostel...garbage is garbage. We don’t do it [recycle] religiously...because we don’t understand what is recyclable and what’s not. Right, you look for the little triangle, and people don’t have time to look for that little triangle; so it’s like who cares, that’s the attitude; and at the end of the day, youth in general don’t really care.... So I recycle if it doesn’t take up too much of my time, and I think that’s the kind of mentality that youth have, because you don’t really see the impact.... All you do is hear about it, and you don’t see how it impacts you individually, right? You feel it’s everybody’s problem, so you don’t do anything about it. [File YA14: Text Units 318 - 339] Maddox’s views illustrate the generally held notion that environmental problems cannot besolved by individuals and committing to practices, such as recycling is a waste of time. Maddox alsosuggests, albeit indirectly that youth are not likely to participate in recycling, because it is timeconsuming. While this type of argument is plausible, it does not seem to represent the views of today’syoung adults (including those outside this study), who have taken leadership roles in addressing severalenvironmental issues (Brusdal & Langeby, 2001; Maggi, Beato, Fasanella, & Lombardo, 2001see forinstance; Nyberg & Sto, 2001). In a world obsessed with the consumption of products and lacking the capacity to dispose them,reuse and recycling help prevent these objects from reaching landfills, thereby creating less waste,providing usable items to people and organizations that need them, and recapturing valuable resources.Brooklyn regards using renewable and environmental-friendly materials in building construction as animportant sustainable practice: a sustainable or environmental-friendly building involves using materials that are renewable...when constructing buildings...and renewable materials don’t have much of an effect on the environment. [File YA05: Text Units 469 - 489] The implication of living in environment-friendly houses is that less waste is generated in itsconstruction and ultimate use. Layla argues that renewable sources of energy are the most importantpractices. For smaller communities, in rural areas...they have developed a lot of practices that are very sustainable, such as agro-forestry or previously in the mangrove forest they would fish shrimps and grow things on their trees, and that was an excellent use of their environment… and since they were a small community they wouldn’t over-fish or over- harvest or things like that. But in a bigger environment...like in a city where there are more people, it’s more densely populated and the most important sustainable practices would be [the use of] renewable sources of energy...wind energy or things like that. [File YA06: Text Units 417 - 435] Layla argues that rural areas, in the development and application of environmental practices,are more sustainable communities than cities. She suggests that there is a need for the use of alternativeenergy sources in big cities and towns.Translating Learning Experiences into ActionAccording to Bazerman et al (1996, p. 3), “environmental issues are affected by the actions ofindividuals, yet we know fairly little about...individual actions in environmental domains.” There are anumber of studies that report an individual or a society’s willingness to take action (WTA) in relationto environmental issues is predetermined by their learning experiences and understanding ofenvironmental issues (cf: Filho, 1999; Gigliotti, 1994). According to Filho (1999), there are many elements that may influence an individual’s decisionto take a particular action in relation to the environment, including the choice of products to buy, thetype of transport to use or even in deciding which type of electric bulb to buy for use at home. 203
  • 11. European Journal of Social Sciences - Volume.29, Number.2 (2012) In order to gain a deeper understanding of the young adults’ environmental actions I askedthem to elaborate on additional environmentally relevant action(s) they undertake. Taegan, forinstance, appreciates the importance of “living environmentally” and regards bicycles as the mostenergy-efficient form of travel. He always relies on his bicycle for transportation and rarely uses othermeans of transportation except when travelling long distances. He explains, I ride my bike everywhere. I’m not very dependent on fossil fuels or anything such as that. I take public transit if I have to travel somewhere. I think that the amount of times I’ve taken public transit this year is probably two to three. So I try and ride my bike almost everywhere.... I buy my clothes second hand, so...in terms of living environmentally, I’m concerned about sweatshop labour and stuff like that; so I choose not to buy my clothes first hand from places such as the Gap [clothing].... I also petitioned to save an environment, one environment. [The petition] was for deep sea trawling. The United Nations was I believe having a vote in November of 2002 as to whether to put a moratorium on it...but it’s incredibly destructive. Basically it destroys the entire ecosystem, the coral reefs and thing such as that. So I went to see David Suzuki speak on it.... “Fish for the Future” was the title of the presentation, and he talked about sustainable fishing and the depleted stocks and things such as that, and it also touched on trawling. So my friends and I organized a petition and collected about 150 people, before sending it to the Minister of the Environment.... I think it was successful… because I got a couple of people to go and look on the internet [for information] about deep sea trawling. [File YA10: Text Units 324 - 438] Taegan’s actions clearly demonstrate an understanding of certain pro-environmental actions asnecessary for the attainment of environmental sustainability. His comments also point to the correlationamong consumption, labour exploitation and sustainability. Taegan’s decision to buy and use second-hand clothing is partly based on his understanding that consumerism is an environmental problem andthat the production of goods is also linked to labour exploitation. Furthermore, Taegan demonstrates anunderstanding of the complex relationship between human consumption and the unsustainableharvesting of natural resources through his involvement in a petition to ban deep sea trawling. The need for sustainable use of water and conservation, as well as the need to reduce pollutionof water sources is demonstrated in Cadence’s environmentally-related action. For example [when I stay at a hotel] I ask if there is an option that I don’t get my sheets washed every night. That way we can save or conserve water and they don’t use as many detergents that will go into the lake; cause if I’m staying one or two nights I’m not that dirty, so I don’t necessarily need the sheets washed…. And sometimes there’s a note that you can leave, or sometimes there’s a little something that you can put on the door-handle, or sometimes you can just call and request that I don’t need my sheets changed, so it depends on the hotel. [File YA12: Text Units 192 - 204] Protecting the environment and not wanting to leave a large ecological footprint is extremelyimportant to Cadence and this is demonstrated in her action. Ecological Footprint is a resourcemanagement tool that measures how much land and water area a human population requires to producethe resources it consumes and to absorb its wastes under prevailing technology. It compares humanconsumption of natural resources with planet Earth’s ecological capacity to regenerate them. It is anestimate of the amount of biologically productive land and sea area needed to regenerate (if possible)the resources a human population consumes and to absorb and render harmless the correspondingwaste, given prevailing technology and current understanding. Ecological Footprints enable people totake personal and collective actions in support of a world where humanity lives within the means ofone planet. Opting to participate in a hotel’s eco-friendly practices speaks to her commitment toenvironmental sustainability. Most hotels have pledged to use non-toxic cleaners and meet measurablegoals for conserving water and energy, however, the choice to participate in the hotel’s eco-friendlypractices is the guest’s. 204
  • 12. European Journal of Social Sciences - Volume.29, Number.2 (2012) Maddox, on his part, uses public transportation and promotes car-pooling among his friends. A good example is that when we go out our friends, four of us or five of us, and three of us have cars, and sometimes they want to take all three cars or two cars, and I’m saying “No, let’s just take one car, because it’s just cheaper for us gas-wise and it’s better for the environment” …so those are the kinds of influences I have on my friends to be more efficient, and I think efficiency leads to better sustainability and for the environment; so doing things with less resources than otherwise required. So public transportation and basically car-pooling is something that I do a lot, and I just walk to the grocery store instead of taking the car most of the time. [File YA14: Text Units 472 - 493] Maddox illustrates how peer influence can be useful in promoting sustainable practices amongyoung people. The fact that he convinces his friends to practice car-pooling points to his commitmentto environmentally sustainable action. Even though his friends’ decision was partly for economicconsiderations, this action is strongly related to protecting the environment. Maddox’s environmentalaction also corresponds to the environmentally friendly practices of the Province of Ontario. TheProvince is currently contributing billions of dollars to improving its cities’ public transit systems, andhas also created car-pool lanes on a number of highways. Such efforts, beyond reducing trafficcongestion and greenhouse gas emissions, could encourage interest in alternative cost-effectivetransportation and facilitate sustainable and environmentally-friendly urban growth. Mia exudesconfidence regarding the success of the environmental initiative she was involved in. I was involved with a huge campaign to get rid of cleaners that had toxic products and chemicals in it.... And we were trying to gather support to go to the government and ask that legislation be passed to get rid of those types of cleaners.... So I did a lot of work with them and I think that was pretty big, because it was well taken there, so I’m sure it’s going to happen within a few years. [File YA02: Text Units 746-778] The campaign Mia was involved in is reminiscent of the petition Taegan worked on (discussedearlier). Mia’s knowledge of the impact of toxic substances on the environment correlates with herdesire to protect the environment and led her to become involved in an environmentally-relatedactivity, which may not be realized in the short-term. The environmentally related actions that theyoung adults in this study perform demonstrate the meaningful nature of learning, especially as itresonates with the everyday life-world of the learner. According to Blewitt’s (2006), resonance isessential for learning to become a constitutive element of a transformative process that leads to anenvironmentally sustainable future (Blewitt, 2006). In this context, the young adults’ ability totransform their environmental learning/knowledge into action underscores their capacity to “makeconnections in values and conduct that are real, genuine and desired even if not immediate or direct”(Blewitt, 2006, p. 10). According to the young adults in this study, the underlying factor in their actionsis their commitment to environment sustainability.ConclusionThe research participants’ narratives demonstrate that learning experiences plays a significant role inthe young adults’ environmental actions. Furthermore, such experiences to create a more meaningfullife depends on readiness to work with nature, to reverse, if not completely stop, the variousenvironmental problems currently threatening our existence on earth. From the young adults’narratives it is evident that they understand what it means to live sustainably. Beyond overt politicalcampaigns, the young adults understand that unless our everyday practices are changed, it will bedifficult to transform the dominant unsustainable ways of life. It is interesting to note that despite thelow levels of environmental knowledge that the participants reported having, they demonstrated acommitment towards environmental protection and sustainability. Engagement in environmentalactivities at home, such as waste disposal, recycling and water and energy conservation often regardedas inconsequential or outrightly taken for granted are important actions that can be linked to 205
  • 13. European Journal of Social Sciences - Volume.29, Number.2 (2012)environmental knowledge. The research participants’ narratives presented in this paper suggest thatindividual actions can bring about change in human behaviour towards achieving environmentalsustainability.AcknowledgmentsMany thanks to all the research participants for their time and patience throughout the period of datacollection.Note of ContributorAnthony Kola-Olusanya, PhD is presently a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Geography andResource Studies at the College of Management and Social Sciences, Osun State University, Nigeria.He received his PhD from the University of Toronto, specializing in Environmental Sustainability. Hisresearch interests include sustainable living, corporate social responsibility and sustainability,resources and environmental management, and indigenous environmental practices and management.Contact: anthony.olusanya@gmail.com.References[1] Battistoni, R. (2002). Civic engagement across the curriculum: A resource book for service- learning faculty in all disciplines. Campus Compact. Providence, RI: Brown University.[2] Bazerman, M. H., Wade-Benzoni, K. A., & Benzoni, F. (1996). A behavioral decision theory perspective to environmental decision making. In D. M. Messick & A.Tenbrunsel (Eds.), Ethical issues in managerial decision making. NY, NY: Russell Sage.[3] Blewitt, J. (2006). Sustainability and lifelong learning. In J. Blewitt & C. Cullingford (Eds.), The sustainability curriculum: The challenge of higher education (pp. 24-42). London, UK: Earthscan.[4] Bonnett, M. (2002). Education for sustainability as a frame of mind. Environmental Education Research, 8(1), 9-20.[5] Bruneau, J., & Echevarria, C. (2003). Environmental Quality is a Normal Good: A Discussion Paper. Saskatoon, Canada: Department of Economics, University of Saskatchewan.[6] Brusdal, R., & Langeby, A. (2001). Raving Hedonist or environmentally concerned? Youth in Norway. Retrieved January 12, 2007, from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0012/001242/124238e.pdf[7] Chawla, L. (1998). Significant life experiences revisited: a review of research on sources of pro-environmental sensitivity. Journal of Environmental Education, 31(1), 15-26.[8] Clarke, S. (2002). Learning from experience: psycho-social research methods in the social sciences. Qualitative Research, 2(2), 173-194.[9] Corral-Verdugo, V. (1996). A structural model of reuse and recycling in Mexico. Environment and Behaviour, 28, 664-696.[10] Dei, G. (Ed.). (2010). Learning to succeed: the challenges and possibilities of educational achievement for all: Pacific Press.[11] Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (2000). Handbook of qualitative research (2 ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc.[12] Dolores, M., Otero, L., & Mira, R. G. (2003). Action competence in environmental education. In R. G. Mira, J. M. S. Cameselle & J. R. Martinez (Eds.), Culture, Environmental Action and Sustainability (pp. 71-84). Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe & Huber Publishers.[13] Dryzek, J. S. (1997). The politics of the earth: Environmental discourses. Cambridge, UK: Oxford University Press. 206
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