Survey Measures Wellesley Community’s Attitudes about Sustainability

Lake Waban in spring.
February 8, 2018

Wellesley students, faculty, and staff are aware of the importance of sustainability and largely agree that there’s a connection between their well-being and the natural world.

These were two of the conclusions drawn from a survey of more than 1,000 students, faculty, and staff conducted by the College’s Sustainability Committee and the Paulson Ecology of Place Initiative. Faculty participants came from 33 departments and programs across the College, and staff represented 44 administrative and academic units.

The survey is one pillar of the College’s Sustainability Year, said Yui Suzuki, associate professor of biological sciences and chair of the Sustainability Committee. “Overall, our goal for the Sustainability Year is to get everyone to think about why sustainability matters to them and how sustainability should figure into the College’s identity and mission,” he said.

The survey measured the significance to the three groups of nine categories, including energy, curriculum development, waste, and social justice.

Some key findings:

  • A majority of respondents said waste reduction was a very important concern, including food and waste disposal practices in the College dining facilities.
  • A majority of students, faculty and staff rated water management as important or very important.
  • A large majority also agreed or strongly agreed that they feel like the natural world is a community to which they belonged.
  • A majority of respondents said they felt as if their personal welfare depended on the welfare of the natural world.

Suzuki said the survey acts as “a starting point for our collective thinking.” In March, the Sustainability Committee, the Albright fellows, and the Paulson Initiative will organize a community forum to develop guiding principles in an effort to make sure voices from across the College will be heard.

The Paulson Initiative will also consider a separate set of related findings from the survey to reinforce the connection between sustainability and the initiative, said Suzanne Langridge, its director.

“The goal for the Paulson Initiative survey ties into the sustainability plan and focus at the College in several ways,” said Langridge. “We are developing key sustainability principles with the Wellesley College community and determining how these principles fit into the mission and identity of the College.”

The findings, she added, “provide a window into the current understanding of the community’s relationship to the natural environment, which is tied to all resource use, from recycling to energy to food to transportation, all of which are dependent on the natural environment.” 

One aim of the questions was to “understand how the college community uses and interacts with the campus landscape so that we can provide opportunities to amplify use” of it, said Langridge.

Survey participants were asked to identify their favorite outdoor spaces on campus and their reasons for choosing them. The majority of respondents use the campus for walking, running or sitting. The word “peace” was used 56 times and “calm” appeared 34 times. 

A current listing of all upcoming environmental sustainability events can be found on the sustainability website. To receive the latest news on campus sustainability stories, interviews, contests and internship opportunities, please fill out the Sustainability Newsletter subscriber form

For more informaton, read the full Sustainability and Paulson survey results. Results for both reports were compiled and analyzed by Pamela Taylor, assistant provost of Institutional Planning and Assessment and director of Institutional Research, and Tina Zhang ’19, economics.