Skip to main content Accessibility help

Cognitive and behavioural environmental concern among university students in a Canadian city: Implications for institutional interventions

  • Rozzet Jurdi-Hage (a1), H. Sam Hage (a1) and Henry P.H. Chow (a1)


Informed by Stern and colleagues’ value-belief-norm theory and their earlier empirical work, we examined levels and predictors of cognitive and behavioural environmental concern (EC) of university students in a Canadian postsecondary context. Data for this study were obtained through completion of self-administered questionnaires from a sample of 421 undergraduate students attending a public university in Saskatchewan, a province heavily focused on expanding resource extraction. The study used a descriptive, correlational, and cross-sectional methodology. Statistical analysis was performed in three parts: (a) univariate description of students’ cognitive and behavioural EC indicators; (b) bivariate associations to assess the nature and direction of the relationships between EC measures; and (c) multivariate analyses to test the causal structure of the theoretical model. Results showed no widespread acceptance of the ‘New Ecological Paradigm’. Students were slightly more prone to place responsibility for environmental protection at the door of government and industry than themselves. Respondents practised a range of environmentally supportive behaviours (ESB) with varying intensities. Hierarchical multiple regression analyses provided support for several of the theory’s propositions in predicting generalised and specific environmental beliefs and ESB. Findings highlighted the complex relationships between personal background, academic and cognitive variables and ESB. That formal instruction on the environment influenced cognitive and behavioural EC, both directly and indirectly, suggests it is essential universities have formal curricula that expose students to the types of environmental knowledge, awareness, and critical thinking skills to promote environmental literacy and address unsustainable lifestyles and attitudes. Institutional interventions, including universities’ role as ‘effective change agents’, are discussed.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author. Email:


Hide All
Abrahamse, W., & Steg, L. (2011). Factors related to household energy use and intention to reduce it: The role of psychological and socio-demographic variables. Human Ecology Review, 18, 3040.
Adejoke, O. C., Mji, A., & Mukhola, M. S. (2014). Students’ and teachers’ awareness of and attitude towards environmental pollution: A multivariate analysis using biographical variables. Journal of Human Ecology, 45, 167175.
Allen, J. B., & Ferrand, J. L. (1999). Environmental locus of control, sympathy, and proenvironmental behavior: A test of Geller’s actively caring hypothesis. Environment and Behavior, 31, 338353.
Alp, E., Ertepinar, H., Tekkaya, C., & Yilmaz, A. (2008). A survey on Turkish elementary school students’ environmental friendly behaviours and associated variables. Environmental Education Research, 14, 129143.
Arbuthnott, K. D. (2009). Education for sustainable development beyond attitude change. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 10, 152163.
Arnocky, S., & Stroink, M. L. (2011). Variation in environmentalism among university students: Majoring in outdoor recreation, parks, and tourism predicts environmental concerns and behaviors. The Journal of Environmental Education, 42, 137151.
Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada [AUCC]. (2011). Trends in higher education (volume 1) – Enrolment. Retrieved from
Atkinson, M., McGrane, D., Berdahl, L., & White, S. (2011). Profile of party supporters in the 2011 Saskatchewan provincial election: A research brief. Retrieved from
Attari, S. Z., DeKay, M. L., Davidson, C. I., & De Bruin, W. B. (2010). Public perceptions of energy consumption and savings. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107, 1605416059.
Axelrod, L. J., & Lehman, D. R. (1993). Responding to environmental concerns: What factors guide individual action? Journal of Environmental Psychology, 13, 149159.
Bamberg, S. (2003). How does environmental concern influence specific environmentally related behaviors? A new answer to an old question. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 23, 2132.
Black, J. S., Stern, P. C., & Elworth, J. T. (1985). Personal and contextual influences on household energy adaptations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 70, 321.
Broom, C. (2017). Exploring the relations between childhood experiences in nature and young adults’ environmental attitudes and behaviours. Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 33, 3447.
Carter, A. V., Fraser, G. S., & Zalik, A. (2017). Environmental policy convergence in Canada’s fossil fuel provinces? Regulatory streamlining, impediments, and drift. Canadian Public Policy, 43, 6176.
Dietz, T., Stern, P. C., & Guagnano, G. A. (1998). Social structural and social psychological bases of environmental concern. Environment and Behavior, 30, 450471.
Dietz, T., Stern, P. C., & Rycroft, R. W. (1989). Definitions of conflict and the legitimation of resources: The case of environmental risk. Sociological Forum, 4, 4770.
Dunlap, R., & Jones, R. (2002). Environmental concern: Conceptual and measurement issues. In Dunlap, R., & Michelson, W. (Eds.), Handbook of environmental sociology (pp. 482524). London: Greenwood.
Dunlap, R. E., Van Liere, K. D., Mertig, A. G., & Jones, R. E. (2000). Measuring endorsement of the new ecological paradigm: A revised NEP scale. Journal of Social Issues, 56, 425442.
Dunlap, R. E., Xiao, C., & McCright, A. M. (2001). Politics and environment in America: Partisan and ideological cleavages in public support for environmentalism. Environmental Politics, 10, 2348.
Ebreo, A., Hershey, J., & Vining, J. (1999). Reducing solid waste: Linking recycling to environmentally responsible consumerism. Environment and Behavior, 31, 107135.
Environment Canada. (2014a). National inventory report 1990–2012: Greenhouse gas sources and sinks in Canada (Part III). Retrieved from
Environment Canada. (2014b). National inventory report 1990–2012: Greenhouse gas sources and sinks in Canada (Part I). Retrieved from
Erdoğan, N. (2009). Testing the new ecological paradigm scale: Turkish case. African Journal of Agricultural Research, 4, 10231031.
Erdogan, N. (2013). Environmental worldviews in higher education: A case study of Turkish college students. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 106, 10861095.
Ewert, A., & Baker, D. (2001). Standing for where you sit an exploratory analysis of the relationship between academic major and environment beliefs. Environment and Behavior, 33, 687707.
Fielding, K. S., & Head, B. W. (2012). Determinants of young Australians’ environmental actions: The role of responsibility attributions, locus of control, knowledge and attitudes. Environmental Education Research, 18, 171186.
Forgas, J. P., & Jolliffe, C. D. (1994). How conservative are Greenies? Environmental attitudes, conservatism, and traditional morality among university students. Australian Journal of Psychology, 46, 123130.
Gardner, G. T., & Stern, P. C. (1996). Environmental problems and human behavior. Allyn & Bacon.
Gardner, G. T., & Stern, P. C. (2008). The short list: The most effective actions US households can take to curb climate change. Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, 50, 1225.
Gärling, T., Fujii, S., Gärling, A., & Jakobsson, C. (2003). Moderating effects of social value orientation on determinants of proenvironmental behavior intention. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 23, 19.
Gregory, G. D., & Leo, M. D. (2003). Repeated behavior and environmental psychology: The role of personal involvement and habit formation in explaining water consumption. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 33, 12611296.
Guagnano, G. A., Stern, P. C., & Dietz, T. (1995). Influences on attitude-behavior relationships: A natural experiment with curbside recycling. Environment and Behavior, 27, 699718.
Harring, N., & Jagers, S. C. (2018). Why do people accept environmental policies? The prospects of higher education and changes in norms, beliefs and policy preferences. Environmental Education Research, 24, 791806.
Haski-Leventhal, D., Pournader, M., & McKinnon, A. (2017). The role of gender and age in business students’ values, CSR attitudes, and responsible management education: Learnings from the PRME International Survey. Journal of Business Ethics, 146, 219239.
Heyl, M., Moyano Díaz, E., & Cifuentes, L. (2013). Environmental attitudes and behaviors of college students: A case study conducted at a Chilean university. Revista Latinoamericana de Psicología, 45, 487500.
Hinds, J., & Sparks, P. (2008). Engaging with the natural environment: The role of affective connection and identity. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 28, 109120.
Hodgkinson, S. P., & Innes, J. M. (2001). The attitudinal influence of career orientation in 1st-year university students: Environmental attitudes as a function of degree choice. The Journal of Environmental Education, 32, 3740.
Hsu, S. J. (2004). The effects of an environmental education program on responsible environmental behavior and associated environmental literacy variables in Taiwanese college students. The Journal of Environmental Education, 35, 3748.
Huddart-Kennedy, E., Beckley, T. M., McFarlane, B. L., & Nadeau, S. (2009). Rural-urban differences in environmental concern in Canada. Rural Sociology, 74, 309329.
Huque, A. S., & Watton, N. (2010). Federalism and the implementation of environmental policy: Changing trends in Canada and the United States. Public Organization Review, 10, 7188.
Insightrix. (2016). SaskParty on an upswing in week two of the campaign; NDP support remains flat. Retrieved from
Izagirre-Olaizola, J., Fernández-Sainz, A., & Vicente-Molina, M. A. (2015). Internal determinants of recycling behaviour by university students: A cross-country comparative analysis. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 39(1), 2534.
Johnson, C. Y., Bowker, J. M., & Cordell, H. K. (2004). Ethnic variation in environmental belief and behavior: An examination of the new ecological paradigm in a social psychological context. Environment and Behavior, 36, 157186.
Kaiser, F. G., Hübner, G., & Bogner, F. X. (2005). Contrasting the theory of planned behavior with the value-belief-norm model in explaining conservation behavior. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 35, 21502170.
Kaiser, F. G., Oerke, B., & Bogner, F. X. (2007). Behavior-based environmental attitude: Development of an instrument for adolescents. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 27, 242251.
Kiatkawsin, K., & Han, H. (2017). Young travelers’ intention to behave pro-environmentally: Merging the value-belief-norm theory and the expectancy theory. Tourism Management, 59, 7688.
Kim, S., Jeong, S. H., & Hwang, Y. (2013). Predictors of pro-environmental behaviors of American and Korean students: The application of the theory of reasoned action and protection motivation theory. Science Communication, 35, 168188.
Kim, S., & Shin, W. (2017). Understanding American and Korean students’ support for pro-environmental tax policy: The application of the value–belief–norm theory of environmentalism. Environmental Communication, 11, 311331.
Kohlberg, L. (1973). The claim to moral adequacy of a highest stage of moral judgment. The Journal of Philosophy, 70, 630646.
Kohlberg, L. (1981). The philosophy of moral development: Moral stages and the idea of justice (Vol. 1). San Francisco, CA: Harper and Row.
Kollmuss, A., & Agyeman, J. (2002). Mind the gap: Why do people act environmentally and what are the barriers to pro-environmental behavior? Environmental Education Research, 8, 239260.
Konisky, D. M., Milyo, J., & Richardson, L. E. (2008). Environmental policy attitudes: Issues, geographical scale, and political trust. Social Science Quarterly, 89, 10661085.
Köse, S., Gencer, A. S., Gezer, K., Erol, G. H., & Bilen, K. (2011). Investigation of undergraduate students’ environmental attitudes. International Electronic Journal of Environmental Education, 1, 8596.
Kotchen, M. J., & Reiling, S. D. (2000). Environmental attitudes, motivations, and contingent valuation of nonuse values: A case study involving endangered species. Ecological Economics, 32, 93107.
Kuo, S. Y., & Jackson, N. L. (2014). Influence of an environmental studies course on attitudes of undergraduates at an engineering university. The Journal of Environmental Education, 45, 91104.
Lang, K. B. (2011). The relationship between academic major and environmentalism among college students: Is it mediated by the effects of gender, political ideology and financial security? The Journal of Environmental Education, 42, 203215.
Levine, D. S., & Strube, M. J. (2012). Environmental attitudes, knowledge, intentions and behaviors among college students. The Journal of Social Psychology, 152, 308326.
Lin, E., & Shi, Q. (2014). Exploring individual and school-related factors and environmental literacy: Comparing US and Canada using PISA 2006. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 12, 7397.
Liu, X., Vedlitz, A., & Shi, L. (2014). Examining the determinants of public environmental concern: Evidence from national public surveys. Environmental Science & Policy, 39, 7794.
Liu, X., Zou, Y., & Wu, J. (2018). Factors influencing public-sphere pro-environmental behavior among Mongolian college students: A test of value-belief-norm theory. Sustainability, 10, 13831384.
Mangas, V. J., Martinez, P., & Pedauyé, R. (1997). Analysis of environmental concepts and attitudes among biology degree students. The Journal of Environmental Education, 29, 2833.
Martin, W. C., & Bateman, C. R. (2014). Consumer religious commitment’s influence on ecocentric attitudes and behavior. Journal of Business Research, 67, 511.
McGrane, D., White, S., Berdahl, L., & Atkinson, M. (2013). Leadership, partisan loyalty, and issue salience: The 2011 provincial election in Saskatchewan. Canadian Political Science Review, 7, 112.
Meyer, A. (2016). Heterogeneity in the preferences and pro-environmental behavior of college students: The effects of years on campus, demographics, and external factors. Journal of Cleaner Production, 112, 34513463.
Milfont, T. L., & Duckitt, J. (2004). The structure of environmental attitudes: A first-and second-order confirmatory factor analysis. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 24, 289303.
Müderrisoglu, H., & Altanlar, A. (2011). Attitudes and behaviors of undergraduate students toward environmental issues. International Journal of Environmental Science & Technology, 8, 159168.
Mueller, D. J. (1986). Measuring social attitudes: A handbook for researchers and practitioners. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Nordlund, A. M., & Garvill, J. (2003). Effects of values, problem awareness, and personal norm on willingness to reduce personal car use. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 23, 339347.
Office of Resource Planning. (2011a). Examining the University of Regina student experience demographic and academic profile. Retrieved from
Office of Resource Planning. (2011b). University of Regina — Student counts as of AUCC National Fall Count Data. Retrieved from
Oreg, S., & Katz-Gerro, T. (2006). Predicting proenvironmental behavior cross-nationally: Values, the theory of planned behavior, and value-belief-norm theory. Environment and Behavior, 38, 462483.
Özden, M. (2008). Environmental awareness and attitudes of student teachers: An empirical research. International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education, 17, 4055.
Pe’er, S., Goldman, D., & Yavetz, B. (2007). Environmental literacy in teacher training: Attitudes, knowledge, and environmental behavior of beginning students. The Journal of Environmental Education, 39, 4559.
Pfeffer, M. J., & Stycos, J. M. (2002). Immigrant environmental behaviors in New York city. Social Science Quarterly, 83, 6481.
Pires, P., Junior, R., de Castro, R., Lemos, D. C. L., & Filgueiras, A. (2014). Ecocentrism and behavior: A bibliographic review on environmental values. Psicologia em Estudo, 19, 611620.
Poortinga, W., Steg, L., & Vlek, C. (2004). Values, environmental concern, and environmental behavior: A study into household energy use. Environment and Behavior, 36, 7093.
Prebble, P., Henry, D., Hidlebaugh, M., & Wardell, W. (2015). Building an environmentally sustainable future for Saskatchewan. Retrieved from
Rabe, B. G. (1999). Federalism and entrepreneurship: Explaining American and Canadian innovation in pollution prevention and regulatory integration. Policy Studies Journal, 27, 288306.
Raudsepp, M. (2001). Some socio-demographic and socio-psychological predictors of environmentalism. Trames, 5, 355367.
Rideout, B. E. (2014). The Liberal Arts and environmental awareness: Exploring endorsement of an environmental worldview in college students. International Journal of Environmental and Science Education, 9, 5976.
Riechard, D. E., & Peterson, S. J. (1998). Perception of environmental risk related to gender, community socioeconomic setting, age, and locus of control. The Journal of Environmental Education, 30, 1119.
Sahin, E. (2013). Predictors of Turkish elementary teacher candidates’ energy conservation behaviors: An approach on value-belief-norm theory. International Journal of Environmental and Science Education, 8, 269283.
Sánchez, M., López-Mosquera, N., & Lera-López, F. (2016). Improving pro-environmental behaviours in Spain. The role of attitudes and socio-demographic and political factors. Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, 18, 4766.
Saskatchewan Bureau of Statistics. (2013). Saskatchewan mobility & migration: 2011 National Household Survey. Retrieved from
Scherbaum, C. A., Popovich, P. M., & Finlinson, S. (2008). Exploring individual-level factors related to employee energy-conservation behaviors at work. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 38, 818835.
Schultz, P. W., & Zelezny, L. (1999). Values as predictors of environmental attitudes: Evidence for consistency across 14 countries. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 19, 255265.
Schultz, P. W., Zelezny, L., & Dalrymple, N. J. (2000). A multinational perspective on the relation between Judeo-Christian religious beliefs and attitudes of environmental concern. Environment and Behavior, 32, 576591.
Sherburn, M., & Devlin, A. S. (2004). Academic major, environmental concern, and arboretum use. The Journal of Environmental Education, 35, 2336.
Shetzer, L., Stackman, R. W., & Moore, L. F. (1991). Business-environment attitudes and the new environmental paradigm. The Journal of Environmental Education, 22, 1421.
Skogen, K. (1999). Another look at culture and nature: How culture patterns influence environmental orientation among Norwegian youth. Acta Sociologica, 42, 223239.
Smith-Sebasto, N. J. (1995). The effects of an environmental studies course on selected variables related to environmentally responsible behavior. The Journal of Environmental Education, 26, 3034.
Statistics Canada. (2013, January 23). Public postsecondary enrolments and graduates, 2010/2011. The Daily. Retrieved from
Steg, L., Dreijerink, L., & Abrahamse, W. (2005). Factors influencing the acceptability of energy policies: A test of VBN theory. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 25, 415425.
Stern, P. C. (1992). Psychological dimensions of global environmental change. Annual Review of Psychology, 43, 269302.
Stern, P. C. (2000). New environmental theories: Toward a coherent theory of environmentally significant behavior. Journal of Social Issues, 56, 407424.
Stern, P. C., & Dietz, T. (1994). The value basis of environmental concern. Journal of Social Issues, 50, 6584.
Stern, P. C., Dietz, T., Abel, T., Guagnano, G. A., & Kalof, L. (1999). A value-belief-norm theory of support for social movements: The case of environmentalism. Human Ecology Review, 6, 8197.
Stern, P. C., Dietz, T., & Black, J. S. (1985). Support for environmental protection: The role of moral norms. Population and Environment, 8, 204222.
Stern, P. C., Dietz, T., & Guagnano, G. A. (1995a). The new ecological paradigm in social-psychological context. Environment and Behavior, 27, 723743.
Stern, P. C., Dietz, T., & Kalof, L. (1993). Value orientations, gender, and environmental concern. Environment and Behavior, 25, 322348.
Stern, P. C., Kalof, L., Dietz, T., & Guagnano, G. A. (1995b). Values, beliefs, and proenvironmental action: Attitude formation toward emergent attitude objects. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 25, 16111636.
Stern, P. C., & Oskamp, S. (1987). Managing scarce environmental resources. In Stokols, D., &Altman, I. (Eds.), Handbook of environmental psychology (Vol. 2, pp. 10431098). New York: John Wiley.
Szerényi, Z., Zsóka, Á., & Széchy, A. (2011). Consumer behaviour and lifestyle patterns of Hungarian students with regard to environmental awareness. Society and Economy, 33, 89109.
Taskin, O. (2009). The environmental attitudes of Turkish senior high school students in the context of postmaterialism and the new environmental paradigm. International Journal of Science Education, 31, 481502.
Testa, F., Cosic, A., & Iraldo, F. (2016). Determining factors of curtailment and purchasing energy related behaviours. Journal of Cleaner Production, 112, 38103819.
Thapa, B. (1999). Environmentalism: The relation of environmental attitudes and environmentally responsible behaviors among undergraduate students. Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, 19, 426438.
Thapa, B. (2001). Environmental concern: A comparative analysis between students in recreation and park management and other departments. Environmental Education Research, 7, 3953.
Thapa, B. (2010). The mediation effect of outdoor recreation participation on environmental attitude-behavior correspondence. The Journal of Environmental Education, 41, 133150.
Theodori, G. L., & Luloff, A. E. (2002). Position on environmental issues and engagement in proenvironmental behaviors. Society &Natural Resources, 15, 471482.
Tikka, P. M., Kuitunen, M. T., & Tynys, S. M. (2000). Effects of educational background on students’ attitudes, activity levels, and knowledge concerning the environment. The Journal of Environmental Education, 31, 1219.
Truelove, H. B., & Joireman, J. (2009). Understanding the relationship between Christian orthodoxy and environmentalism: The mediating role of perceived environmental consequences. Environment and Behavior, 41, 806820.
Vicente-Molina, M. A., Fernández-Sáinz, A., & Izagirre-Olaizola, J. (2013). Environmental knowledge and other variables affecting pro-environmental behaviour: Comparison of university students from emerging and advanced countries. Journal of Cleaner Production, 61, 130138.
Whitley, C. T., Takahashi, B., Zwickle, A., Besley, J. C., & Lertpratchya, A. P. (2018). Sustainability behaviors among college students: An application of the VBN theory. Environmental Education Research, 24, 245262.
Woodworth, B. L., Steen-Adams, M. M., & Mittal, P. (2011). Role of an environmental studies course on the formation of environmental worldviews: A case study of a core curriculum requirement using the NEP Scale. Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, 1, 126137.
Worsley, A., & Skrzypiec, G. (1998). Environmental attitudes of senior secondary school students in South Australia. Global Environmental Change, 8, 209225.
Wysor, M. S. (1983). Comparing college students’ environmental perceptions and attitudes: A methodological investigation. Environment and Behavior, 15, 615645.
Yilmaz, O., Boone, W. J., & Andersen, H. O. (2004). Views of elementary and middle school Turkish students toward environmental issues. International Journal of Science Education, 2, 15271546.
Zelezny, L. C., Chua, P. P., & Aldrich, C. (2000). New ways of thinking about environmentalism: Elaborating on gender differences in environmentalism. Journal of Social Issues, 56, 443457.
Zsóka, Á.,Szerényi, Z. M., Széchy, A., & Kocsis, T. (2013). Greening due to environmental education? Environmental knowledge, attitudes, consumer behavior and everyday pro-environmental activities of Hungarian high school and university students. Journal of Cleaner Production, 48, 126138.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Australian Journal of Environmental Education
  • ISSN: 0814-0626
  • EISSN: 2049-775X
  • URL: /core/journals/australian-journal-of-environmental-education
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed