Leading Change: Student Engagement in Sustainability Leadership
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Why do students engage in Sustainability Leadership (SL)? To answer this research question, an exploratory study using mixed methodology was conducted. For the purposes of this study, SL was defined as inspiring, supporting, and/or initiating collective actions towards a more sustainable society. The research was conducted on students enrolled in the Environment, Sustainability, & Society (ESS) undergraduate program at Dalhousie University. The purpose of this study is to contribute to an understanding of what leads to engagement in SL, with the hope of increasing engagement in SL, so that the negative impacts of sustainability issues (see IPCC, 2014), can be minimized and mitigated. To achieve this a survey was conducted (n=130), in addition to follow up interviews (n=4), with questions drawn from research on social movements (Beyerlein & Hipp, 2006 and Tindall, Davies, & Mauboules, 2003), environmentally significant behaviour (Dono, Webb, & Richardson, 2009, Fielding, McDonald & Louis, 2008), and sustainability leadership (Eike, 2014). The survey determined broad trends in reasons for engagement in SL to provide context to the interviews, and was also used as a selection process for the follow up interviews. The interviews characterized reasons for engaging in SL, and explored the relationship between students, the ESS program, and engagement in SL to gain a more detailed understanding. Results indicate that micromobilization theory has the most explanatory and predictive power for engagement in SL. A two-stage process is evident from the interview results whereby students must first have positive attitudes, beliefs, and values towards SL, and then be surrounded by a network of others engaged in SL that can help turn this passion into action. Survey results corroborate these findings, with having conversations about engaging in SL having the most predictive power, predicting 52% of variance in engagement in SL. The researcher recommends that students, faculty and staff of sustainability education programs focus on creating networks of those engaged in SL, to increase engagement in SL.