The friend-factor

Last year, I partnered with a couple of faculty members to do a sustainability literacy assessment. It provided some interesting results, but I’m not going to share them with you today – how’s that for a teaser?

I am, however, going to pull one little nugget out of the post-exam questionnaire that was given to everyone that took the assessment. One of the questions presented was, “Where have you learned about sustainability on campus?”

The options were: guest speakers, campus professionals, faculty, other students, friends and student groups. The chart shows the results for College of Science and non-College of Science students.

Guest speakers, faculty and friends all rate about the same, but friends is slightly higher than the others and I find that both interesting and inspiring but, upon reflection, not too surprising. Our friends have a dramatic impact on our behaviors and practices. Friends groups can impact everything from financial responsibility to willpower and career success. An ancient proverb says, “Walk with the wise and become wise. For the companion of fools suffers harm.”

I’m guessing everyone reading this article can think of someone they know, a close friend or an acquaintance, that is already reminding you to recycle or turn off the water when you brush your teeth. If you know someone like that, ask them more, learn from them and share your thoughts with them. Start a conversation.

Perhaps you are that friend or acquaintance. If you are, keep up the good work. As this chart shows, you are making a difference. While education does not always equate to behavior change, it is an important step. People learn by hearing you and they learn by watching you. You may be the snowflake that starts to stick to those around it, then starts to roll and grow.

Eventually, you are not the lone “tree-hugger” because you want to stop using Keurig single-use pods or stop buying plastic water bottles. When you make your own cleaning supplies and you carry your own reusable utensils (and water bottle), others will see you.

It can seem overwhelming to think about the environmental challenges facing our world, but when we go small, the big things seem a bit more manageable and definitely more fun – with a friend.

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