Low Carbon Economy, 2011, 2, 123-137
doi:10.4236/lce.2011.23016 Published Online September 2011 (http://www.SciRP.org/journal/lce)
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
The Relationship between Energy Literacy and
Environmental Sustainability
Catherine Dwyer
Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems, Pace University, New York, USA.
Email: cdwyer@pace.edu
Received June 21st, 2011; revised July 18th, 2011; accepted July 25th, 2011.
Sustainability, first identified as a characteristic of eco-systems, is the capacity to maintain a process indefinitely. En-
vironmental sustainability receives significant public and government attention, triggered by concerns about climate
change, decreasing energy supplies, and increasing food costs. Colleges and universities receive positive notice for
their greening efforts, and the academy is expected to be a leader in efforts to improve sustainability. Therefore
coursework and curricula must be developed to train students about sustainable resource consumption processes. This
paper describes curricula materials related to energy literacy, defined as conceptual fluency with the economic and
social components o f energ y use. Th ese materials were develop ed and p iloted over a three year p eriod, and were tested
with a pre- and post-course survey administered with questions based on the New Environmental Paradigm (NEP) and
Environmentally Responsible Behavior (ERB). The findings of this study suggest that discussion of sustainability with
disaster themes triggers anxiety that interferes with the development of ERB. In contrast, materials emphasizing the
pragmatic necessity and benefits de rived from sustainable practices relate to improvements in ERB. This sugg ests sus-
tainability curricula should mitigate anxiety aroused by the topic, and instead emphasize pragmatic motivations for
changing energy consumption patterns.
Keywords: Sustainability, Energy Literacy, Information Technology Literacy, Social Impact of Tech no l ogy, Climate
1. Introduction
Watson, Boudreau and Chen argue that the Information
Systems (IS) community, and the academic community
as a whole, must take a new direction in support of sus-
tainable development [1]. They call for “IS researchers,
educators, journal editors, and association leaders to
demonstrate how the transformative power of IS can be
leveraged to create an ecologically sustainable society”
[1]. Watson et al. define ‘Green IS’ as the design and
development of information systems in support of sus-
tainable business processes. Green IS encourages the
application of information systems thinking and skills to
initiatives across all functions of the organization, from
logistics, to waste management, to communicating con-
sumption information to customers.
IS academics and professionals can contribute as re-
searchers, organizers of Green IS tracks in conferences,
editors of Green IS special issues of journals, and
through the development of Green IS curricula. This pa-
per reports on the development of curricula that specifi-
cally focuses on energy use and consumption practices.
1.1. Rationale for Focus on Energy and
Green IS incorporates a wide range of topics, including
increasing the efficiency of data centers, monitoring and
providing feedback on consumption patterns, and apply-
ing algorithms to processes to encourage energy effi-
ciency. There is a natural alignment between traditional
IS, which focuses on increasing the efficiency of the en-
terprise with respect to the bottom line, and the focus of
Green IS on increasing the efficient use of non-renew-
able resources [2,3].
Climate change is a pressing threat to the sustainab ility
of life on earth as we know it [1]. It is a highly complex
problem that is unpredictable, reflecting an intricate in-
teraction of organizational production processes, gov-
ernment management and regulation, natural forces, and
individual behavio r [4] .
This project focuses on a sub-set of the environmental
The Relationship between Energy Literacy and Environmental Sustainability
sustainability domain, namely energy use and consump-
tion patterns. This focus was selected for the following
reasons. First, the burning of fossil fuel is by far the
highest contributor of green house gases linked to cli-
mate change, and any progress on climate change must
address the use of fossil fuels [5]. Secondly, energy is a
tangible and approachable topic for students, who have
everyday experience with energy. Finally, there is a large
collection of publicly available energy data maintained
and updated by the US Energy Information Administra-
tion [6], containing thirty years of continuous and varied
measures of energy use. This data served as the primary
resource for data analysis assignments developed for this
1.2. Energy Consumption Patterns in the US
For the US, individual consumption choices are a key
determinant for reducing energy use and carbon emis-
sions. While the US was edged out in 2010 by China as
the world’s largest consumer of energy [7], US per capita
energy use is 327 Giga Joule per year (GJ), compared to
176 GJ for Germany, 169 GJ for Japan and 47 GJ for
China [8]. Although China’s use of energy is growing
rapidly [9], an argument can be made that this increase
relates to the manufacture of products bound for US
markets. If the calculation of a product’s carbon fo otprint
includes full life cycle emissions [10], then a significant
portion of China’s energy use feeds US consumption
patterns. US energy consumption is roughly 40% higher
than prosperous EU countries. If US consumers adopted
energy use patterns more in line with EU habits, this
would reduce carbon emissions by at least 2.5 GT of CO2
per year [5].
Energy use does decline with dramatic price increases,
but raising the cost of energy to reduce consumption is
far from ideal. The oil shocks of the 1970s led to world-
wide economic hardship [11], and the rapid run up in oil
prices was a factor in the 2008 global recession [9]. Ef-
fective non-economic mechanisms must be id entified and
exploited. Therefore non-economic efforts, such as the
development of curricula that promote sustainability, will
be an important component of global efforts to reduce
energy use without causing widespread economic hard-
While this paper focuses on US energy consumption,
sustainability is a global issue. These materials offer a
case study of US energy use that can be adapted to other
countries. SIGGreen, a special interest group (SIG) of the
Association of Information Syste ms, was formed in 2010
to support the role of information systems in sustainabil-
ity. The mission of SIGGreen is to provide a platform for
international collaboration among researchers and edu-
cators to promote the design and development of infor-
mation systems in support of environmental sustainabil-
ity. For more information about SIGGreen, please go to
1.3. Cultural Factors Related to Consumption
In his book Colla pse : How Societies Choose to Fail or
Succeed, Jared Diamond argues that effective manage-
ment of environmental challenges depends on “the soci-
ety’s responses to its environmental problems” [12, p.
11]. Diamond compares successful responses to defores-
tation by Japan, to unsuccessful responses on Easter Is-
land. Diamond argues cultural values affect whether a
society can address, or will even attempt to address
pressing environmental problems.
Culture must adopt new energy use patterns to over-
come climate change. Noting the efficient habits of the
Japanese, the environmental researcher Vacal Smil says
“they waste everything less, less food, less energy. So if
the whole world wants to eat like Japan it’s still dicey bu t
kind of doable, but if the wor ld wants to replicate the two
biggest wasters in the world, the U.S. and Canada, there
is no hope for anybody” [13].
Changing US cultural values to support sustainability
is an enormous challenge. But the alternatives are to ig-
nore the threat of climate change, or trigger economic
damage from increases in the cost of energy. The next
section describes an example of an education effort to
change cultural values by introducing the concept of en-
ergy literacy.
2. Development o f the Energy Literacy
The focus of this project is the development of curricula
to show the correlation between energy use patterns, cli-
mate change, and env ironmental sustainabilit y. While the
consumption of energy is an everyday occurrence and a
frequent topic of political discourse, the dynamics of
energy consumption are in fact extremely complex. Eve-
ryday familiarity with energy hides the deep complexities
that govern its pricing and availability [14]. It is a propo-
sition of this research that consumers’ surface level un-
derstanding of energy dynamics contributes to compla-
cency about the intense impact of burning fossil fuel on
the global environment.
2.1. Complexities in the Pricing and Availability
of Energy
Complexities in factors related to the supply and cost of
energy are quite significant. First of all, energy amounts
are described using measurement terms such as British
Thermal Units (BTUs), Mega Watts (MW), or Giga
Joules of energy (GJ), that have no tangible context to
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The Relationship between Energy Literacy and Environmental Sustainability125
the average person. They are also not readily convertible.
It is certainly not common know ledge how many BTUs a
person consumes in an average day, or for that matter
how many MWs or GJs. Some measurement units have
archaic origins. A “barrel of oil” is an artifact of the size
of English wine barrels, which were reused to hold pe-
troleum for the first functioning oil wells [11]. A stan-
dard barrel contains 42 US gallons of oil, which when
refined typically produces 19.5 gallons of gasoline [11].
Roughly speaking, every time a consumer fills up their
gas tank, they are using the major portion of a barrel of
Publicly reported oil prices also have hidden com-
plexities. The price for an oil futures contract is com-
monly cited by the media when reporting on oil costs. Oil
futures contracts are traded on the New York Mercantile
Exchange (NYMEX). These contracts specify a certain
number of barrels of light, sweet crude oil, a type pre-
ferred for its low sulfur and high yield s [14], to be deliv-
ered by a specified date to Cushing, Oklahoma [15]. Like
many futures contracts, prices are quite volatile, and are
purchased as an investment hedge that rarely leads to
actual delivery of oil. Instead oil producers use the fu-
tures price as a benchmark to set prices for other prod-
ucts. Even though oil futures prices are reported on a
daily basis, there is no one to one ratio, or even a clear
relationship between the reported “price of oil”, and what
people pay for gasoline or other petroleum products. This
creates confusion and anger on the part of consumers and
politicians alike when the price of oil futures moves
down while the price of gasoline does not [11].
Oil industry experts such as Daniel Yergin and Ken-
neth Defeyes argue that the price of oil has an extreme
degree of volatility due to fundamental characteristics
about its production and transportation [11,14]. Oil is
produced and consumed in a continuous flow from oil
field to refineries, to cars, homes, and industries. This
can be modeled as a flow network, as described in graph
theory. For a flow network to function smoothly there
must be stability and consistency in both the rate of pro-
duction and the rate of consumption. Any significant
change in either production or consumption severely
disrupts the flow network, resulting in either large price
hikes when production is less than consumption, or deep
price drops when production exceeds consumption [14].
Recently the price of oil was quite volatile in 2008 and
2009, and during the oil shocks of the 1970s. However
this is nothing new. Oil has a history of extreme price
volatility that has persisted since the beginning of the
20th century. At one point in the 1930s, oil was trading at
ten cents a barrel, which nearly drove the US oil industry
into complete collapse. Only the intervention of the
Railroad Commission of Texas to strictly control produc-
tion so that it matched consumption allowed the recovery
of the industry [11]. The degree of oil price volatility is
not found in any other segment of the consumer market.
While consumers have a general understanding of supply
and demand, the rapid price swings for petroleum creates
distrust over hoarding of supply when prices go up, or
doubts about constrained resources when prices drop
Another source of confusion is the price difference
between fossil fuels and renewable alternatives such as
solar or wind power. When compared by the unit cost of
a quantity of energy, renewables are much more expen-
sive. Even among fossil fuels, coal, the dirtiest fuel of all,
is the least expensive. There are expectations by con-
sumers that the cost difference will be made up by gov-
ernment subsidies or that innovation will eventually drive
down the cost of renewables compared to fossil fuels
[16]. However, an important reason fossil fuels are less
expensive is that the damage caused by carbon emissions
is treated as an externality to the price. An externality is
an economic term that describes a cost associated with a
market transaction that is not part of the selling price. It
is instead a cost is borne by society as a whole. In a price
driven market, there is great incentive to externalize as
many factors as possible from transaction costs, because
lower prices result in more sales. As long as the cost of
carbon emissions remains an externality, renewable en-
ergy sources will be more expensive [17].
If confusion about energy causes complacency about
changing consumption behavior, then it follows that a
program to increase awareness of the complexities and
underlying components of energy use may encourage
more sustainable energy consumption patterns. Therefore
the concept of Energy Literacy is introduced. Energy
Literacy is defined as a baseline fluency and knowledge
of complexities related to energy use. Topics include
differences between fossil fuels, renewable energy alter-
natives, and the link between consumption decisions and
environmental impact. Energy literacy supports an un-
derstanding of the impact of en ergy use on sustainability.
The objective of energy literacy is an increase in sus-
tainable energy use behavior [18,19].
Literacy is defined with both a cognitive and social
component. It is the “ability to identify, understand, in-
terpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed
and written materials associated with varying co ntexts …
enabling individuals … to participate fully in their com-
munity and wider society” [20]. Literacy can be applied
to other domains by identifying a baseline cognitive flu-
ency, and demonstrating how this fluency supports a
more engaged citizenry. Examples include information
technology literacy [21], information and communica-
tions technology e-readiness [22], and quantitative liter-
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
The Relationship between Energy Literacy and Environmental Sustainability
acy [23].
Energy literacy relates to information technology lit-
eracy, because computer driven data analysis is the basis
of all scientific simulation and study of climate change.
Energy costs and consumption projections derive from
complex mathematical formulas applied to gigabytes of
energy use data. Not simply a vessel for energy informa-
tion, technology can serve as an active agent in the
framing and reinforcement of transformative under-
standing and perspectives [24].
2.2. The Need for More Sophisticated Energy
Economic and social complexities of energy use cause
public confusion and disassociation from the urgent need
to change consumption habits. One way to influence the
culture of energy consumption is through education.
Sustainability curricula materials are abundantly avail-
able on the Web for grades K-12, but they target younger
children with cartoon characters and talking animals that
urge students to “be green”.
There is not as much material available for the college
audience. It is important to invest in the development of
these materials because research shows current high
school students are uninformed about energy issues [19].
The potential of information technology to support
awareness of sustainability has not been fully explored
[25]. There is a pressing need for development in human
computer interfaces to create data visualization tools that
display energy use pat t ern s [2 6] .
Many professions have declared their commitment to
the support of sustainability. The academic community
has created organizations such as the American College
and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment in sup-
port of these initiatives [27]. The next section describes
the development of the energy literacy materials, and
their use in an undergraduate course.
3. Development o f the Energy Literacy
Curriculum Materials
The Energy Literacy materials described here were de-
veloped at a private urban university in the Northeast
United States. They were designed as a module for the
basic computing literacy course, Introduction to Com-
puting. This course is required for all undergraduates at
the university. It provides an introduction to the role of
information technology within society and the economy.
The course is three credits, with two hours held in a
computer classroom combined with a required online
portion equivalent to one hour of classroom instruction
(commonly known as a hybrid or blended learning
course). Students get hands on instruction in a computer
classroom with spreadsheets (Excel), designing web
pages (HTML), and programming (JavaScript).
To emphasize the widespread integration of technol-
ogy across multiple professions, the course also features
an interdisciplinary component. These materials were
developed to add Sustainability as the interdisciplinary
component of the course. Other components currently
being offered at the school include computer forensics
and the social impact of technology.
The Energy Literacy materials were piloted in an ab-
breviated form during the spring 2008 semester. They
were then included in eight sections of the course be-
tween the fall 2 008 semester and the spr ing 2010 semes-
The Energy Literacy materials have three components.
The first component is a sequence of data analysis exer-
cises that instruct students in the use of Excel using data
obtained from the Energy Information Administration
(EIA), a division of the US Department of Energy [28].
The EIA was established in 1977 in response to the oil
shocks of the 1970s. Their mission is to document energy
production and consumption patterns, and make forecasts
as to future supply and demand. Their data is freely
available on their Web site, mostly in sp readsheet format.
Their data and reports are widely used by public and pri-
vate organizations in planning and budgeting energy ex-
The second component of the Energy Literacy materi-
als is a series of reading assignments and required par-
ticipation in an onlin e discussion board. This course, as a
blended course, uses online discussion as part of the re-
quired material for the class. For example, a news article
was assigned about the connection between rising oil
prices and gasoline supply [29]. They also were assigned
“The Inevitable Peaking of Global Oil Production” [30],
and a chapter from an information systems text on the
role of information technology in promoting sustainabil-
ity [25].
The third component of the Energy Literacy materials
was a capstone team project. Students were formed into
groups and selected a company to analysis with regard to
their sustainability initiatives. Examples of companies
selected include Apple, Dell, Starbucks, and Whole
Foods. More specific information about the course as-
signments can be found in the Appendix.
4. Research Methodology
In order to capture data on the effect of the energy liter-
acy materials on students’ attitudes towards sustain ability,
a research design was created to administer a survey of
measures in the beginn ing of the cour se, an d at th e en d of
the course. A literature review was conducted to find
established, validated measures of environmentally re-
sponsible behavior.
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
The Relationship between Energy Literacy and Environmental Sustainability127
The review uncovered two established scales, the New
Environmental Paradigm (NEP), and Environmentally
Responsible Behavior (ERB). Both were incorporated
into a pre- and post-course survey, along with general
demographic questions, and open ended questions about
sustainability. The surv ey questions are listed in Tabl e 1.
Scales such as NEP and ERB that measure relationships
between attitudes and behavior draw on the efforts of
Fishbein and Ajzen, whose work includes the Theory of
Reasoned Action [31] and the Theory of Planned Behav-
ior [32]. When conceptualizing the relationship between
attitude and behavior, both theories focus on the con-
struct known as behavioral intention, which is the meas-
ure of the relative streng th of a person’s intention to per-
form a behavior [31,32].
Research into environmental attitudes has made a dis-
tinction between general attitudes towards sustainability,
Table 1. Summary of survey questions.
Demographic Information
Class year
NEP Measures
(1-strongly disagree to 7-strongly agree)
When humans interfere with nature it often produces disastrous
The so-called ecological crisis facing humankind has been
greatly exaggerated.
Regulation Attitudes
We must take stronger measures to conserve our nation’s re-
Environmental regulations have placed unfair burdens on busi-
Intended Pro-environmental Behavior
I plan to participate in events organized by environmental
I would be willing to pay a fee for using disposable plastic bags.
I would be willing to pay more in taxes to support renewable
energy projects.
I would support a tax on carbon emissions.
ERB Measures
(1- Hardly ever (10%), 2- Sometimes (30%), 3- Frequently (50%), 4-
Most of the time (70%), 5- All the time (90%)
General Behaviors
About how often have you
tried to learn what I can do to help s o l v e e n v i ro nmental issues?
talked with others about environme nt al i ss ue s?
tried to convince friends to act responsibly toward the environ-
Specific Behaviors
About how often do you
conserve water by turning off the tap when brushing your teeth?
recycle cardboard?
Throw recyclables into the trash?
switch off lights in empty rooms?
use disposable dishes (paper plates etc.)?
use public transportation?
leave the air conditioner running when leaving hom e ?
and concerns about specific, local environmental prob-
lems [33]. NEP focuses on more general attitudes to-
wards sustainability, and has been revised several times
to capture a more accurate picture of changing attitudes
and beliefs about the environment. It has been used in
multiple surveys to study attitu des in a variety of popula-
tions, including secondary school students, colleges stu-
dents, and organized environmentalists [34]. The meas-
ures used in this study were from the work of Cordano et
al. [35] and Dunlap et al. [36].
A criticism of NEP is that it does not measure specific
environmental concerns or pro-environmental behaviors
[33]. Many studies have supplemented the NEP with
questions regarding specific types of environmentally
responsible behavior (ERB). The questions included in
this survey were adapted from work by Vaske and Ko-
brin [37], Smith-Sebasto and D’Costa [38], Kaplan [39]
and Mobley et al. [33].
5. Summary of Results
A total of 188 students took the pre-course survey, and
147 took the post-course survey. Female students made
up 54% of the participants, compared to 45% male, and
1% who declined to answer. Most were first year stu-
dents (83.3%). The majority were business majors (68%),
followed by Liberal Arts (28%) or undecided (4%). A chi
squared analysis of the demographic data showed no
significant differences in the characteristics of the popu-
lations for the pre-course versus the post-course survey.
The first step in the data analysis was to conduct a
univariate comparison of the pre- and post-course means
for each survey item. A summary of the pre- and post-
course means for the measures adapted from the NEP
scale are listed in Table 2. These measures use a seven
Table 2. Results for NEP items.
Measure Pre
(N = 188) Post
(N = 147)
The so-called ecological cris is facing
humankind has been greatly exagger-
ated. 3.016 3.143
I would be willing to pay a fee for us-
ing disposable plastic bags. 3.086 3.252
I would support a tax on carbon emis-
sions. 3.790 4.150
We must take stronger measur es to
conserve our nation’s resources. 5.793 5.945
I would be willing to pay more in taxes
to support renewable energy projects. 4.167 4.247
I plan to participate in events organized
by environmental groups. 3.622 3.911
Environmental regulations have pla ced
unfair burdens on businesses. 3.198 3.082
When humans interfere with nature it
often produces disastrous consequences. 4.876 5.007
Range: 1 (SD)-7(SA).
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
The Relationship between Energy Literacy and Environmental Sustainability
point scale. A summary of the means from the ERB scale
is listed in Table 3. Measures from the ERB use a five
point scale.
NEP measures positively worded with a mean above
four indicate a pro-environmental attitude. This includes
“When humans interfere with nature it often produces
disastrous consequences.” Some measures are reverse
coded, so a mean below four indicates a pro-environ-
mental attitude. This includes “The so-called ecological
crisis facing humankind has been greatly exaggerated.”
While every NEP measure except one moved in a pro-
environmental direction, none of the measures had sig-
nificant differences between the pre- and post-course
survey. Results for the measure “I would support a tax on
carbon emissions” approached significance with a level
of 0.056.
Table 3 summarizes the pre- and post-course results
for the ERB measures. These questions ask about a spe-
cific behavior with environmental consequences. Some
behaviors are pro-environmental (such as recycling), and
some are anti-environmental (keeping the air conditioner
on when leaving home). Most items moved in a pro-en-
vironmental direction except the measure about recycling
cardboard, which declined, and using disposable dishes,
which increased. No significant differences were found
for ERB measures comparing the pre-course to the post-
course results.
Survey measures compared by gender showed some
Table 3. Results for ERB items.
Measure Pre
(N = 188) Post
(N = 147)
About how often have you
Tried to learn what you can do to help
solve environmental issues? 2.608 2.748
Talked with others about environ-
mental issues? 2.855 2.973
Tried to convince friends to act respon-
sibly toward the environment? 2.703 2.877
About how often do you
Recycle cardboard? 3.269 3.259
Throw recyclables into the trash? 2.733 2.726
Leave the air conditioner running when
leaving home? 2.348 2.190
Use disposable dis hes (paper plates
etc.)? 2.604 2.714
Use public transportation? 3.984 4.143
Conserve water by turning off the tap
when brushing your teeth? 3.385 3.432
Switch off lights in empty rooms? 3.893 4.034
1- Hardly ever (10%), 2- Sometimes (30%), 3- Frequently (50%), 4- Most of
the time (70%), 5- Al l th e time (90%).
significant differences (see Table 4). Males were sig-
nificantly more likely to agree with: “The so-called eco-
logical crisis facing humankind has been greatly exag-
gerated,” (p < 0.01); “Environmental regulations have
placed unfair burdens on businesses,” (p < 0.05); and
report they throw recyclables in the trash, (p < 0.05).
Females were significantly more likely to report they
“Tried to convince friends to act responsibly toward the
environment,” (p < 0.0001), and “Conserve water by
turning off the tap when brushing your teeth,” (p < 0.05).
A puzzling result is that females are more likely to re-
port they leave the air conditioner running when leaving
home (p < 0.01). One possible explanation is that, anec-
dotally, female undergraduates make a concerted effort
to avoid “sweating”, or “being sweaty”. This reveals an
instance where cultural values may be accommodated by
Table 4. Comparison of results by gender.
Measure M
N = 150 F
N = 181Sig.
Scale 1 - 7
The so-called ecological cris is facing
humankind has been greatly exagger-
ated. 3.311 2.884**
I would be willing to pay a fee for us-
ing disposable plastic bags. 3.093 3.232
I would support a tax on carbon emis-
sions. 3.954 3.961
We must take stronger measur es to
conserve our nation’s resources. 5.730 5.9830.080
I would be willing to pay more in taxes
to support renewable energy projects. 4.272 4.151
I plan to participate in events organized
by environmental groups. 3.636 3.848
Environmental regulations have pla ced
unfair burdens on businesses. 3.364 2.978*
When humans interfere with nature it
often produces disastrous conse-
quences. 4.780 5.061
Scale 1 - 5
Tried to learn what you can do to help
solve environmental issues? 2.593 2.724
Tried to convince friends to act re-
sponsibly toward the environment? 2.483 3.028***
Recycle cardboard? 3.287 3.260
Throw recyclables into the trash? 2.901 2.600*
Leave the air conditioner running when
leaving home? 2.040 2.475**
Use disposable dis hes (paper plates
etc.)? 2.649 2.646
Use public transportation? 4.000 4.094
Conserve water by turning off the tap
when brushing your teeth? 3.225 3.561*
Switch off lights in empty rooms? 3.828 4.0610.090
* p < 0.05, ** p < 0.01, *** p < 0.001.
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
The Relationship between Energy Literacy and Environmental Sustainability129
more sophisticated temperature management technology
to regulate air conditioning via remote control.
The next step was to conduct a factor and reliability
analysis on the NEP and ERB scales. The NEP was ex-
amined with a principal components factor analysis. The
results for the pre- and post-course survey were tested
separately. A factor analysis of the pre-course data pre-
sented a solution with three factors. A factor analysis of
the post-course data presen ted a solution with two factors.
The NEP data was also examined using Cronbach’s al-
pha. By dropping one item from the NEP (“When hu-
mans interfere with n ature ”), Cronbach’s alpha results
for the seven remaining questions was 0.670 for the pre-
course data and 0. 733 for the post -co u rse dat a .
While an alpha value of 0.7 or higher is optimal, in the
case of exploratory research somewhat lower values have
been accepted [40].
The seven questions from the NEP were added into a
combined scale by adding the value for each measure
together. One measure (“Environmental regulations have
placed ...”) was reverse coded so that the direction of all
questions in the scale was the same. The means for the
combined NEP scale were compared using ANOVA for
pre- and post-course results. The difference was not sig-
nificant. The F value was 2.845 and the significance level
was 0.093.
Next the ERB measures were examined with a princi-
pal components factor analysis. The pre-course data pre-
sented a three factor solution and the post-course data
presented a slightly different three factor solution. The
application of Cronbach’s alpha to the ERB measures
found most of the measures had to be dropped before
achieving an acceptable value. The remaining three
measures are the three general behavior items (see Table
1). The alpha value for the pr e- course d ata was 0.781 and
0.847 for the post-course data. This result is reasonab le if
we look at the nature of the questions for ERB. The ERB
scale is an example of a formative rather than a reflective
measure. Reflective measures all reflect the underlying
construct and therefore tend to be one dimensional. For-
mative measures when combined form the construct.
Thus items such as recycling or turning off air condition-
ers form the construct of environmentally responsible
behavior. Formative measures are multidimensional and
cannot be treated as a combined scale [41]. The three
item combined ERB scale was compared using ANOVA.
The results were not significant, with an F value 1.882
and significance level of 0.171.
6. Exploratory Analysis: Examining the
Impact of Attitudes on Behavior
Since this project is an exploratory study, it is appropri-
ate to apply an inductive research approach. Inductive
analysis is a bottom up process that involves reviewing
data, looking for patterns, and then conducting some type
of confirmatory analysis [42]. This project is a form of
intervention intended to increase environmentally sus-
tainable behavior. Based on the data collected this did
not happen. There were no significant findings to indi-
cate this intervention was effective. This is consistent
with a published review of intervention techniques in-
tended to diminish energy use that found the success of
these interventions was mixed at best [43]. Examples of
antecedent interventions include commitment, goal set-
ting, providing information, and modeling. Examples of
consequence interventions are feedback and rewards.
This review found that interventions involving commit-
ment and goal setting were successful, especially when
combined with other techniques. Providing information
alone was shown to have poor results. Providing eco-
nomic incentives was found to be effective, but the im-
pact often disappeared once the incentive was no longer
provided [43].
What methods can be employed to reduce US energy
consumption? One insight may come from the domain of
public health, which has conducted extensive research
identifying factors that influence positive change away
from self-destructive behavior such as smoking cigarettes
or drug use. Clinical psychologists and other health pro-
fessionals have found that if individuals express ambiva-
lent attitudes towards self-destructive behavior, its con-
sequences, or steps needed to alter that behavior, this
ambivalence acts as a powerful impediment to change
[44]. While people whose behavior can damage their
health often agree that change is important, they show
substantial resistance when called upon to modify their
lifestyle. An important finding is that, paradoxically,
exposure to increasingly negative consequences can pre-
vent change by immobilizing the person, or even make
the behavior worse. Instead, “constructive behavior
change seems to arise when the person connects it with
something of intrinsic value, something important,
something cherished” [44].
There is a strong consensus that solving environmental
problems requires behavioral changes [43], but efforts
conducted to date have not been effective. The domain of
public health has intensely studied techniques that
change behavior, especially for addictions to drugs, al-
cohol, or smoking. An argument can be made that cli-
mate change is a public health issue that will affect the
health of everyone on the planet. Since environmental
sustainability will depend on changes in individual be-
havior, the perspective of the public health field is quite
relevant. Even the language used by President Bush, who
in his 2006 State of the Union Address stated that
“America is addicted to oil” [45], reinforces the validity
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
The Relationship between Energy Literacy and Environmental Sustainability
of analyzing energy consumption behavior change from
the public health perspective.
A prominent theory of behavior change is the Tran-
stheoretical Model of Intentional Human Behavior
Change (TTM) [46]. TTM provides a framework for un-
derstanding the process of change by identifying specific
stages people pass through as they change a behavior.
TTM identifies the first stage as the precontemplation
stage, where the person is not currently considering a
change in their behavior. This is followed by the con-
templation stage, where the person begins to seriously
evaluate the factors for and against change. Next the in-
dividual enters the preparation stage, where both plan-
ning and a firm commitment to change take place. If
these initial analytical and planning stages are successful,
the person moves into the action stage and initiates the
behavior change. This is followed by the maintenance
stage, where the person reflects on the impact of their
behavior changes, and takes steps to continue long term
change in behavior [46].
While it may seem outrageous to compare the behav-
ior of people who do not recycle with those who are ad-
dicted to drugs, the underlying issues of ambivalence and
obstacles to change are quite similar. The pivotal role of
ambivalence with respect to sustainability was the main
finding of the inductive analysis of the project’s data.
Developing techniques to combat ambivalence, and
avoiding anxiety provoking methods when discussing
climate change were found to be the most effective way
to encourage progress in sustainable behavior.
To document the ambivalence connected to anxiety
and pro-environmental behavior, the subjects were clus-
tered into three groups: students with a high degree of
anxiety about sustainability and climate change (labeled
the Anxiety cluster); students who are concerned with
addressing and finding solutions to sustainability issues
(labeled the Agency cluster); and students who reject or
deny that climate change is a problem (labeled the Denial
cluster). The clusters were identified these measures
taken from the NEP:
Denial: “The so-called ecological crisis facing hu-
mankind has bee n great l y exa ggerated”
Anxiety: “When humans interfere with nature it
often produces disastrous consequences”
Agency: “We must take stronger measures to con-
serve our nation’s resources”
Using the measures as proxies for attitudes affected
the makeup of the combined NEP scale. The removal of
these measures decreased the number of items in the
combined NEP scale from seven to four. The remaining
questions address intended pro-environmental behavior
(see Ta ble 1). The reliability for the four item NEP scale
is a Cronbach’s alpha value of 0.651 for the pre-course
results and 0.762 for the post course results.
Table 5 presents an overview of the three clusters, and
their impact on the pre- and post-survey results. For each
cluster, the table includes a definitio n, the specific meas-
ure used for that cluster, a representative student com-
ment, the pre- and post-course statistics, and the pre- and
post-course correlations. Because this study followed an
inductive approach, the selection of measures to reflect
each attitude was done on a post-hoc basis. The weak-
ness of this approach is that the measures selected are
indirect indications of the attitude. In addition, a single
measure is used rather than a fully developed scale. De-
spite these methodological issues, this analysis provides
some intriguing results.
6.1. Analyzing the Impact of the Three Clusters
The values for each cluster was compared to the com-
bined three item ERB scale and four item NEP scale us-
ing Pearson’s R. The results are summarized in Table 6.
Looking at the pre-course data, both the Denial and
Agency cluster have higher R values compared to the
Anxiety cluster. Comparing the pre-course to the
post-course results, the clusters move in different direc-
tions. The Denial cluster dramatically d rops in influence,
going from two significant R values of –0.402 and
–0.286 in the pre-course data to a much weaker R value
of –0.166 for the NEP scale and no significant findings
for the ERB scale. The Agency cluster increases its R
value for both scales. The Anxiety cluster goes from
pre-course R values of 0.204 and 0.163 for the NEP and
ERB scales to values of 0.313 and 0.344 for the post-
course data.
Comparing pre- and post-course for each measure in-
dividually confirms a change in the interaction of the
three clusters. In the pre-course survey, the Denial meas-
ure is the strongest predictor of attitudes and behavior
with 11 significant results, followed by Agency with
seven significant results, and the Anxiety measure with
four. In the post-course survey, the Agency measure is
the strongest with eight significant results, followed by
Anxiety with four and Denial with four.
In the pre-course survey, the strongest result for the
Denial measure with a Pearson’s R value of –0.364 and a
p value < 0.0001 is this statemen t: “I would support a tax
on carbon emissions.” The strongest result for the
Agency measure was a Pearson’s R value of 0.448 and a
p value < 0.0001 for this statement: “I would be willing to
pay more in taxes to support renewable energy projects.”
In the pre-course survey, the Anxiety measure was a
weak predictor of pro-environmental attitudes and be-
havior. This is surprising since it has a relatively high
mean (4.876 out of 7). The Anxiety measure has signifi-
ant relationships with four measures, with low R values c
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
The Relationship between Energy Literacy and Environmental Sustainability
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
Table 5. Summary of findings regarding denial, agency, and anxiety clusters.
Denial Agency Anxiety
Definition Individual denies climate change
is “real”, and has no intention to
change consumption behavior
Individual recogniz es cl imat e
change as an urgent issue, beli ev e s
their own actions can contribute to
a solution
Individual expresses concern that cl i-
mate change/energy shortages will lead
to chaos and global destruction
Survey Measure
(1 = SD, 7 = SA)
“The so-called ecological crisis
facing humankind has been
greatly exaggerated.”
“We must take stronger measures to
conserve our nation’s resources.”
“When humans interfere with nature it
often produces disastrous conse-
Affect/Attitude tow ards
Sustainability is important for
businesses to do for the future and
I agree with it... It just doesn’t
play a part in my life.”
I think everyone h a s a r e s p o n s ibil-
ity to help keep our environment
livable. The impact of sustainability
has a dramatic impact on my fture.”
The Earth I liv e on could potenti al l y
become a wasteland if humans do not
change their attitude about sustainabil-
Pre-course values N = 188 Mean = 3.016, S.D. = 1.374 Mean = 5.793, S.D. = 1.272 Mean = 4.876, S.D. = 1.604
Pre-course correlations
(with 14 measures) 11 Sig. Corr. in total
R values relatively high 7 Sig. Corr. in total
R values moderate 4 Sig. Corr. in total
R values low
Pre-course sustainability
Ignore the issue;
Won’t recycle;
Won’t support carbon tax or fee
for disposable bags
Does recycle;
Strong support for carbon tax and
funding for alternative energy
Will discuss sustainability issues with
Not committed to recycling; weakly
supports carbon tax and government
funding of alternative energy
Post-course values
N = 147 Mean = 3.143, S.D. = 1.562 Mean =5.945, S.D. = 1.374 Mean = 5.007, S.D. = 1.595
Post-course correlations
(with 14 measures)
4 Sig. Corr. in total
R values decrease from pre-course
8 Sig. Corr. in total
R values increase from pre-course
7 Sig. Corr. in total
R values increase from pre-course results
Post-course sustainability
Power of this attit ude is greatly
reduced to 4 sig. corr. down from
11 sig. corr.
Increase in corr. From 7 t o 8;
strongest predictor of commitm e n t
to sustainability
Increase in corr. From 4 to 7, more
support for broader measures (like car-
bon tax) but still ambivalent about recy-
Table 6. Summary of pearson’s R comparing clusters to the combined NEP and ERB.
Pre Combined NEP Combined ERBPost Combined NEP Combined ERB
R –0.402*** –0.286*** R –0.166* –0.037
Sig. 0.000 0.000 Sig. 0.046 0.659
N 183 185
N 145 146
R 0.446*** 0.226** R 0.466*** 0.294***
Sig. 0.000 0.002 Sig. 0.000 0.000 Agency
N 180 182
N 144 145
R 0.204** 0.163* R 0.313*** 0.344***
Sig. 0.006 0.027 Sig. 0.000 0.000
N 182 184
N 144 145
* p < 0.05, ** p < 0.01, *** p < 0.001.
ranging from 0.14 to 0.16.
In the post-course survey, there is a steep decline in
the influence of the Denial measure, with a drop from 11
significant correlations pre-course to four in the post-
course survey. For the Anxiety measure, there is an in-
crease from four to seven significant results.
The influence of the Agency measure increases from
seven significant correlations to eight. The R values for
these correlations are relatively high, with an R value of
0.439 and a p value < 0.001 supporting a carbon tax, and
an R value of 0.428 and a p value < 0.001 supporting
renewable energy projects.
6.2. Analysis of Qualitative Data with Respect to
the Three Clusters
The survey included free form questions where students
could make comments about the course material. Stu-
dents were asked to reflect on “the impact of sustainabil-
ity issues on your future.” Those students expressing
anxiety typically did not specify actions to mitigate en-
The Relationship between Energy Literacy and Environmental Sustainability
ergy consumption patterns. In contrast, those students
who described the problem in serious but non-emotional
terms were more likely to suggest remedies they intended
to pursue.
Here is a sample of comments that reflected a high
level of anxiety, bu t notab ly did no t includ e an y solution s
or suggested actions:
I fear that we as a country will not conserve our
resources and the majority of them will be used up
before I die.
If we are not able to sustain our current lifestyle
with new sources on energy, we will probably be
reduced back to medieval times.
The planet will die.
In contrasts, student comments that discussed sustain-
ability in more dispassionate terms included practical
suggestions to improve th e situation:
These issues are very important and should not be
overlooked. Everyone should at least try and recy-
I think that everyone need s to take responsibility fo r
their own actions. The world depends o n it.
We must be able to conserve resources that we have
today and learn to use new ones.
The disruptive influence of the Anxiety cluster was
also evident in the tone and focus of class discussions.
Students bring with them a long exposure to Hollywood
disaster movies, a staple of mainstream entertainment for
decades. Many feature extreme computer generated spe-
cial effect sequences depicting global catastrophe, where
buildings, cities, and populations are wiped out. The
emotional impact of these Hollywood spectacles has
resonated with the discussion of climate change. In pre-
senting the energy literacy materials, it required a con-
scious effort on the part of the instructor to steer discus-
sion towards a rational analysis of sustainability, and
away from fantastic speculations of global collapse and
Between Hollywood disaster movies and alarmist
coverage in the mass media, themes of fear, anxiety, and
pending disaster dominate discussions of climate change.
These themes generate of lot of attention, but trigger
emotional shutdown rather than engagement and con-
certed action. Media critics have argued that the “selling”
of fear leads to disassociation and emotional withdrawal
[47]. Environmentalists warn that scare-mongering and
fanciful predictions interfere with the necessary consid-
erations of structural changes [48]. With respect to how
these themes influence the students in this study, the in-
structor found that any content touching on ecological
disaster distracted students from a rational discussion of
policy, and even worse, moved their attention away from
a willingness to change en ergy use behavior.
7. Limitations
The results described here come from an exploratory
study and as such should be interpreted in consideration
of the following limitations. The three clusters—Denial,
Anxiety and Agency—are captured with a single meas-
ure, rather than a fully validated scale. In addition, the
results come from one instructor at one university. There
was also difficulty ensuring the full participation of all
students in both the pre-course and the post-course sur-
vey. The number of students taking the pre-course survey
is more than one third higher than those taking the post-
course survey. Also, the survey questions administered
are not specifically connected to the issue of energy lit-
eracy or specific materials from the course. Therefore a
connection between the results and the course materials
can only be inferred.
It is also important to note that correlation is not the
same as causation, so these results do not prove a con-
nection between the course material and the results. For
instance, there is a large time gap between the admini-
stration of the pre- and post-course surveys. Other factors
and events could have influenced these results, especially
since sustainability issues are the top ic of frequent media
coverage and policy discussion.
8. Summary and Conclusions
Environmental sustainability is a prominent public con-
cern. A large factor in the strain on the global environ-
ment is the world’s dependence on fossil fuels. This de-
pendence places stress on the environment in two distinct
ways. One is that the supply of fossil fuels is finite, and
there are diminishing expectations that the current energy
infrastructure will be able to match supply with future
demand [5,30]. Secondly, the use of fossil fuels for en-
ergy causes carbon emissions linked to climate change
Since US energy consumption is a reflection of indi-
vidual energy consumption choices, any actions by US
consumers to embrace sustainability will greatly ease the
strain on the environment. In the past, extreme price in-
creases have reduced US energy consumption. But trying
to solve this problem by raising the cost of energy can
cause severe economic disruptions and hardships among
many citizens. There must be a commitment to non-
economic methods for reducing energy use.
Therefore, a concerted effort is needed to change the
US culture to an emphasis on sustainability. This paper
describes curricula materials that introduced energy lit-
eracy as a topic for an undergraduate course. Energy lit-
eracy is a construct that combines conceptual fluency
with the economic and social components of energy use,
along with the belief that an increase in energy literacy
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
The Relationship between Energy Literacy and Environmental Sustainability133
will result in more sustainable energy practices. The pri-
mary findings presented here, based on an analysis of
student sustainability attitudes and behaviors, is that dis-
cussions of sustainability with d isaster themes can trigger
anxiety that interferes with the goal of encouraging sus-
tainability. In contrast, materials that focused on the
pragmatic necessity and concrete benefits had a more
positive impact on promoting pro-environmental behav-
The findings of this project are promising, and provide
motivation to create materials that mitigate the negative
effect that anxiety provoking discussions have on im-
provement in sustainability. Future research includes the
development of scales to measure the three clusters iden-
tified—Denial, Anxiety and Agency. Additional meas-
ures are needed to specify the relationship between the
course materials and the results. There are also efforts to
make these materials available for use by other instruc-
tors and test their effect at other institutions [50]. The
need to change US consumption patterns is critical, and
any evidence that suggests progress must be pursued
Sustainability has gained significant public and gov-
ernment attention, and many colleges are recognized for
their greening efforts. In many respects, the academy is
expected to be a leader in efforts to improve sustainabil-
ity. The finding of this project suggest that the develop-
ment of materials that support energy literacy, with an
emphasis on pragmatic solutions and an avoidance of
disaster themes, can make a significant contribution in
changing US cultural attitudes towards sustainability.
9. Acknowledgements
The author would like to acknowledge the helpful feed-
back and suggestions of the an onymous reviewer.
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The Relationship between Energy Literacy and Environmental Sustainability135
These materials were included as coursework for an In-
troduction to Computing class, taught in multiple sec-
tions beginning in Spring 2008. Students are mostly first
year or sophomore level. The curriculum material intro-
duces sustainability issues in three parts. The first part
consists of data analysis exercises using a spreadsheet
(Excel). The second part contains sustainability reading
assignments and online discussion. The third part is the
creation of a group Web site presenting a sustainability
case study of a target company. Links to the assignment
templates and instructions can be found at http://csis.
1. Data Analysis Exercises
The objective of these data analysis assignments are:
expose students to “real world” data sources
apply data analysis methods to understand informa-
tion about a certain context
be able to draw conclusions based on the results of
the data analysis
All of these assignments use data publicly available
from the US Energy Information Agency (EIA—http://
www.eia.doe.gov/). Using “real world data” exposes
students to more complex data sets than are typically
included in classroom assignments.
Each assignment guides students through a specific
data analysis process. In class, students are asked to de-
scribe the findings of their analysis, and draw conclu-
sions on their findings. Using this process with increas-
ingly complex assignments, students are exposed to more
complicated problems, and are asked to provide insights
on multi-layered problems that do not have a simple “yes
no” answer.
1.1. Assignment One: US Oil Production vs.
Consumption, 1980-2007
In this first exercise, students begin with a spreadsheet
loaded with data values for US oil production and con-
sumption from 1980-2007. Their assignment is to use
Excel formulas and functions to calculate the amount of
imports needed each year, the percentage of imports
compared to consumption, the decrease in US oil pro-
duction, and the increase in oil consumption from the
previous year.
After completing this assignment, students are able to
apply basic Excel formulas and functions to a small data
set. Students are also asked in class to review the find-
ings of the data analysis and draw conclusions about the
pattern of US oil production versus consumption. Stu-
dents are able to summarize the data, and show a pattern
of decreasing oil production along with increasing con-
sumption. Some students commented that the data show
them their perception of US energy use was inaccurate.
1.2. Assignment Two: Impact of Fuel Efficiency
Standards on Fuel Use and Carbon Emissions
In 2008 the US Congress passed legislation that will re-
quire light vehicles to meet a standard of 35 miles per
gallon (MPG) as of 2020. This assignment provides a
data analysis of the impact of the new legislation. Stu-
dents first collect data on the current top selling vehicles,
calculate their average fuel use and carbon emissions.
Then they comp are th e impact of requ ir ing 35 MPG as of
2020, in terms of fuel consumed, cost, and carbon emis-
sions. Carbon emissions are calculated on the basis of 20
pounds of CO2 produced for every gallon of gas con-
In this assignment, students gain experience collecting
data identifying the five best selling light vehicles, along
with their MPG rating. They gain experience conducting
a forecasting analysis of the impact of legislation.
During class discussion, students are able to describe
the expected impact of the legislation. Since some of the
best selling vehicles already exceed 35 MPG, the new
standard will have a minimal impact. Students also
comment on the CO2 emissions. Most are unaware of the
amount o f CO2 produced by the routine use of cars.
1.3. Assignment Three: Relationship between Fuel
Efficiency St andards and US Ne ed for Imported
This assignment carries out an analysis of the relation-
ship between the average fuel efficiency of US vehicles
and the amount of oil the US is required to import to
make up for inadequate domestic production. In 2007,
the US imported nearly five billion barrels of oil.
This assignment carries out a very simple analysis of
the impact of improved MPG on imports. First, it as-
sumes all the imported oil is used for transportation.
Secondly, it assumes one number for each MPG alterna-
tive, even though cars remain on the road for about ten
years and it would be impossible to bring up all vehicles
at once to a higher standard. It also makes the assump-
tion that the amount of miles driven would remain con-
stant. However given these limita tions, this analysis does
show how improving vehicle MPG can have a direct
impact on oil imports.
The analysis is as follows. Every barrel of oil when re-
fined produces 19.5 gallons of gasoline. Given the aver-
age MPG of US vehicles of 20 MPG, in 2007 imported
oil was used to drive nearly two trillion miles. Keeping
the number of miles driven as a constant, an analysis was
conducted to see how improved MPG could reduce oil
imports. An analysis was conducted for the 2020 CAFÉ
standards of 35 MPG (set by US legislation), an MPG of
48.4 for current hybrid technology, an MPG of 59 MPG
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
The Relationship between Energy Literacy and Environmental Sustainability
by European diesel engines, and an estimated MPG of
93.50 for a plug-in hybrid under development by Google.
Results ranged from a drop in imports of 43% resulting
from 2020 CAFÉ standards, to a drop of 79% from the
plug-in hybrid.
1.4. Capstone Data Analysis Project: Team Analysis
of Energy Forecast Data
This in class assignment is the capstone exercise for the
energy data analysis module. Students are paired in
teams, and given a spreadsheet that is the official US
forecast of energy production and consumption from
2007 through 2030. Students are given a series of ques-
tions, and are asked to design a chart that answers the
questions, and write a paragraph explaining what their
chart illustrates, and what co nclusions can be drawn from
the chart.
Here is the Scenario and the questions each student
team must answer:
You have been hired to work as student interns for
Goldman Sachs, to assist them in the preparation of
global investment recommendations for the next 20 years.
One factor that will influence future conditions is the
degree of dependence the US has on imported oil. The
more oil the US has to import, the more vulnerable US
companies will be to disruptions in energy sources,
which may weaken US companies. You are being asked
to prepare a report on the state of US energy independ-
ence, based on official projections made by the US En-
ergy Information Agency (EIA). In your report you will
prepare answers to the questions listed below. The goal
is to present a written report that answers the questions
using charts.
1) What will the status of energy independence pro-
jected to be in 2020? In 2030? Create a chart that dem-
onstrates your answer.
2) What is expected to be the most successful source
of alternative fuels during the decade from 2020 to 2030?
Produce a chart that demonstrates your answer.
3) How is liquid fuel consumption expected to change
from 2006 to 2030 in each of the sectors listed (residen-
tial, industrial, transportation, electric power)?
This assignment asks students to evaluate US energy
independence based on official projections from the EIA
through 2030. This is a challenging assignment for these
students for several reasons. First of all, the forecast
spreadsheet from the EIA is an official document, and is
extremely complex, with many different categories of
consumption, production, and fuel types. Many columns
have footnotes explaining technical differences between
grades of fuel students are unfamiliar with. In addition,
there is no row or column anywhere on the spreadsheet
with the words “energy independence”. Instead, the stu-
dents must define what that means, and then select the
right data on the spreadsheet that will display the answer.
A second challenge to this assignment is that the stu-
dents are required to produce a chart to illustrate their
answer. This is a complex task which requires them to
construct a visual representation of data. Many find this
to be difficult, and frankly their first versions of charts
look awful. Only after they identify the data required,
and clearly describe the relationship they are trying to
represent, are they able to produce a chart that makes
2. Readings and Discussion Postings
In parallel with the data analysis exercises, students were
assigned a weekly reading and discussion exercise.
These readings provided a context to energy use, and
provided the students with a framework with which to
interpret the findings of their data analysis.
2.1. Week One
Reading Assignment: National Geographic 6-08, “Tapped
Discussion questions:
1) This week’s assigned reading is Tapped Out, pub-
lished in National Geographic. The article talks about
discovery rates, and how they can be used to forecast
future production trends. What is the connection between
discovery rates and production? And what trends do dis-
covery rates predict for production?
2) This article begins with a discussion of an analysis
undertaken by Sadad Al Husseini, a Saudi oil geologist.
Al Husseini was skeptical of forecasts for future oil pro-
duction. He decided to carry out a quantitative data
analysis to determine whether these forecasts were real-
istic. What did he find out? What method did he apply to
collect information and reach his conclusion?
3) Do you agree or disagree with th e con clusions of Al
Husseini? What weakness or problems do you see from
his method?
2.2. Week Two
Reading Assignment: NY Times 4-23-08, “Europe Turns
Back to Coal, Raising Climate Fears”.
Discussion questions:
1) Many countries are turning to coal for electricity.
Why? What are the advantages of using coal?
2) What does the article say about “clean coal”? What
is the biggest problem caused by burning more coal?
3) Are oil companies greedy when they raise the price
of oil? Argue that this is TRUE, and support your argu-
ment with facts (include reference or link to sources).
4) Are oil companies greedy when they raise the price
of oil? Argue that this is FALSE, and support your ar-
gument with facts (include reference or link to sources).
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
The Relationship between Energy Literacy and Environmental Sustainability
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
2.3. Week Thr ee
Reading Assignment: The Atlantic Council 10 - 05, “The
Inevitable Pea king of World Oil Pro duct i o n ” .
Discussion questions:
1) Who is the author of this week’s assigned readings?
What is his background? What are his qualifications on
this topic? What organization published this report?
What type of work does this organization do?
2) What is meant by “peaking”? What is the difference
between peaking versus “running out of oil”?
3) The paper talks about a liquid fuels crisis. What
does that mean? What industries are vulnerable to a liq-
uid fuels crisis ?
2.4. Week Fou r
Assignment: Watch the video podcast “Winning the oil
endgame” (available on iTunes).
Discussion questions:
1) The presenter says we don’t necessarily need oil,
but that we want the service it provides. What does he
2) The presenter mentions that the Pentagon funded
the study that led to the book “Winn ing the oil endg ame”.
According to the presenter, why do es the military hav e a
motivation to study how to eliminate the use of oil?
3) What strategies does the presenter suggest to in-
crease the efficiency of cars?
4) What do you think of the validity of the presenta-
tion? Did his proposal seem to be a good idea? Why or
why not?
2.5. Week Five
Reading Assignment: “Green IS: Building Sustainable
Business Practices”, by Marie-Claude Boudreau, Adela
Chen, and Mark Huber.
Discussion questions:
1) The authors make a distinction between Green IT
and Green IS. Define what is meant by Green IT. Define
what is meant by Green IS. How are they different?
2) Velib is an innovative bicycle rental program im-
plemented in Paris, France. It is described in the article
beginning on page 6. Do you think this would work in
NYC? Why or why not?
3) The paper identifies three types of sustainability
goals: pollution prevention, product stewardship, and
clean technology. Defin e one of these goals, and provide
a specific example of a company meeting one of these
goals (include a link to a web site or article describing
the effort).
4) The paper identifies three levels in which a sus-
tainability goal may apply: individual, organizational,
and societal. Define the difference between individual,
organizational and societal. Give an example of how an
individual (such as yourself) can meet a sustainability
goal, how an organization can do so, and how society at
large can do so.
5) The paper identifies individual, organizational, and
societal levels for sustainability efforts. Is one more im-
portant than the other? Rank these levels, and include an
explanation for your ranking.
3. Group Project—Corporate Sustainability
Case Study
As a capstone to the course, student teams produced a
group web page that presented a sustainability analysis
of a particular company. The site contained the following
Main page: Home page for your site, with a menu to
control to the other sections of the web site.
Overview of target company: This page presented a
summary of the company being analyzed. The analysis
included a discussion of strengths, weaknesses, leader-
ship issues, and any positive or negative ethical/moral
issues being raised by the company and/or the media or
government; an overview of the industry which the com-
pany is in; and an overall view of sustainability within
the industry as a whole (as seen from both internal and
external evaluations).
Examples of sustainability pra ctices: This p ag e sum-
marizes sustainability business practices the target com-
pany has in place, or has announced plans to put into
place. The page must include at least two examples of
sustainability efforts in this section. In your description
of these practices, you must refer to the Framework of
Sustainability Options (from the “Green” IS reading),
and identify what practice the company is engaging in.
For example, if the company has a program to recycle
used products, that program is an example of Product
Comparison of compa ny to its competitors: This pag e
presents an argument as to whether the target company is
a leader in sustainable practices, or whether they are a
Team bio page: Names of all team members with a
picture and a short bio.
Project source page: All web sites, articles, or re-
sources used must be listed on this page in MLA format.