Changing from current unsustainable production, consumption, and disposal patterns will clearly require technological, political and other structural changes, but also individual behavior change. Consumer demand and individuals’ purchasing power exerts pressure on many parts of the production system, including how crops are produced (i.e., organic), products are packaged and labeled (i.e., rBGH-free labels on milk), and even where products are distributed and how they are disposed of. Individual consumer behaviors have even led to political and structural changes overtime, such the consumer boycott of tuna which led to 1990 US legislation creating the "Dolphin Safe" tuna label.
One of the central ways to foster responsible citizenry and promote sustainable production is to harness the capacity of teachers and schools to create change. Educating for conscious consumerism is a critical part of creating changes in production, consumption and disposal systems, but our current education system and approaches often reinforce unsustainable practices that neglect subjective ways of knowing as well as action and change. Research and experience suggests that traditional, information intensive teaching about sustainability alone does not motivate the behavior change a transition to sustainability will require. Utilizing a previously developed framework that identifies four distinct types of knowledge—declarative, procedural, effectiveness and social—we hypothesize that procedural, effectiveness and social knowledge are important predictors of an individual’s participation in sustainable behaviors, while declarative (information) knowledge is not. While the knowledge domain framework has been theoretically detailed by other researchers (Kaiser & Fuhrer, 2003; Frisk & Larson, 2011) and qualitatively assessed through an intensive case study education program (Redman 2013), to date, this is the first quantitative assessment of the relationship between the four domains of knowledge and sustainability-related behaviors.
We tested our hypothesis through an extensive survey of 346 current and future K-12 teachers about sustainable food and waste knowledge and behaviors. The survey results supported our hypothesis that high levels of declarative knowledge alone did not predict increased participation in sustainable behaviors while procedural and social knowledge were statistically significant predictors of sustainable food behaviors and procedural, effectiveness, and social knowledge were all statistically significant predictors of sustainable waste behaviors. Through active incorporation of appropriate forms of procedural, effectiveness, and social knowledge into the K-12 classroom, educators can empower the next generation to make individual changes based on their vision of the future and insist on structural and institutional changes that are essential for a successful transition to sustainability.