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  Table of Contents 
Year : 2021  |  Volume : 25  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 128-132

Environmental literacy among college students

1 Deptartment of Public Health, Prasanna School of Public Health, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal, Karnataka, India
2 ICMR-National Institute for Research in Environmental Health, Bhopal Bypass Road, Bhauri, Bhopal, India

Date of Submission05-May-2020
Date of Acceptance18-Jun-2020
Date of Web Publication9-Oct-2021

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Rajnarayan R Tiwari
ICMR-National Institute for Research in Environmental Health, Bhopal Bypass Road, Bhauri, Bhopal
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijoem.IJOEM_141_20

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Environmental degradation has become a serious source of concern for contemporary society, giving rise to efforts in the way of advocacies, conferences and awareness campaigns at different levels. It has been widely acknowledged that environmental literacy, which is an outcome of environmental education, can provide a strong foundation for future environmental responsiveness, as well as help in the transition towards more sustainable societies and healthy living. The present study carried out among 280 college students including 145 males and 135 females in the age group 17–30 years to assess the levels of environmental knowledge and attitudes. A structured questionnaire was used to gather the information using interview technique as data collection tool. Almost 40% of the subjects were unaware about the environment, while less than half of the respondents were unwilling to protect endangered species, unwilling to change their lifestyle for protecting environment, unconcerned by other's land use, and consider runoff of water and global warming as exaggeration. The overall awareness was about 61.5%, while the attitude towards environmental protection was further lower at 50%. Thus, to conclude there is a need for environmental literacy initiatives at the university level to generate a better appreciation, involvement, and the optimistic ideas necessary to contribute to the quality of our environment.

Keywords: College students, environmental education, sustainable environment

How to cite this article:
Shri G U, Tiwari RR. Environmental literacy among college students. Indian J Occup Environ Med 2021;25:128-32

How to cite this URL:
Shri G U, Tiwari RR. Environmental literacy among college students. Indian J Occup Environ Med [serial online] 2021 [cited 2022 Aug 8];25:128-32. Available from:

  Introduction Top

In the recent time, the environmental degradation has caused a concern among stakeholders as well as society. There are efforts to slow the pace of degradation if not totally mitigate it. These efforts are in the form of raising awareness through conferences and awareness campaigns involving various sections of the society. The quality of environment is believed to have been significantly deteriorated to an alarming rate. There has been decrease in air, water and soil quality, increase in ocean pollution, wildlife extinction, loss of biodiversity, and increasing loss of lives and property damages through more frequent and intense catastrophic natural disasters.[1] It has been widely acknowledged that environmental literacy, which is an outcome of environmental education, can not only provide a strong foundation for future environmental responsiveness but also help us to move towards more healthy living through sustainable societies. Economic and environmental sustainability can be achieved through behavioural changes towards more sustainable consumption and lifestyle changes which will in turn foster environment and human health development.[2]

The importance of environmental education has been discussed at several national and international seminars and workshops. The main goal of environmental education is to develop population of the world that is aware about the total environment and its problems and commitment to work individually and collectively towards solution of existing problems and the prevention of new one and ultimately making citizens environmentally literate.

Environmental literacy, the outcome of environmental education, is a difficult process. It is the capacity of an individual to act successfully in daily life on a broad understanding of how people and societies relate to each other and to natural systems, and how they might do so sustainably. Thus, environmental literacy requires sufficient awareness, knowledge, skills and attitudes to incorporate appropriate environmental considerations into daily decisions about consumption, lifestyle, career and civics, and to engage in individual as well as collective action.[3]

Earlier studies[4],[5] have demonstrated that there are major shortcomings in the public's understanding and awareness of environmental issues. The public's deficiency in environmental literacy is preventing the formation of environmental policy.[6] This is because the level of the public's environmental awareness and concern has demonstrable effects on whether individuals are willing and able to participate in the creation of public policy that improves environmental quality.[6]

Thus, environmental education, awareness and public participation in environmental protection have become important for attaining environmental sustainability. Therefore, this study was carried out to find the level of environmental literacy by assessing the knowledge, awareness and attitudes of the university students towards the environment and its problems.

  Materials and Methods Top

The present cross-sectional study was carried out among the college students of Manipal University of Higher Education (MAHE), Karnataka. MAHE encompasses several colleges that include college of arts, commerce, business, engineering, dental sciences, medical sciences, etc. The ethics committee is approved on February 2017.

The sample size was calculated taking a presumed prevalence of 50% with precision of 10% and confidence interval of 95% was 380. However, during the conduct of the study, only 280 students were included due to paucity of resources and time and limited cooperation of study participants. Students are sampled at random from wherever they were found in the university, which means that the investigator visited the campus of MAHE and interviewed the student whomsoever she came across and recorded the college to which the student belonged.

The data collection was done through interview method using a questionnaire. As the medium of instruction for all of the courses at MAHE is English, it was deemed fit to administer the questionnaire in English. The questionnaire, developed and adapted from questionnaires used in earlier studies,[7] contained four sections, namely, the demographic information, the information about the environment in which the study participant grow up, awareness and knowledge about environmental problems and attitudes towards environmental protection. A pilot testing was done among 50 respondents for validation of the questionnaire (Cronbach's alpha = 0.781).

The questionnaire about awareness contained 13 questions while that about attitude had 20 questions. For the correct response, a score of 1.00 was given, while for incorrect response, 0 score was given. Thus, there was a maximum score of 13.00 for awareness and 20.00 for the attitude. The responses were arbitrarily categorized based upon the mean scores. Mean Students who scored less than 5 were classified as having a “low” knowledge level regarding the environmental issues; students who scored 6–9 were considered to have a “moderate” level of knowledge, while the students who scored 10 or more were classified as having a “high” level of knowledge. Similarly for the attitude questionnaires were categorized into three categories, viz., negative attitude (scores <7), indifferent attitude (scores 8–14), and positive attitude (scores >15). For analysing the scores according to study variable, the mean score was considered. The statistical analysis was done by SPSS Version 24.0 and included proportions and percentages, calculation of correlation and application of test of significance such as ANOVA.

  Results Top

The present cross-sectional study was carried out among 280 students, which included 145 (51.8%) males and 135 (48.2%) females. Majority of the students were from age group 21–25 years (50.4%) followed by 17–20 years (32.1%) and 26–30 years (17.5%). Only 1.8% students spent majority of their childhood in suburban area, 22.5% in small town, 46.1% in small city, and 29.6% in large city. Out of total participants, 11.4% of students were from college of business and sciences each, 18.9% of students from college of commerce, 16.8% of students from college of engineering, 16.4% in college of communication, 12.1% of students from college of medicine and 12.9% students from college of Dental sciences.

[Table 1] shows the awareness of the respondents. It can be observed that almost 40% of the respondents were unaware about the environment. Though about two-third of the respondents knew about the biological community, only half of the respondents knew about the sources of water pollution. Similarly, half of the respondents did not know the world's population and about global warming. Two-third of the respondents agree that largely fossil fuels are being used by humans and 56% agree that oil, a fossil fuel, is a non-renewable source of energy. Nearly 40% of the respondents were also unaware about ecological footprints, and biodiversity and its conservation.
Table 1: Knowledge/Awareness of the respondents

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[Table 2] shows the attitude of the respondents regarding environment protection. Less than half of the respondents were unwilling to protect endangered species, unwilling to change their lifestyle for protecting environment, unconcerned by other's land use and consider runoff of water and global warming as exaggeration. Only 45% consider that government should pay for conservation of private land and only 37.5% use to buy organic food when shopping groceries.
Table 2: Attitudes of the respondents

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[Table 3] depicts the mean scores according to the study variables. For the awareness questionnaire, the median score was 8.00, while that for attitude was 10.00. Thus, it can be observed that overall awareness was about 61.5%, while the attitude towards environmental protection was further lower at 50%. Though there was no statistically significant difference in the mean score of awareness according to age, gender, environment of spending childhood and college stream, the attitude scores were significantly higher in those belonging to college of medicine as compared to those studying sciences.
Table 3: Mean awareness and attitudes scores of the respondents according to study variables

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  Discussion Top

The present study undertaken to assess the environmental awareness and attitude towards environmental protection of the college students revealed that the study participants had moderate awareness about environmental issues and majority has an indifferent attitude for environmental protection. There was no significant correlation between awareness level and attitude for environmental protection (R2 = 0.002; P = 0.975). The university studied comprises a very diverse community with students from many countries around the world, exhibiting different backgrounds, cultures and beliefs and were exposed to different educational systems. All of these factors could have influenced the results to some degree. Earlier studies also reported a limited understanding of environmental health concepts among their study participants and a lack of protective behaviours when faced with environmental risks.[8],[9],[10] A study conducted[4] on 1000 school teachers reported that the overall score of environmental awareness was 43.2 out of maximum score of 50. Similarly, another study revealed a low-level score (<50) of environmental awareness among secondary school students.[5] Thus, the studies demonstrate that there are major shortcomings in the public's understanding and awareness of environmental issues.

When analysed according to gender, the scores were similar for both the groups. Similar findings were reported by earlier studies also.[5],[10],[11],[12] Further when the influence of childhood experiences on participants' current levels of knowledge and attitudes toward environmental issues was analysed, it was found that the awareness and attitude scores of rural and suburban group were statistically non-significantly more than those who belonged to large cities. Possible reasons for this tendency include the fact that the people who grow up in relatively less urban, such as rural far and suburban, are most likely to be exposed to the natural outdoors on a daily basis than people who grow up in small towns or cities and larger cities.

When analysed according to the type of college, it was found that the knowledge score of those belonging to communication was the lowest. Similarly, on attitude scores, the medicine college students had significantly higher scores than other college students. Though no specific reasons for such mechanisms could be ascertained, it emphasizes that inclusion of environmental health in other course curriculum will be beneficial in raising their awareness and changing their attitude towards environmental protection.

The importance of the environment in which we all live cannot be overemphasised. The interdependence between man and environment is so obvious. Over the past few decades, environmental degradation became evident and natural catastrophic events became prevalent, which was seen largely as the result of man's avarice action infuriating the situation. Hence, this drawn the attention of global community towards a better and quality environment through sustainable development. In an effort to attain this goal, environmental education and awareness became important to bring community participation in environmental protection.

Also, the natural interdependence of science literacy, health literacy and environmental literacy will lead to the evolution of environmental health literacy.[13],[14],[15] Environmental health literacy “integrates concepts from both environmental literacy and health literacy to develop the wide range of skills and competencies that people need in order to seek out, comprehend, evaluate, and use environmental health information to make informed choices, reduce health risks, improve quality of life and protect the environment”.[16]

Thus to conclude, based on the present study, it is emphasised that there is a need for environmental literacy initiatives at the university level, which could generate a better appreciation, involvement and the optimistic ideas necessary to contribute to the quality of our environment. University can conduct environmental awareness campaigns and programs frequently in every department so the non-science background students will also have a good knowledge and awareness about the environment and can be good environment literates.


The authors would like to thank their colleagues and the faculty of the Department of Public Health (Prasanna School of Public Health) for their guidance and feedback during this project.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

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  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3]


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