The Contribution of Social Sciences to Sustainable Development at Universities

Part of the series World Sustainability Series pp 273-287


Material Values, Goals, and Water Use: Results from a Campus Residence Hall Survey

  • Kala J. MelchioriAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Loyola University Chicago Email author 
  • , Robyn K. MallettAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Loyola University Chicago
  • , Aaron N. DurnbaughAffiliated withInstitute for Environmental Sustainability, Loyola University Chicago
  • , Hanh D. PhamAffiliated withInstitute for Environmental Sustainability, Loyola University Chicago

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The social sciences, psychology in particular, offer a growing body of research to address sustainability issues. We specifically turn to the psychological literature on values and goals to predict eco-friendly behavior. Material values, such as the desire to gain happiness from purchasing products, predict consumption behavior (Richins and Dawsons in J Consum Res 19(3):303–316, 1992). We test whether material values predict water use, and whether the relationship will be mediated through the competing goals to conserve resources and maintain personal comfort. Specifically, we hypothesize that people will use more natural resources when the goal for personal comfort outweighs the goal to conserve resources (Gaspar in Sustainability 5(7):2960–2975, 2013). 269 residence hall students completed an online survey that included the Material Values Scale, a conservation goal item, and a personal comfort goal item. Students also reported water use, including shower time and dish washing habits. As predicted, material values, the conservation goal, and the comfort goal independently predicted water use. However, only the personal comfort goal explained the relation between material values and water use. To increase the likelihood of behavior change, campus water conservation campaigns should try to activate the goal to conserve resources, like reminding students to shorten showers, while dissuading material values, possibly by emphasizing the value of experience over consumption.


Ecopsychology Water conservation Campus sustainability Residence halls