A Virtual Learning Community to Facilitate Sustainable Behavior

EPA Grant Number: SU834733
Title: A Virtual Learning Community to Facilitate Sustainable Behavior
Investigators: Cohen, Maurie
Institution: New Jersey Institute of Technology
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Phase: I
Project Period: August 15, 2010 through August 14, 2011
Project Amount: $10,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2010) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Agriculture , P3 Challenge Area - Energy , P3 Awards , Sustainability


To launch a web-based virtual learning community to encourage participants to experiment and share their experiences using a new generation of electronic shopping guides designed to facilitate more sustainable consumption practices.


Over the past decade, numerous scientific panels in the United States and elsewhere have asserted that changes in individual behavior will be necessary to ensure long-term sustainability. This project will recruit several hundred participants to take part in an interactive study involving the use of a new generation of electronic shopping guides. These guides are available on an open-source basis and can be downloaded to an iPhone or similar handheld device. Consumers can then use these applications to conveniently access ecological profiles of ordinary household products on a point-of-purchase basis. There is at present little knowledge available on how consumers use this information and the degree to which it influences their shopping behavior. The project will link users of these applications together into a “virtual community” with the aim of encouraging them to communicate with one another about their experiences. We will then use a series of qualitative data analysis techniques to formulate a more robust understanding of the role that electronic shopping guides might play in steering more sustainable consumption practices.

Expected Results:

Research to date on virtual learning communities suggests that electronic interaction can be a useful way to impact new skills and to encourage innovative practices by creating networked systems of mutual support. We expect that by being able to exchange information, trade tips, and offer encouragement among a group of peers, project participants will gain confidence in the use of electronic shopping guides and embed them in their lifestyles. We also expect to learn about the amount of leverage that such applications might have in fostering durable changes in consumer practices.

Supplemental Keywords:

sustainable consumer behavior, green consumerism, ecological labeling,

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report