Survey Finds Lack of Effective Ethics Inclusion in ES Higher Education

Last November I shared my “Sand County Story” which began as a junior at Purdue University and indicated that a new strategic priority for the Leopold Foundation is to ensure that college and university students in environmental studies, sciences, and sustainability programs – our future conservation leaders – are exposed to ethics content during their academic experience.

A growing recognition at the foundation has been that while we know anecdotally many people are first introduced to Leopold and the land ethic on college campuses, we do not have baseline data for where Leopold is being used, what of his work and writings are being taught, and in what kind of classes or curricula. And while exposure to Leopold provides students with at least a minimum of ethics context, we believe that current and future leaders are going to need a strong philosophical foundation and competencies in ethical decision-making in order to truly contend with the often described “wicked” ecological and social justice challenges of global climate change and the associated massive species extinction crises.

Our first step in gathering information and context was working with Dr. David Saltz and Dr. James Justus on a paper sharing the disappointing and discouraging results of David’s survey of 50 graduate-level conservation biology programs. (Read the whole article here.)

While the study was revealing, it was clear we needed more data and more context to fully understand the landscape. The Leopold Foundation launched a nationwide survey that explored the status of ethics in environmental studies, science, and sustainability programs in higher education across the country. With responses from nearly 300 educators, the survey was found to be representative of all U.S. environmental and sustainability programs according to the 2016 National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) census.

It is with excitement, we can now share the summary of this survey with you!  


While the results show that administrators and faculty in environment and sustainability-focused programs believe in the importance of environmental ethics education, a significant gap exists in the level of inclusion and effectiveness of current ethics instruction. Several other findings reveal roadblocks to increasing ethics content, as well as requests for additional teaching resources, and a call for creating appropriate learning outcomes.

While nine out of ten Environmental and Sustainability instructors in higher education see the importance of ethics in the curriculum, more than three quarters believe current offerings are inadequate.

Given that content related to Aldo Leopold and the concept of land ethics provides students with at least a minimal level of ethics exposure, it was encouraging to learn from the survey that 71% of respondents do, in fact, use Leopold related content. 

This aligns with and supports our anecdotal sense which is also being affirmed as we continue to collect more “Sand County Stories” from folks like:

Martin Frenzel: 

“I picked up a copy at the University of New Mexico Bookstore …”

Shane Gibson: 

I happened upon A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold while searching for my required texts at Indiana University’s Memorial Union. A Sand County Almanac was listed under the class Geology 315 at a discounted price of $6.71.”

Kevin Koch (English professor):

“It took my students considerably less time than me to realize that it’s a moot discussion as to whether A Sand County Almanac is simple or profound. What matters, quite simply, is the profound impact the book has had, past and present, on readers in my classroom and throughout the world.”

Baird Callicott (professor that taught the first-ever course in environmental ethics in 1971):

“I was preparing to teach a new course called “Environmental Ethics” at Wisconsin State University—Stevens Point, and had no syllabus and no textbooks … while other texts shuffled in and out, A Sand County Almanac remains at the core of my curriculum.”

As a short term intervention to help continue this tradition and help address the gap that exists between the perceived importance of ethics and its inclusion, we extend a special educational discounted rate of $6/copy (regularly $12.95 retail) for orders of A Sand County Almanac for higher education institutions.

A Sand County Almanac book cover

Educational Use Discount
$6.00 per copy
($12.95 retail)




As the foundation continues to work toward addressing this gap, we hope you will stay connected for more updates, resources, and opportunities to help as we endeavor to reach even more students.

Together, one organization and one campus at a time, we can ensure all students graduating from these programs have the ethical foundation to face the tough environmental challenges of the current day and those of the future.  

The full data set and report will be available shortly. Join our email list to stay up to learn more about this initiative and when new resources are available.


In the meantime share your “Sand County Story” so we have even more data and stories to understand where, when, and how the call for a land ethic has been successful.