Accountability of FCS Education to a Sustainability Ethos: Focus on Sustainable Consumption

By Wuest, Beth; Hustvedt, Gwendolyn et al. | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

Accountability of FCS Education to a Sustainability Ethos: Focus on Sustainable Consumption


Wuest, Beth, Hustvedt, Gwendolyn, Kang, Jiyun, Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


The American Association of Family & Consumer Sciences (AAFCS) uses the phrase "creating healthy and sustainable families" to convey the family and consumer sciences (FCS) professional identity (home economics, human ecology, and human sciences). The inclusion of sustainability in the AAFCS logo reflects that the health of families and communities depends on the ability of FCS professionals to act on their commitment to consider the social, economic, and environmental impact of decisions. The FCS ecosystems approach requires FCS professionals to educate students about the interaction between the micro, meso, macro, and global environments and the quality of life of individuals and families. Sustainability is considered to be one of the five crosscutting themes in the AAFCS body of knowledge ("The FCS Body of Knowledge," 2010).

Although FCS higher education practitioners are accountable to numerous stakeholders, they must first and foremost be accountable to themselves; they might "check in" on how successfully they are producing FCS professionals who are prepared and motivated to incorporate sustainability into their personal and professional futures. Indeed, if, as defined in the JFCS call for papers for a special issue on accountability, the term accountability means "calculating the import of one's actions and then taking action" ("Themes and Deadlines for 2014," 2012, p. 55), it seems that FCS has already calculated the importance of explicitly incorporating sustainability into its educational efforts and has begun to take action in shaping FCS students (Makela, 2003; Thompson, Harden, Clauss, Fox, & Wild, 2012).

A key dimension of sustainability is sustainable consumption, considered to be the adjustment of consumption that results in the best balance of "human needs, equity, quality of life, resource efficacy, waste minimization, life cycle thinking, consumer health and safety, and consumer sovereignty" (Mont & Plepys, 2008, p. 532), through any effective avenue (e.g., policy, economic incentives, and cultural or behavioral changes). This study about sustainable consumption compared students majoring in FCS and its specializations to those majoring in other fields on constructs of perceived consequences of sustainable consumption, ethical obligation, and learning about sustainability as well as their behavioral intention toward sustainable consumption. The intent was to discern whether FCS students being educated by FCS professionals were more predisposed to a sustainability ethos; that is, can FCS educators teaching sustainable consumption be accountable to the profession's commitment to sustainability?

LITERATURE REVIEW

Sustainability concerns ecology, and the study of FCS is rooted in ecology. Ellen Swallow Richards, the founder and first president of the American Home Economics Association (AHEA), in 1909, was an early proponent of ecology and human ecology (Clarke, 1973). Human ecology theory uniquely focuses on "humans as both biological organisms and social beings in interaction with their environment" and emphasizes "the creation, use, and management of resources for creative adaptation, human development, and sustainability of environments" (Bubolz & Sontag, 1993, p. 419). The framework for sustainability also connects natural and human components in a socioeconomic system with the intent of enhancing quality of life while at the same time conserving the natural environmental system (Makela, 2003; Meadows, 1998).

It seems that FCS, human ecology theory, and the framework for sustainability are inextricably intertwined, making FCS one of the original sustainability disciplines. The micro environment of the home and family systems was the primary focus of 20th century human ecology; concern about the detrimental impact of air/water/soil pollution, adulterated food, and other ill effects of the industrial revolution on the macro environment was a motivating factor in the desire of the founding home economists to spread scientific skills and knowledge to women and their families (Brown, 1985). …

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