Welcome to EcoTypes! Below are some answers to the questions we frequently hear. If others, feel free to fill out the question form; thank you.
I haven’t heard of EcoTypes before; please give me the basics.
EcoTypes is an educational and research initiative launched in 2017 by Prof. Jim Proctor of Lewis & Clark College in Portland, OR (USA). EcoTypes offers a free, anonymous survey, customized survey report, and online resources for participants to explore a wide range of environmental ideas and expand their approach to environmental issues. As of late fall 2021, roughly 7000 respondents have completed the EcoTypes survey, representing approximately 100 institutions of higher education in the USA and other countries. Though EcoTypes has focused on undergraduate students in American higher education, the online survey and resources are freely available to anyone.
The EcoTypes website and survey have been extensively revised in summer 2021, and we hope to release a complementary book in 2022. A Lewis & Clark College student, Liv Ladaire, has also recently produced a five minute overview video.
How long does it take to do the survey? How do I benefit?
As of summer 2021, there is a new, brief version of the EcoTypes survey, which should only take you about 10-15 minutes. It’s now fully anonymous, and is totally free and available to anyone who can get online and complete an English-language survey.
Right after you submit it, your answers will be analyzed relative to over 2500 college students who took the survey between 2019-21, and based on the analysis you’ll see a customized report that includes your axis and theme scores, and your derived EcoType. The report has a code you can enter if you wish to retrieve it any time in future.
You thus benefit via a free, comprehensive analysis of your environmental ideas, and further resources for going deeper with your survey results on the EcoTypes site.
What was your motivation in launching EcoTypes?
This is Jim Proctor speaking here, to tell you my personal motivation behind EcoTypes. I’ve taught college-level environmental courses for almost 30 years, and have written in the area of environmental theory for over three decades. I’ve long observed our need to go deeper on environmental issues, not only via greater understanding of the issues but also greater understanding of ourselves: the ideas that shape how we approach these issues. We usually teach environmental ideas as an assortment of concepts like deep ecology, environmental justice, sustainability, and so forth. But very few of these concepts are comprehensive (though some, like political ecology, try to be), and few may fully express how each one of us approaches environmental issues.
Then there’s a more systematic, empirical approach, with surveys designed to capture our environmental ideas—sort of an environmental equivalent to the Keirsey Temperament Sorter. One well-known example is the New Ecological Paradigm, though the ideas it includes are limited and decidedly normative (i.e., there is a “right answer”).
EcoTypes seeks to blend conceptual and empirical approaches in offering a more comprehensive, systematic, personal way for us to explore environmental ideas. The fifteen axes included in EcoTypes are far more than we usually associate with environmental issues. And the three themes derived from these axes, and five EcoTypes derived from these themes, offer empirically-based conceptual insights on the key questions we are collectively asking, and how we are answering them in differing ways, addressing some of the most important philosophical debates around environmental issues. You may well identify with the EcoType the survey provides you—and, via other EcoTypes resources, you may better appreciate the strengths and limitations of your EcoType, ultimately growing in the process.
*See What’s New in ’22 for more work in progress, including three new candidate EcoTypes axes and a new, larger EcoTypes-based initiative, Focus on Frameworks.
Why the focus on “environmental ideas”?
EcoTypes is built on the premise that ideas—values, attitudes, perceptions, imaginaries—matter. Exploring environmental ideas may feel like a distraction, and indeed, with obvious environmental issues like rivers burning, we all pretty much agreed on what to do. But many environmental issues today, like climate change, are far more complicated and conflictual, demanding greater insight, creativity, and collaboration.
Today, perhaps more than ever, ideas matter. The question then is: which ideas? As you’ll see in our fifteen EcoTypes axes, a wide range of ideas can be called “environmental,” as they affect how we approach environmental issues. Look at that list of axes and you’ll see some you expected, and some that may surprise you! Environmental ideas are, you’ll discover, far more than “ideas about the environment.”
Ideas matter in a quite literal way too. Ideas aren’t just things in our heads: they arise from, and inform, our daily material lives. In a larger sense, saying “ideas matter” means that environmental ideas accompany the gritty material politics and practices that define environmental issues.
Focusing on environmental ideas is a way to focus on how we approach environmental issues, what may be some limitations in our approach, and how we can go deeper, and ultimately grow, by cultivating a richer, more creative approach.
Who came up with these axes, themes, and EcoTypes? Why isn’t there one on ____?
EcoTypes has been a collaborative effort, primarily involving college faculty and students across the USA. The idea was launched in 2016 at a Breakthrough Institute gathering, and developed via a series of annual workshops at Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences conferences. We started with six axes, and eventually expanded to fifteen total. We came up with survey statements for these fifteen axes via existing survey instruments, as well as analysis of early survey data: originally, there were eight statements for each axis, but in the most recent survey there are just two, statistically selected to represent many more.
It’s certainly possible to imagine additional EcoTypes axes—though some that have been proposed by others are probably derivatives of existing axes, or less about fundamental ideas. For instance, there might readily be an Economies axis,* comparing support for market vs. planned economies, though these poll questions are common, and support may largely derive from the more fundamental axes that constitute the small vs. big Action theme—or one’s political preferences. A somewhat related Gallup poll question concerns whether environmental protection or economic growth ought to be given more priority. This question, however, potentially relates to multiple existing axes, including Change, Ethics, and Technology.
Themes and EcoTypes are another story. They are statistically derived from axes, via analysis of a large number of college-level participants: the three themes arose via factor analysis of axis responses, and the five EcoTypes via k-means cluster analysis of the themes. We had to put a name on themes and EcoTypes based on their statistical properties, but they are not made up.
Ultimately, consideration of whether or the EcoTypes initiative is adequately inclusive of a wide range of ideas is based on the three themes of Place, Knowledge, and Action, as they are the pivot between axes and EcoTypes.
*January 2022 update!: see What’s New in ’22 for three potential new axes, including this one.
I don’t think I can express my environmental ideas via a survey.
We understand that some people resist taking surveys, believing that they simplify often complex concepts. (Speaking for myself [Jim Proctor], I am often reluctant to complete surveys, for this very reason.)
But now, after analyzing over 2500 responses, we see all sorts of patterns—our differences as expressed in themes, and similarities as expressed in EcoTypes. These responses didn’t result in randomness: yes, we are each unique, and our environmental ideas can be complex, but there are patterns among us, and maybe we can learn from how we fit into these patterns. To find patterns among ourselves should not be surprising, given the common backgrounds, experiences, and values many of us share.
These patterns come from statistical combinations of multiple survey statements, making the results more robust than just your answer to one or two questions. Take the EcoTypes survey and see your results for yourself, then you get to decide what they say about how you approach environmental issues.
I don’t like how EcoTypes axes and themes have opposing poles.
It’s important that we appreciate a range of opinion on the fundamental environmental ideas captured in each axis. This range of opinion wasn’t made up; it represents real differences in popular and/or scholarly perspectives. We all see difference and debate around us today.
The EcoTypes poles give us a clear way to express, and measure, this range of opinion. (The survey allows you to choose a midpoint if you don’t strongly lean toward one pole or the next.) They ask us to be honest in locating our own opinions.
It’s worth considering that, by expressing strong positions, these axis poles capture the full flavor of differences around us. You might want to approach them as strong vs. weak arguments—and if you do, try not to defend a strong argument via its weak form, a fallacy named after medieval castles!
The EcoTypes theme poles were derived directly from factor analysis of their contributing axes. Remember that factor analysis reveals the biggest differences (statistical variance) between us; by examining the poles of contributing axes, these theme poles summarize our fundamental differences.
It’s understandable that some don’t feel comfortable with the conflict implied in these poles, and their respective survey statements. Many of us want both-and solutions that bring people together and don’t sound oppositional. This is a good thing!
EcoTypes themes suggest, however, that our biggest questions about environmental issues may be resolved not via agreement, but what one could call creative tension or constructive disagreement—as you’ll read in Three Steps to Growth. So, there may be productive ways to approach difference and disagreement as implied in EcoTypes poles—all to be further explored in more detail in the forthcoming book.
I don’t think your EcoTypes data are applicable to me.
Some wonder whether data taken largely from U.S. college students over the period 2019-21 mean anything outside of that context. This is a valid concern!: other people, in other times and places, may exhibit far different environmental ideas. (This concern seems not to arise among the huge number of psychological studies based purely on college student subjects—the so-called WEIRD population.)
The short answer: take the EcoTypes survey, get your customized report, and decide for yourself. You may or may not find these insights on your environmental ideas helpful. The longer answer? It’s below.
EcoTypes was launched as a joint educational/research initiative. Perhaps a pure research initiative, focused only on answering research questions via a survey, would have worked hard to achieve a representative sample. As an educational/learning initiative, however, the EcoTypes survey has been open to anyone who wanted to take it.
We decided that, rather than filter out survey responses based on over-representation, we would target one important sector of our initiative—college students—then remove redundant completions by any one respondent, and use those data for our analysis, covering a period of stability in the EcoTypes survey from January 2019 through May 2021.
This dataset is the basis for your EcoTypes survey report: we compare your data against this large dataset in order to calculate your theme scores and assign you an EcoType. (You can view a dynamic graph of these 2500+ data points as summarized via the five EcoTypes.)
The resultant dataset of 2580 student respondents proved rich in helping us understand the underlying structure of environmental ideas—the Place, Knowledge, and Action themes—among this population, and the theme-related EcoTypes. No matter what the distribution of respondents, the significance of these underlying themes and summary EcoTypes is corroborated by a good deal of literature in environmental theory—to be elaborated in the forthcoming book.
What this dataset is far less reliable in producing is any robust set of descriptive statistics—means, proportions, etc—because this is not a representative dataset. These statistics are shared on this site, for instance, for each EcoType, but they only represent the properties of our dataset, not any properties of the college student population. Indeed, these data reflect primarily that fraction of the college student population enrolled in environmental courses…the overwhelming basis for EcoTypes survey submissions. (What this means, however, is that you are compared against a group of people who generally are highly interested in environmental issues—yet they too have many differences, as expressed in their differing EcoTypes.)
Back to the question: are these data applicable beyond themselves? Let’s consider this an open question, to be incrementally answered as college students beyond the USA take the survey, or people beyond college students do so, or simply as time advances and new big questions (themes) and patterns in answers (EcoTypes) emerge.
As just one example, it is likely that the Indigenous Justice EcoType is of quite recent origin, as longstanding social justice movements on college campuses have embraced contemporary BIPOC sensibilities, though other EcoTypes such as Small is Beautiful reflect decades-old tendencies in environmentalism over the last fifty years, certainly in North America but likely elsewhere, due to how ideas move around the world.
What are the emergent EcoTypes in other lands and among other generations? They may or may not resemble the EcoTypes that emerged from our dataset. The history of ideas is a rich and contested terrain; it is exciting to imagine what we may learn next.
Tell me more about the _____ on this website!
The EcoTypes website was redesigned in summer 2021 to offer a more visual, fun way to learn about EcoTypes. It’s a WordPress site, with most graphics and site content/layout/programming by Jim Proctor. Summary information on axes, themes, and EcoTypes was constructed using the Toolset suite of CPT plugins. The EcoTypes survey was constructed using Formidable Forms, with numerical calculations emulating statistical procedures in SPSS used to derive themes and EcoTypes.
The colors used on the EcoTypes site are a combination of the green that was used extensively on the original EcoTypes site, and the orange and blue that have been used in past on the Lewis & Clark College website. They are also used to signify the three EcoTypes themes of place (green), knowledge (blue), and action (orange).
There is some capitalization that deviates from standard usage. In general, each axis, theme, or EcoType is capitalized (e.g., Aesthetics, Place, or Small is Beautiful) to denote its particular meaning on the EcoTypes site.
The front page image, and the image used on Going Deeper sections, were developed from publicly-available Ansel Adams photographs, including “The Tetons and the Snake River” (1942), and “McDonald Lake, Glacier National Park” (1942). Thanks to Jenn Bernstein for early EcoTypes collaboration, including this idea.
The front page video was produced by Lewis & Clark College student Liv Ladaire, as were the fifteen axis videos!…thank you, Olivia. (And thank you to college students across the U.S. who participated in EcoTypes interviews early summer 2021, with extracts featured on the axis videos.)
The dynamic graph of 2500+ students sharing five EcoTypes was developed by Jeremy McWilliams, Head of Digital Services, and student Haley R. of Lewis & Clark College using Plotly. Thank you, Haley and Jeremy!
Finally: we are testing an image share plugin. When you hover over certain images on the site you’ll see a variety of social media share options. We’d appreciate feedback on how well this works for you!