Qualitative Assessment: Comparing College Campus Sustainability Reports in Oregon


Sustainability is a “big” word that carries multiple and often conflicting meanings for different people or institutions. Due to the broadness of the word, questions shift from “how can we be sustainable?” to “what kind of sustainability?” Since sustainability is such a commonly used word in environmental discussions, many scholars have done qualitative analyses to designate its various meanings. The results of one of these analyses are displayed on a website called critical sustainabilities,  launched by Miriam Greenberg and colleagues in 2013. According to Greenberg, sustainability can be broken down into five categories: eco-oriented (focus on biophysical systems, biotic or abiotic surroundings), market-oriented (regarding large scale government action), justice-oriented (restoration of equity among race/class), and vernacular (collectivist approaches).

In this particular assessment, we used Voyant Tool to compare the sustainability reports of three different colleges in Oregon: Oregon State University, Pacific University, and Lewis & Clark College. Through running a qualitative analysis on each of these reports, we hoped to better understand these different meanings of sustainability and what kind of sustainability each campus focuses on.


Before running the analysis, we read Greenberg’s 2013 article and identified four types of sustainability (eco-oriented, market-oriented, justice-oriented, and vernacular) that would be used to categorize the results. Upon clarifying the four types of sustainability, we came up with a list of indicator words for each category – words that best describe a particular approach to sustainability. We would look for these indicator words in the narratives we compared.

Here are some key indictor words for each category:

Eco-oriented: ecosystem, natural, energy

Market-oriented: technology, institutional, profitable

Justice: power, race, gender, class, access

Vernacular: community, traditional, historical

As a lab team, we chose sustainability narratives of three different universities (listed above) to analyze and compare. Each lab team member analyzed one of these reports and did so by using Voyant Tool. We did this by simply copying the report into the Voyant Tool text box and clicking “reveal” to unpack the text. To narrow down the results, we removed any “big” or frequent words that don’t point towards a sustainability category. Results are displayed via “cirrus”, a visual representation of the text in which frequently used words are displayed in a cluster. The more frequently a word is used in a narrative, the larger it will appear. Results are also displayed via a “terms berry” in which displays the most frequent terms and how they relate to other terms. Related terms to the words that appear in “term berry” can be seen by scrolling over the text bubbles.


Oregon State University (Analyzed by Shawn Bolker)

[iframe style=’width: 413px; height: 453px;’ src=’//voyant-tools.org/tool/Cirrus/?stopList=keywords-c46ee7b30ec2a1cce35a6f8d24f69892&whiteList=&corpus=1a1f2550cc6ec8f4fd2af1a04be7e95c’]

[iframe style=’width: 458px; height: 453px;’ src=’//voyant-tools.org/tool/TermsBerry/?stopList=keywords-c46ee7b30ec2a1cce35a6f8d24f69892&corpus=1a1f2550cc6ec8f4fd2af1a04be7e95c’]

In Oregon State University’s report, the terms: points (36), community (33), student (28), waste (24), reduction (21) and energy (27) were used the most. These words also displayed the most connections in term berry.

Pacific University (Analyzed by Mamelang Memela)

[iframe style=’width: 413px; height: 453px;’ src=’//voyant-tools.org/tool/Cirrus/?stopList=keywords-d9ed0b7ed04e915946dd73ca3ac9b32e&corpus=ec09826bd03e47c989f2147937d88c7b’]

[iframe style=’width: 413px; height: 453px;’ src=’//voyant-tools.org/tool/TermsBerry/?stopList=keywords-d9ed0b7ed04e915946dd73ca3ac9b32e&corpus=ec09826bd03e47c989f2147937d88c7b’]

The term “energy” (30) plays an especially central role in Pacific University’s report, appearing most frequently an carrying the most connections with words like “use” and “natural.” Some other commonly used terms were climate (17), forest (15) and grove (15).

Lewis & Clark College (Analyzed by Morgan Fries)

[iframe style=’width: 413px; height: 453px;’ src=’//voyant-tools.org/tool/Cirrus/?stopList=keywords-4efbc22ad542233d41d9a4866821ed1e&whiteList=&visible=125&corpus=19a2b2f5cf46d48f071be4630dcb9fb9′]

[iframe style=’width: 413px; height: 453px;’ src=’//voyant-tools.org/tool/TermsBerry/?stopList=keywords-4efbc22ad542233d41d9a4866821ed1e&numInitialTerms=25&corpus=19a2b2f5cf46d48f071be4630dcb9fb9′]

In Lewis & Clark College’s report, the term “institution” is used the most, appearing 481 times throughout the report, showing most connections with terms like students and facilities. Other commonly used terms were program (248) and student (171).


Upon analyzing the reports above, it is clear that although there are overlapping themes, each college emphasizes different approaches towards sustainability. With the words “community” and “student” used the most, Oregon State University could be aiming towards a hybrid of vernacular and eco-oriented sustainability. OSU’s report was most varied and didn’t necessarily contain a strikingly prominent key word. Pacific University’s report focused a lot on “energy,” suggesting that it leans towards an eco-oriented approach to sustainability. The term “institution” showed up the most in Lewis & Clark College’s report, suggesting that it leans toward the market-oriented approach. It is interesting that little-to-no justice-oriented key words surfaced in any of the sustainability reports. This could be due to the reports dealing with generally more bio-physical or institutional approaches but it remains unclear why justice-oriented keywords are often left out.

Although key words do allow one to grasp some overall themes of a narrative, it is still necessary to read the narrative to truly understand the message. The key words above do point out prominent themes that appear throughout the sustainability reports but it takes a close read to truly absorb the more detailed meanings. Overall, qualitative analysis via Voyant Tool is a useful and efficient way to isolate key terms from a text. People most often express their values, discoveries, research, and beliefs through writing so it is important to be able to analyze text –  not only numerical data. This lab was essential in expanding the ways in which one can dissect a text for deeper meaning and underlying themes.


Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. 2017. “Lewis & Clark College STARS Report,” June.

Greenberg, Miriam. 2013. “What on Earth Is Sustainable?: Toward Critical Sustainability Studies.” Boom: A Journal of California 3 (4):54–66. https://doi.org/10.1525/boom.2013.3.4.54.

Pacific University Sustainability Center. 2014. “Center for a Sustainable Society Annual Report October 13, 2014,” October.

Trelstad, Brandon. 2013. “Oregon State University – Sustainability Report: Fiscal Year 2012,” November.




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