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The incoherence of sustainability literacy assessed with the Sulitest


Improving sustainability knowledge has long been central to international efforts to achieve sustainable development. In response to these efforts, which are formalized in Target 4.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals, a global group of scholars and practitioners, in cooperation with the United Nations, designed and fielded the ‘Sulitest’, a survey tool that assesses sustainability knowledge in a variety of contexts. The Sulitest has been taken by over 160,000 individuals across 63 countries. Despite its substantial use, there is little systematic analysis of the data or the test itself. We analyse the Sulitest using both exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis, common techniques for identifying latent components within observed data. The Sulitest was designed to measure knowledge within four themes; however, this architecture is not supported by the data. Analysis suggests there is no coherent structure of sustainability knowledge. We urge caution to policymakers and educators when using the Sulitest as a diagnostic tool for assessing sustainability knowledge.

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Fig. 1: Scree plot produced by EFA.
Fig. 2: Expected versus actual factor structure as determined by EFA.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study were provided to the researchers by Sulitest with the condition that the exact question wording and response data not be made publicly available. However, data are available on reasonable request from Sulitest ( Aggregate data and further information, including coding, on the analysis, within the bounds of the memorandum of understanding, are available from the authors on request.


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We thank A. Décamps and the Sulitest Organization for making the underlying data accessible.

Author information




All authors contributed to manuscript preparation. C.K. coordinated data collection and preparation, coordinated tasks and, in conjunction with A.C.S. and E.R.A.N.S., performed the data analysis and interpretation. H.H. helped in task coordination and aided in theoretical development.

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Correspondence to Colin Kuehl.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Sustainability thanks Valeria Schwanitz and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Fig. 1 and Tables 1 and 2.

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Kuehl, C., Sparks, A.C., Hodges, H. et al. The incoherence of sustainability literacy assessed with the Sulitest. Nat Sustain 4, 555–560 (2021).

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