There are a growing number of university sustainability efforts, but the literature provides limited information to help universities decide if they are focused on sustainability aspects important to their stakeholders. To address this gap, Canadian student leaders’ conceptualizations of sustainable development (SD) and sustainable universities were investigated using a mixed methods approach with qualitative interviews and nested quantitative concept checklists. Themes were developed through thematic analysis and compared with support for checklist concepts to explore similarities and differences between the datasets. Conceptual variance existed between student leaders concerning sustainability; there was greater agreement between participants regarding conceptualizations of sustainable universities. Participants also believed that universities have a responsibility to lead by example and to educate both students and the greater community about sustainability. This research provides insight into the conceptualizations of a key university stakeholder, the importance of localized discussions of sustainability and encouragement for universities to engage in sustainability.
The use of integrated sustainability plans is an emerging trend in higher education institutions (HEIs) to set sustainability priorities and to create a work plan for action. This paper analyses the sustainability plans of 21 Canadian HEIs that have used the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). The plans were coded thematically with a focus on the sustainability goals, process of plan creation, and aspects of plan design outlined in the texts. This paper finds that sustainability goals focused on the environmental aspects of sustainability, while social and economic aspects were less emphasized. Further, most plans were described as being created through a broad stakeholder-consultation process, while fewer plans assigned timelines and parties responsible to sustainability goals. This paper contributes to our understanding of the priorities of Canadian HEI institutions at the end of the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development and is useful for practitioners interested in developing their own sustainability plans.
Uptake of sustainability into campus administration has been identified as important for establishing and maintaining campus sustainability initiatives because of its ability to institutionalize sustainability on campuses. This paper explores how higher education institutions (HEIs) are defining and enacting sustainability in campus administration, using policy documents as a tool to achieve this. This paper analyzes the sustainability policies of 21 Canadian HEIs that have used the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. The policies were coded thematically with a focus on the conceptualizations of sustainability, conceptualizations of campus sustainability, and how the documents address the dominant themes found in the sustainability in higher education scholarly literature. This paper finds that most policies conceptualized sustainable development using the Brundtland definition, with aspects of environment, society, and economy. Policies conceptualized campus sustainability as including teaching, research, operations, and community outreach, with policy goals that emphasize facilities initiatives. This paper contributes to our understanding of the challenges and priorities associated with integrating sustainability into the administration of Canadian HEI institutions at the end of the DESD.
Sustainability Assessment and Indicators: Tools in a Decision-Making Strategy for Sustainable DevelopmentPublished: 25 August 2014 by MDPI in Sustainability
Recognizing the urgent need for sustainability, we argue that to move beyond the rhetoric and to actually realize sustainable development, it must be considered as a decision-making strategy. We demonstrate that sustainability assessment and sustainability indicators can be powerful decision-supporting tools that foster sustainable development by addressing three sustainability decision-making challenges: interpretation, information-structuring, and influence. Particularly, since the 1990s many substantial and often promising sustainability assessment and sustainability indicators efforts are made. However, better practices and a broader shared understanding are still required. We aim to contribute to that objective by adopting a theoretical perspective that frames SA and SI in the context of sustainable development as a decision-making strategy and that introduces both fields along several essential aspects in a structured and comparable manner.
A Tale of Two (or More) Sustainabilities: A Q Methodology Study of University Professors’ Perspectives on Sustainable Un...Published: 20 March 2014 by MDPI in Sustainability
If change for sustainability in higher education is to be effective, change efforts must be sensitive to the institutional culture in which they will be applied. Therefore, gaining insight into how institutional stakeholders engage with the concept of sustainable universities is an important first step in understanding how to frame and communicate change. This study employed Q methodology to explore how a group of professors conceptualize sustainable universities. We developed a Q sample of 46 statements comprising common conceptions of sustainable universities and had 26 professors from Dalhousie University rank-order them over a quasi-normal distribution. Our analysis uncovered four statistically significant viewpoints amongst the participants: ranging from technocentric optimists who stress the importance of imbuing students with skills and values to more liberal arts minded faculty suspicious of the potential of sustainability to instrumentalize the university. An examination of how these viewpoints interact on a subjective level revealed a rotating series of alignments and antagonisms in relation to themes traditionally associated with sustainable universities and broader themes associated with the identity of the university in contemporary society. Finally, we conclude by discussing the potential implications that the nature of these alignments and antagonisms may hold for developing a culturally sensitive vision of a sustainable university.
Education for sustainable development (ESD) is any formal, informal, or nonformal education that empowers people to assume responsibility for creating a sustainable society.
While efforts to integrate Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) at universities have been increasing, said integration has not been occurring fast enough to counteract the unbalanced nature of humanity’s interactions with the planet. A number of studies have delved into the possible barriers slowing this progress and incentives to increasing sustainability initiatives on campus, but rarely have they included the student perspective. This knowledge gap was addressed as part of a study that utilized semi-structured interviews and concept checklists with 27 Canadian university students’ unions’ presidents to investigate their conceptualizations of sustainable development and sustainable universities. Thematic analysis utilizing an inductive approach was employed to discover key themes. While a number of themes emerged, one that was overarching as a general concern and both a barrier and incentive to a more sustainable university was university finances. This in turn is connected to students through enrolment and recruitment efforts as tuition represents a large proportion of university budgets. Participants believed students hold the greatest ability of all university stakeholders to promote sustainability on their campuses and when combined with their ability to impact university finances, the possible impact of empowered students to initiate change for more sustainable campuses is great. In order to harness this energy, this study makes recommendations to further enable students to engage with and mobilize their university campuses and stakeholders. Even potential students could influence universities by demanding deeper commitments to sustainability. This research contributes to scholarly research by presenting the perspectives of an understudied, yet important, university stakeholder group regarding factors influencing campus sustainability and recommendations for student empowerment. This research was part of a larger SSHRC-funded study investigating university stakeholders’ conceptualizations of sustainable development, sustainable universities and the role of universities in the journey towards a more sustainable future.
Exploring Faculty Conceptualizations of Sustainability in Higher Education: Cultural Barriers to Organizational Change a...Published: 01 September 2013 by SAGE Publications in Journal of Education for Sustainable Development
Greening the Ivory Tower: A Review of Educational Research on Sustainability in Post-Secondary EducationPublished: 21 May 2013 by MDPI in Sustainability
There is a deficit of multi-site studies examining the integration of sustainability in the policies and practices of post-secondary institutions. This paper reviews what comparative empirical research has been undertaken on sustainability in post-secondary education (PSE) within eight leading international journals publishing on sustainability and education. Three predominant themes of research on the topic are identified within the review: research comparing sustainability curricula across institutions (both within specific disciplines of study and across disciplines); research comparing campus operations policies and practice across multiple institutions; and research on how to best measure or audit approaches and outputs in sustainability in PSE. This review of the research literature supports the contention within the literature on sustainability in PSE that most research on the topic is focused on case studies rather than comparison of multiple institutions. The comparative research that is emerging from the field is concentrated on assessing measurable outputs for environmental externalities within institutional operations, with little examination of sustainability uptake and outcomes across broader institutional policies and practices.
From Talloires to Turin: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Declarations for Sustainability in Higher EducationPublished: 25 March 2013 by MDPI in Sustainability
Declarations for sustainability in higher education are often seen as a set of guiding principles that aid institutions of higher learning to incorporate the concept of sustainability into their various institutional dimensions. As the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development draws to a close and in the shadow of the 20th anniversary of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, it seems appropriate to re-evaluate how these declarations have changed over the past two decades. In this study, we apply critical discourse analysis to examine how sustainability and the university are socio-politically constructed within these documents. Our analysis uncovers evidence of ideological assumptions and structures that are potentially misaligned with notions of sustainability often discussed in the Sustainability in Higher Education (SHE) literature. It is not the purpose of this study to provide a definitive reading of the documents, but rather to ply a novel critical lens to help elucidate how some taken-for-granted assumptions present in the declarations may work against their stated goals.
At the turn of the millennium, the world’s political leadership adopted sustainable development as a leading model for societal development. However, the terms “sustainable development”, “sustainability” and “sustainable” are sometimes over- and misused despite wide consensus about the concept’s meaning among sustainability scholars and practitioners. While the concept allows various sustainability views to co-exist, random conceptualizations which do not respect the fundamental sustainability principles undermine the concept’s objective to steer action. This lack of understanding of sustainability arguably inhibits its practical realization and a proper understanding of sustainability is urgently needed. In this paper we aim to contribute to a better understanding of sustainability by adopting a bird’s eye perspective. We review the rich contemporary literature, with a specific focus on the terminology, genesis, fundamental principles, mainstream views of sustainability, and several governing aspects. Further, using the evolving body of sustainability literature, the paper provides arguments to combat common misconceptions of sustainability.
University research is pivotal for sustainable development, but to succeed, new ways of conducting research are needed. Only recently has the field of “sustainability and higher education” (SHE) started to deal with the issue. In this paper we define “university research for sustainable development” comprehensively as “all research conducted within the institutional context of a university that contributes to sustainable development”, and propose a set of twenty two preliminary characteristics of this concept. We provide foundational information in particular for various university stakeholders, and those of higher education in general, considering the (re)orientation of research towards sustainable development and offer a beginning of dialogue on the subject, within SHE.
From 27 to 29 October 2005, 35 experts in higher education for sustainability (HES) representing 17 countries, gathered in Halifax, Nova Scotia. This consultation represents the first gathering of HES researchers in Canada, and brought Canadian and international researchers together to further intellectual understanding of HES research and to explore the development of research priorities for the future. The Delphi Technique was used at this workshop in order to aid in the development of a preliminary research strategy for HES research. The Delphi exercise was the primary focus of the workshop. This report summarises both the workshop information and results.