The Path Towards a Sustainable Campus?

Higher Education’s Sustainability Imperative: How to Practically Respond?

Kevin J. Krizek, Dave Newport, James White, Alan R. Townsend inĀ International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education


What is the path for achieving a sustainable campus? The authors proposes that institutes of higher education go through four generalized phases on the path towards sustainability. They flesh out these four phases and provides scope as to what challenges institutions commonly face and the authors offer their perspectives based upon their experiences. The authors first note that the larger and more complex the organization, the greater the challenge in conceptualizing and implementing sustainability into the daily operations; highlighting that educational institutions differ greatly to corporate organizations due to difference in organizational structure, and a tradition steeped in hierarchy. They note that the challenges educational institutions face are as follows. First, the goals of an institute, which are predominantly, research and service, and a typical philosophy protecting tradition and academic freedom which hinders sweeping change. Second, competing interest groups within the institution that each have their own views, namely students, faculty, staff and alumni. Third, sprawling support services that promote horizontal organization, and is not aided by ‘cost cutting’ being a policy norm. The paper then presents the four phases observed. First, the grassroots phase, where campus leadership resists or is minimally responsive towards sustainability measures. This phase is exemplified by student interest groups and campus committees dedicated to address issues of sustainability from a bottom up approach. Second, the Executive Acceptance of the Business case for Sustainability. During this phase, campus leadership sees the positives that emerge from efficiency programs and possible campus name reputation improvement. Overall, this phase is beaten down by leadership which are less supportive of broad-based stakeholder inclusion that requires broader life cycle and full cost evaluations. Third, the Visionary Campus Leader. This phase is summed up by leadership using sustainability as a platform, who prioritizes sustainability efforts and is supportive of stakeholder engagement, using political power to maneuver through the multiple rigid structures within the institution, to achieve their goal. Fourth, a Fully Self-Actualized and Integrated Campus Community. The authors acknowledge that they have no experience with this phase but posit that in this phase, systems-thinking and interdisciplinary cooperation would be the central mission of all campus departments. They believe that universities such as, Leuphana University of Germany and the Gothenburg University of Sweden display traits of the fourth phase. The authors acknowledge that sustainability is an unavoidable mega-trend in institutes of higher learning, an almost physical arms race for status and prestige. Ultimately posing the question of how can institutes get the most out of this ongoing trend.

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