Communicating the sustainability message in higher education institutions

A. Djordjevic (Education for Sustainability Project, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK)
D.R.E. Cotton (Teaching and Learning Directorate, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Publication date: 20 September 2011



This paper aims to explore the possibilities and problems with engaging in effective communication about sustainability in higher education (SHE) institutions.


Using a case study of a new (post‐1992) university in the UK, the research investigated the ways in which sustainability issues were communicated with staff across the institution, and any barriers encountered. Semi‐structured interviews and a focus group with selected staff led to the development of four key themes related to different aspects of the communication strategy, and it is these which are explored in this paper.


This research suggests that there are some particular difficulties with regard to communicating messages about sustainability successfully. These relate to the lack of an agreed definition or shared understanding of sustainability, and also to potential individual differences in values and attitudes which may act as a perceptual filter of the message.

Research limitations/implications

This is a small‐scale project so findings should be treated with caution. However, the lack of previous research in this area gives this interest as an exploratory study.

Practical implications

In the context of a large organisation, the research emphasizes the importance of alignment of institutional strategies, in order to provide a coherent view of what the organisation expects from employees. This needs to be supported by staff at the highest level, in order for it to have the maximum impact.


This paper is the first to use a model of organisational communication to analyse and evaluate the effectiveness of communication around SHE context.



Djordjevic, A. and Cotton, D. (2011), "Communicating the sustainability message in higher education institutions", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 12 No. 4, pp. 381-394.

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Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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