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Evolution of a campus sustainability network: a case study in organizational change

Nancy B. Kurland (Department of Business, Organizations, and Society, Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 20 September 2011




The purpose of this paper is to examine the evolution of a sustainability network at a large California public university, as an example of organizational change.


The paper combines participant observation and case study techniques over a three‐year period. From 2007 to 2010, the author helped found the university's Institute for Sustainability and sat on both the Institute's first Advisory Board and the university's first Core Green Team. The author also interviewed 19 key informants to the sustainability network, including upper administrators, physical plant management (PPM) staff, faculty, and students.


This campus sustainability initiative evolved over three decades in three phases. Phase I evolved from the 1980s in facilities management and student recycling because of changing environmental demands, the 1994 Northridge earthquake, and strong leadership who believed in developing human resources. In Phase II, faculty and Academic Affairs established the Institute for Sustainability. Phase III examines the current state at May 2010. Forces driving change include leaders' core values, incentives, communication, and community outreach. Forces inhibiting change relate to funding, information, policies, shared values, time, and training. Key informants defined success in campus sustainability as actions which: increase efficiency (and reduce waste); educate and prepare graduates for a fundamentally different world; achieve broad‐based support; and improve the university's sustainability image.

Research limitations/implications

This study points to at least four avenues of future research. One, scholars interested in more completely revealing their organization's sustainability network can map it using social network analysis techniques. Two, scholars could seek to answer the extent to which a campus institute becomes a center of gravity or an excuse for others to step away. Three, scholars can directly measure the four parameters of success respondents in this study identified (increase efficiency/reduce waste, educate/prepare graduates, achieve broad‐based support, improve image). And four, scholars can examine how an organization's commitment to recycling affects its image.


This paper provides a longitudinal look at the evolution of a campus sustainability network. It highlights how sustainability efforts evolve in different parts of the university at different rates, and in the present case how PPM and facilities planning influenced Academic Affairs to embrace sustainability.



Kurland, N.B. (2011), "Evolution of a campus sustainability network: a case study in organizational change", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 12 No. 4, pp. 395-429.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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