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Sustainable development policies as indicators and pre-conditions for sustainability efforts at universities: Fact or fiction?

Walter Leal Filho (School of Science and the Environment, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK)
Luciana Londero Brandli (Universidade de Passo Fundo, Passo Fundo, Brazil)
Deisi Becker (Department of Management, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Venâncio Aires, Brazil)
Constantina Skanavis (Department of Environment, University of the Aegean, MytIlene, Greece)
Aristea Kounani (The Research Center of Environmental Education and Communication in Department of Environment, University of the Aegean, Mytilene, Greece)
Chrysoula Sardi (Department of Cultural Technology and Communication, Research Center of Environmental Communication and Education, University of the Aegean, Mytilene, Greece)
Dimitra Papaioannidou (Department of Cultural Technology and Communication, Research Center of Environmental Communication and Education, University of the Aegean, Mytilene, Greece)
Arminda Paço (Department of Business and Economics, Research Unit NECE, University of Beira Interior, Covilhã, Portugal)
Ulisses Azeiteiro (Department of Biology and CESAM Centre for Environmental and Marine Studies, Universidade de Aveiro, Aveiro, Portugal)
Luiza Olim de Sousa (Department of Geography Education and Environmental Education, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa)
Schalk Raath (School of Natural Sciences and Technology for Education, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa)
Rudi Wessel Pretorius (Department of Geography, Unisa, Florida, South Africa)
Christine Shiel (Department of Life and Environmental Science, Bournemouth University, Bournemouth, UK)
Valeria Vargas (School of Science and the Environment, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK)
Gregory Trencher (Department of International Development, Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA)
Robert W. Marans (Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 2 January 2018

1774

Abstract

Purpose

There is a widely held belief that sustainable development (SD) policies are essential for universities to successfully engage in matters related to sustainability, and are an indicator of the extent to which they are active in this field. This paper aims to examine the evidence which currently exists to support this assumption. It surveys a sample of universities in Brazil, Germany, Greece, Portugal, South Africa and the UK and the USA to ascertain the extent to which universities that are active in the field of sustainable development have formal policies on sustainable development, and whether such policies are a pre-condition for successful sustainability efforts.

Design/methodology/approach

The study involved 35 universities in seven countries (five universities respectively). A mixed-methods approach has been used, ranging from document analysis, website analysis, questionnaires and interviewing.

Findings

Although only 60 per cent of the sampled universities had a policy that specifically addressed SD, this cannot be regarded as an indicator that the remaining 40 per cent are not engaged with substantial actions that address SD. Indeed, all of the universities in the sample, regardless of the existence of a SD formal policy, demonstrated engagement with environmental sustainability policies or procedures in some form or another. This research has been limited by the availability and ability to procure information from the sampled universities. Despite this, it is one of the largest research efforts of this kind ever performed.

Research limitations/implications

This research has been limited by the availability and ability to procure information from the sampled universities.

Practical implications

The findings provide some valuable insights into the connections between SD policies on the one hand and the practice of sustainable development in higher education institutions on the other.

Social implications

Universities with SD policies can contribute to models of economic growth consistent with sustainable development.

Originality/value

The study is the one of the largest research efforts of this kind ever performed.

Keywords

Citation

Leal Filho, W., Brandli, L.L., Becker, D., Skanavis, C., Kounani, A., Sardi, C., Papaioannidou, D., Paço, A., Azeiteiro, U., de Sousa, L.O., Raath, S., Pretorius, R.W., Shiel, C., Vargas, V., Trencher, G. and Marans, R.W. (2018), "Sustainable development policies as indicators and pre-conditions for sustainability efforts at universities: Fact or fiction?", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 19 No. 1, pp. 85-113. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-01-2017-0002

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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