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Sustainability in Canadian post-secondary institutions: The interrelationships among sustainability initiatives and geographic and institutional characteristics

Dan Beveridge (Sustainability Education Research Institute, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, Canada.)
Marcia McKenzie (Department of Educational Foundations, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, Canada.)
Philip Vaughter (Sustainability Education Research Institute, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, Canada.)
Tarah Wright (Environmental Science, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS, Canada.)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 7 September 2015

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Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to report on a census of high-level sustainability initiatives at all accredited post-secondary institutions in Canada by documenting the institutions that have undertaken sustainability assessments, have signed one or more sustainability declarations, have sustainability offices or officers or have sustainability policies. The aim was to better understand the broad-scale patterns of commitments by post-secondary institutions to these sustainability initiatives by exploring the interrelationships among them, and with geographic and institutional characteristics.

Design/methodology/approach

Data were collected on existing high-level sustainability initiatives at Canada’s 220 accredited post-secondary institutions. Patterns in the data were analyzed using exploratory statistical techniques. This paper proposes a sustainability initiative score to help understand the diversity and patterns of sustainability initiative uptake.

Findings

Institutions located in larger communities, and in British Columbia and Québec, tended to have higher sustainability initiative scores. Institutions in Saskatchewan and the territories had the lowest sustainability initiative scores. It was found that sustainability office(r)s, assessments and policies co-occurred disproportionately, potentially suggesting positive reinforcement mechanisms. On the other hand, having signed a declaration was not strongly linked to other sustainability initiatives. Terminological preference had shifted from “environment” and “sustainable development” to “sustainability”.

Research limitations/implications

The scope was limited to a discrete set of high-level sustainability initiatives appropriate for a nation-wide census, at a moment in time, and is therefore not exhaustive in subject or temporal extent. This broad-scale comparative analysis compels further study into the relationship between the sustainability policy environment and sustainability practices on the ground, as well as implications for how post-secondary institutions engage with sustainability. The patterns and interrelationships this paper discovered help to structure future critical and comparative in-depth analyses of sustainability policies and practices within post-secondary education.

Originality/value

Almost no extensive, comparative empirical studies of sustainability policy and practice in post-secondary institutions exist. This void is addressed by documenting and analyzing high-level sustainability initiatives across all accredited post-secondary institutions in Canada.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This publication draws on research from the Sustainability and Education Policy Network (SEPN), supported by a Partnership Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Grant No 895-2011-1025). A full list of team members and organizational partners can be found at www.sepn.ca. The authors especially thank Kathleen Aikens and Laurie Lidstone for their contributions to the development of the methods and the collection of the data referred to in this paper, and to project manager Nicola Chopin.

Citation

Beveridge, D., McKenzie, M., Vaughter, P. and Wright, T. (2015), "Sustainability in Canadian post-secondary institutions: The interrelationships among sustainability initiatives and geographic and institutional characteristics", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 16 No. 5, pp. 611-638. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-03-2014-0048

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited