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Campus sustainability in Chinese higher education institutions: Focuses, motivations and challenges

Kevin Lo (Department of Resource Management and Geography, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 5 January 2015




The purpose of this paper is to examine the focuses, motivations and challenges of achieving campus sustainability in Chinese higher education institutions (HEIs).


A multisite case study was conducted in Changchun City, Jilin, where eight HEIs of various types were examined. Structured interviews with school managers, students and government officials were accompanied with analysis of relevant documents.


The focuses of sustainability among the studied HEIs were on water and energy conservation and on non-technical initiatives. The focuses can be explained by motivations and challenges. The HEIs are motivated by government and financial pressures and face challenges in limited accessibility to funding. The reliance of non-technical initiatives has negatively impacted student welfare and has become unpopular among students.

Practical implications

The government is advised to increase funding to HEIs in relation to sustainability and to make the funding more equitable. The HEIs are advised to modify sustainability practices that severely affect the daily lives of students, to share the benefits of water and energy conservation with their students and to involve students in sustainability governance.


This paper adds to the existing literature in two ways. First, it expands the geographical reach of the literature to developing countries, in general, and to China, in particular. Second, it adopts the multisite case study research approach to study the whole spectrum of Chinese HEIs and highlights the differences among these HEIs when it comes to sustainability.



The author thank Prof Tong Lianjun, Prof Ma Yanji and Dr Li He from the Northeast Institute of Geography and Agroecology for their help with the project, and the two anonymous reviewers for their comments. This project received financial support from the School of Land and Environment, University of Melbourne.


Lo, K. (2015), "Campus sustainability in Chinese higher education institutions: Focuses, motivations and challenges", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 16 No. 1, pp. 34-43.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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