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The possibility of a theory of change to tackle the climate crisis in a UK university

Ruth Bookbinder (School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK)
Anna Mdee (School of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK)
Katy Roelich (School of Earth and Environment, School of Civil Engineering, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 25 April 2024

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Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to discuss the practical dilemmas of institutional change to tackle the climate crisis in a UK university, identifying key assumptions and issues that block meaningful change. The research was part of an initiative to define a theory of change (ToC) to meet the university’s institutional climate commitments.

Design/methodology/approach

The findings are based on interviews with members of an inter-disciplinary ToC working group, a staff–student climate coalition and student representatives at the university. Interviewees were purposively selected to gain insights into assumptions about the nature of the university and its role in tackling the climate crisis, which must be addressed for the university to effectively implement its climate plan.

Findings

This paper identified tensions between the university’s role as a public and commercial institution, a lack of clarity over decision-making processes and the difficulties in balancing (and being transparent about) actions with commitments to tackle the climate crisis. A democratic and flexible approach to change is essential to mitigate these issues, providing an opportunity to reflect on the diversity of the university community and openly debate goals and commitments.

Originality/value

In setting out the initial steps of a ToC in a UK university, this paper offers practical insights for higher education institutions looking to change practices. By highlighting assumptions at a particular institution, this paper also contributes a level of granularity to a growing field of research on efforts in higher education institutions to tackle the climate crisis.

Keywords

Citation

Bookbinder, R., Mdee, A. and Roelich, K. (2024), "The possibility of a theory of change to tackle the climate crisis in a UK university", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-05-2023-0185

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2024, Emerald Publishing Limited

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