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Campus sustainability plans in the United States: where, what, and how to evaluate?

Stacey Swearingen White (Department of Urban Planning, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, USA)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 1 April 2014




The purpose of this paper is to describe and analyze the use of integrated campus sustainability plans at US institutions of higher education. The paper also offers a preliminary framework for the evaluation of these plans.


The paper examines 27 campus sustainability plans. It determines the types and characteristics of the institutions that have adopted these plans. It then uses content analysis techniques to determine their typical contents and emphases. Finally, the paper draws on literature pertaining to sustainability plans and plan evaluation to present a preliminary tool for evaluating campus sustainability planning efforts.


Campus sustainability plans in the USA are extremely diverse. Environmental aspects are most prominent in these plans, and social equity aspects are least prominent. Campus operations receive more attention than do academic or administrative aspects. Most campuses have taken an inclusive, campus-wide approach to developing their sustainability plans. The evaluation of these plans should consider both their process and their substance and should account for circumstances unique to higher education.

Research limitations/implications

The research is focused on US colleges and universities and may have overlooked some campus sustainability plans that have other titles. Nevertheless, it is a fairly comprehensive analysis of campus sustainability planning efforts to date in the USA.

Practical implications

Campus sustainability plans are an important integrative tool. Understanding the details and potential evaluation of these plans can help determine their broader adoption and implementation.


As an emerging tool for campus sustainability efforts, sustainability plans allow colleges and universities to examine operational, academic, and administrative functions in an integrated manner. To date, there has been very little scholarly attention to these plans, and no prior attempt to consider how they might be evaluated.



The author would like to acknowledge the helpful comments of the anonymous referees.


Swearingen White, S. (2014), "Campus sustainability plans in the United States: where, what, and how to evaluate?", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 15 No. 2, pp. 228-241.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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