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Universities speak up regarding the implementation of sustainable development challenges: The case of Portugal

Carla Sofia Farinha (Department of Science and Technology, Universidade Aberta, Lisbon, Portugal and Centre for Environmental and Sustainability Research, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Lisbon, Portugal)
Sandra Sofia Caeiro (Department of Science and Technology, Universidade Aberta, Lisbon, Portugal)
Ulisses Azeiteiro (Department of Biology and Centre for Environmental and Marine Studies, Universidade de Aveiro, Aveiro, Portugal)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 12 March 2020

Issue publication date: 22 April 2020

287

Abstract

Purpose

This study aims to expand knowledge and provide further insights on how education for sustainable development (ESD) has been integrated into programmes at higher education institutions (HEIs) in Portugal.

Design/methodology/approach

A questionnaire survey was given to key actors in charge of sustainability implementation at each Portuguese public university. Semi-structured interviews were also conducted with 13 of the survey respondents and the data were analysed.

Findings

Results showed that Portuguese public universities have their own strategies and policies on ESD, leading them to introduce initiatives arising from their proactiveness rather than governmental edicts. Some universities implemented ESD planning and beneficial “green” practices such as waste separation and recycling and ways to reduce energy consumption that can be a result of the improvement after the United Nations Decade 2005-2014. However, these actions seem to have been taken in isolation and not holistically integrated. Universities face many barriers including lack of funding, not properly trained people and inept government policies. They also must overcome challenges in implementing ESD.

Research limitations/implications

This research into the implementation of ESD has a national scope; the findings should be interpreted only in a Portuguese university context despite the high number of interviewees.

Practical implications

The study has increased knowledge, provided further insights on how ESD has been integrated at HEIs and provided examples of integrated practices at Portuguese universities. A Sustainability4U platform was proposed for enhancing awareness of the need for increasing sustainable development.

Originality/value

This study contributes to defining a country’s profile and how to implement sustainability in HEIs. The importance of obtaining information from key actors in sustainability at Portuguese public universities was highlighted.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors wish to thank all interviewees for sharing their valuable but necessarily different experiences concerning ESD implementation.

The authors also thank the Portuguese Science and Technology Foundation (FCT) for its funding (UID/AMB/04085/2019) to the Centre for Environmental and Sustainability Research (CENSE), NOVA School of Science and Technology, NOVA University of Lisbon.

Citation

Farinha, C.S., Caeiro, S.S. and Azeiteiro, U. (2020), "Universities speak up regarding the implementation of sustainable development challenges: The case of Portugal", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 21 No. 3, pp. 465-506. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-08-2019-0250

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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