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Integrating sustainability in higher education: a Swedish case

Daniela Argento (Department of Business, Kristianstad University, Kristianstad, Sweden)
Daniel Einarson (Department of Computer Science, Kristianstad University, Kristianstad, Sweden)
Lennart Mårtensson (Department of Environmental Science and Bioscience, Kristianstad University, Kristianstad, Sweden)
Christel Persson (Department of Environmental Science and Bioscience, Kristianstad University, Kristianstad, Sweden)
Karin Wendin (Department of Food and Meal Science, Kristianstad University, Kristianstad, Sweden and Department of Food Science, University of Copenhagen, Frederiksberg, Denmark)
Albert Westergren (Department of Nursing and Health Sciences, Kristianstad University, Kristianstad, Sweden and Department of Health Sciences, Lund University, Lund, Sweden)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 7 August 2020

Issue publication date: 5 September 2020

1881

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to unveil how sustainability is integrated into the courses/programmes of higher education institutions. The research question addressed is: how do academics representing different disciplines cooperate and engage in the work of integrating sustainability into their teaching programmes.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper draws upon the notions of practise variation and institutional work from institutional theory and empirically focusses on the case of Kristianstad University (Sweden). This case is based on an autoethnographic approach and illustrates the experiences shared by six colleagues, representing different disciplines, engaged in implementing sustainability in their courses/programmes.

Findings

The findings highlight how academics representing different disciplines, with specific traditions and characteristics, face the sustainability challenge. Despite being bound by similar sustainable development goals, differences across disciplines need to be acknowledged and used as an asset if trans-disciplinarity is the ultimate goal.

Research limitations/implications

Although the intrinsic motivation of individuals to work with sustainability might be a strong driver, the implementation of sustainability within courses/programmes and across disciplines requires joint efforts and collective institutional work.

Practical implications

By highlighting how academics engage in the work of integrating sustainability, this study emphasizes that managers of higher education institutions need to account for the time and additional resources needed to ensure that academics effectively cope with sustainability. Intrinsic motivation may not last if organizational structures and leadership are not supportive on a practical level and in the long run.

Social implications

With the successful implementation of a holistic approach to sustainability, students will have better insights and understanding of both themselves and the surrounding society, laying the ground for an inclusive future society.

Originality/value

This paper emphasizes the gradual approach to be followed when sustainability becomes part of an organization-wide discourse. Dialogues within and across disciplines are needed to overcome silo thinking and stimulate cooperation within a trans-disciplinary approach.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors are indebted to Karin Alm, Kristianstad University (Sweden), for sharing her experience and initiatives about introducing sustainability in higher education institutions and Deputy Editor of IJSHE Mihaela Sima for her support in the process of publishing this study.

Citation

Argento, D., Einarson, D., Mårtensson, L., Persson, C., Wendin, K. and Westergren, A. (2020), "Integrating sustainability in higher education: a Swedish case", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 21 No. 6, pp. 1131-1150. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-10-2019-0292

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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