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Funding community sustainable development using zero energy buildings

Daniel Wubah (Millersville University, Millersville, Pennsylvania, USA)
Chris Steuer (Millersville University, Millersville, Pennsylvania, USA)
Guilbert Brown (Millersville University, Millersville, Pennsylvania, USA)
Karen Rice (Millersville University, Millersville, Pennsylvania, USA)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 20 October 2020

Issue publication date: 8 January 2021




This study aims to provide an example of how higher education institutions (HEIs) can use a successful campus infrastructure project to fund a student- and faculty-led, community-success platform that advances the sustainable development goals (SDGs).


The authors applied conceptual models for systems thinking and creating virtuous cycles to analyze Millersville University’s work to establish a community-impact, micro-grant fund using cost savings and utility rebates associated with a new campus zero-energy building. The analysis provides a case study that other HEIs can implement to create university and community virtuous cycles that advance the SDGs.


The case study suggests that as HEIs face increasing financial challenges, opportunities exist to capitalize on philanthropic giving and other funding sources to support community prosperity and increase university vitality through a shared responsibility paradigm centered on the SDGs.

Practical implications

This case study identifies specific funding sources that HEIs can use to fund campus and community sustainability projects using the SDG framework, mechanisms for establishing shared purpose around that impact and a conceptual model for thinking about opportunities to leverage philanthropic giving to create a virtuous cycle that increases university vitality through community impact.

Social implications

Constructing a campus zero energy building funded in part through philanthropic giving provided a unique opportunity to explore how a project’s success can be leveraged to create additional community successes. This case study offers an example for how to convert one success into a platform that funds projects that have direct community impact in one or more of the SDG goal areas.


This paper aims at bridging the gap between theoretical frameworks for community sustainable development and descriptive-only case studies by using a case study to demonstrate a conceptual model or framework for advancing community sustainability (Karatzoglou, 2013). The case study provides a unique model for using utility rebates associated with an infrastructure project that was funded through philanthropic giving to establish a fund for projects that support the community. Utility rebates associated with campus energy efficiency projects are often otherwise overlooked, used to fund additional energy efficiency projects or simply returned to a university’s operating budget. For some HEIs, this model may connect the work of facilities staff to student success in ways that have not previously been explored. For others, this alternative use of utility rebates may offer an opportunity to increase the investment value of utility rebate dollars by creating virtuous cycles within their communities that contribute to university vitality.



This paper forms part of a special section “Sustainability funding in higher education”, guest edited by Dr Faris Nasif Alshubiri.


Wubah, D., Steuer, C., Brown, G. and Rice, K. (2021), "Funding community sustainable development using zero energy buildings", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 29-43.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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