Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

50 Shades of Green: An Examination of Sustainability Policy on Canadian Campuses

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

50 Shades of Green: An Examination of Sustainability Policy on Canadian Campuses

Article excerpt


Human activity is having a significant impact on the planet, to the extent that scientists are no longer certain that the Earth's ecosystems can support and sustain current and future generations (Ehrlich & Ehrlich, 2013; IPCC, 2012; Rockstrom et al., 2009; World Wildlife Fund, 2012). Sustainability and the related concept sustainable development (SD) have emerged as ways of thinking about and dealing with emergent ecological crises (Dryzek, 2005). In 1987, the Brundtland Report defined sustainable development as "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." (WCED, 1987 p.4). The world's political leaders pledged their support for Brundtland's position at the UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

Scholars agree on some of the basic tenets of sustainability. Central to shared definitions is a focus on integrating ecological, economic, and social considerations into global institutional decision making. There is much debate on the interplay between these three domains, with subcategories such as strong and weak sustainability (Hopwood, Mellor, & O'Brien, 2005) being identified. However, because the study is based on a census, such distinctions were not investigated. Sustainability concerns include intergenerational equity, intragenerational equity (increasing equity within nations and among developed and developing countries), the ecological limits to economic growth, population growth, planetary health, species extinction, climate change, and the challenge of conserving and enhancing the resource base.

Among governments and in the private sector, the term "sustainable development" predominates, while academic institutions and NGOs tend to prefer the term "sustainability" (Robinson, 2004). We did not analyze the use of "sustainability" and "sustainable development" in terms of their respective meanings in the context of higher education. In this paper, and in the broader research project that this study is a part of, we use the term "sustainability" broadly to encompass the many ways that people utilize the term, or take up sustainability issues using different terms.1 We have also included discussion of policies and practices that focus solely on environmental considerations. In our experience, some schools use the term "environment" when they actually mean something quite broader.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has suggested that "[e]ducation . . . is humanity's best hope and most effective asset in the effort to achieve sustainable development." (UNESCO, 1997). In recognition of its importance, UNESCO designated the period 2005-2014 as the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD). Postsecondary education (PSE) institutions are seen as important players in the movement towards the attainment of a sustainable future. Universities and colleges educate future societal leaders; as such, they have an obligation to produce graduates with an understanding of and a capacity to help solve sustainability problems (Clugston & Clader, 1999; Cortese, 2003; Orr, 1992; Rees, 2010). In addition, universities can lead by incorporating the modelling of sustainable practices into their own physical operations. They are well positioned to accumulate and mobilize new information to confront sustainability-related problems (M'Gonigle & Starke, 2006; Vaughter, Wright, McKenzie, & Lidstone, 2013; Waas, Hugé, Verbruggen, & Wright, 2011). Also, university campuses can serve as experimental teaching environments, where sustainable action, design, and policy can be modelled on behalf of the community at large (Sharp, 2002; Alshuwaikhat & Abubakar, 2008).

This paper focuses on sustainability in postsecondary institutions (also known as higher education institutions) across Canada. A small body of literature exists that examines environment and sustainability (herein environment/sustainability) governance in Canadian postsecondary education institutions (Leduc, 2010; Moore, 2005; Wright, 2003, 2004, 2006). …

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