Institutionalizing interdisciplinary sustainability curriculum at a large, research-intensive university: challenges and opportunities

Article (PDF Available)inJournal of Environmental Studies and Sciences 6(2) · August 2015with 78 Reads
DOI: 10.1007/s13412-015-0315-z
Cite this publication
As universities and colleges seek to integrate sustainability into a broad range of programs, degrees, and certificates, they must overcome traditional academic silos, disciplinary boundaries, and funding constraints. This requires an unprecedented level of curricular innovation, creative funding streams, and directed facilitation of cross-campus collaboration and communication. This article describes and analyzes recent efforts at the University of Utah to dramatically enhance interdisciplinary sustainability curriculum by utilizing a broad set of tools, including the creation of new faculty and staff positions, faculty learning communities, and special seminars; the development of new degrees and certificates; and the innovative changes in University structure and administration. The authors focus on the role of program coherence, administration, and ongoing support and assessment, as well as network building and systemic innovation that incentivize interdisciplinary sustainability teaching and curriculum development.
Institutionalizing interdisciplinary sustainability curriculum
at a large, research-intensive university:
challenges and opportunities
Mercedes Ward
&Brenda Bowen
&Steven Burian
&Adrienne Cachelin
Daniel McCool
#AESS 2015
Abstract As universities and colleges seek to integrate
sustainability into a broad range of programs, degrees,
and certificates, they must overcome traditional academic
silos, disciplinary boundaries, and funding constraints.
This requires an unprecedented level of curricular inno-
vation, creative funding streams, and directed facilitation
of cross-campus collaboration and communication. This
article describes and analyzes recent efforts at the
University of Utah to dramatically enhance interdisciplin-
ary sustainability curriculum by utilizing a broad set of
tools, including the creation of new faculty and staff
positions, faculty learning communities, and special sem-
inars; the development of new degrees and certificates;
and the innovative changes in University structure and
administration. The authors focus on the role of program
coherence, administration, and ongoing support and as-
sessment, as well as network building and systemic in-
novation that incentivize interdisciplinary sustainability
teaching and curriculum development.
Keywords Higher education .Interdisciplinary education .
Network building .Sustainability curriculum development .
Sustainability education
There is widespread recognition of the importance of interdis-
ciplinary education for sustainability (Klahr 2012; Lander
2015; McKeown et al. 2002; Warburton 2003), and there is
a corresponding interest in how best to design and implement
sustainability curricula in an integrated way across diverse
disciplines in higher education (e.g., Gosselin et al. 2013;
Rusinko 2010). Between 2008 and 2012, the number of inter-
disciplinary environmental and sustainability degree pro-
grams among 4-year colleges and universities in the USA
increased by 57 %, and the number of schools hosting such
programs increased by 29 % (Vincent et al. 2012). Many of
these educational programs are not administratively housed in
*Mercedes Ward
Brenda Bowen
Steven Burian
Adrienne Cachelin
Daniel McCool
Anthropology, University of Utah, 270 S. 1400 E., Room 102,
Geology and Geophysics, University of Utah, 115 South 1460 East,
Room 383, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA
Global Change and Sustainability Center, University of Utah,
Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Utah,
110 Central Campus, Suite 2000, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA
Environmental and Sustainability Studies Program, 260 S. Central
Campus Drive, Room 252, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA
Sustainability Office, University of Utah, 1635 Campus Center
Drive, Suite 50, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA
Political Science, University of Utah, 260 S. Central Campus Drive,
J Environ Stud Sci
DOI 10.1007/s13412-015-0315-z
traditional discipline-based departments or colleges, but rather
in interdisciplinary environmental and sustainability institutes
and centers (Vincent et al. 2012; Vincent et al. 2014). Such an
administrative structure can facilitate true interdisciplinarity
and promote sustainable solutions that address social, eco-
nomic, and environmental dimensions in an integrated man-
ner. Yet, they must be carefully crafted and nurtured to prevent
becoming too diffuse and, if neglected, orphan programs.
This paper focuses specifically on ongoing efforts to inte-
grate and develop novel and effective interdisciplinary educa-
tional initiatives for sustainability at the University of Utah at
both the undergraduate and graduate level. We highlight strat-
egies for integrating sustainability across widely diverse dis-
ciplines, and we analyze why some of these strategies have
fared well and others not-so-well. Although our narrative is
specific to the University of Utah, some challenges (e.g., the
difficulty of building bridges across disciplines) and lessons
(e.g., the importance of identifying an appropriate administra-
tive home for interdisciplinary programs) transcend the partic-
ulars of our case. Our strategies and lessons learned for over-
coming interdisciplinary and institutional barriers will be es-
pecially relevant for other large, research-intensive universi-
ties trying to connect sustainability curricula across colleges as
diverse as the humanities, sciences, social sciences, engineer-
ing, health, medicine, architecture and planning, business,
law, and education.
Creating a university-wide sustainability
Many colleges and universities across the USA and the
world are integrating sustainability into their curricula
through new and revised courses and programs, and there
is a growing body of literature documenting these efforts.
Although much of this literature focuses on relatively small
colleges and universities, bridging epistemological and in-
stitutional dividesas is necessary for interdisciplinary
sustainability programscan be especially challenging at
large, research-intensive universities with sprawling cam-
puses and often physically as well as intellectually isolated
disciplines. Creating compelling reasons for faculty to
leave their silos and interact more broadly is inherently
more difficultand generally less incentivizedthan at
small, liberal arts colleges. Moreover, the bridging process
itselfwhether Bbottom-up,^Btop-down,^or Bmiddle-
out^(see Brinkhurst et al. 2011)may affect the likeli-
hood of success. As the following brief history of sustain-
ability initiatives at the University of Utah illustrates, the
process of integrating sustainability into the campus cul-
ture, including the curriculum, has involved a complex
suite of change agents and strategies.
A brief history of sustainability at the University of Utah
The University ofUtahs Strategic Vision (established in 2012)
states that the University maintains seven core commitments,
including Bthe pursuit and practice of sustainability^through
the promotion and coordination of Binterdisciplinary and cross-
campus sustainability research, learning, and programs.^This
commitment is the result of decades of student, staff, and fac-
ulty led efforts to create a university-wide sustainability infra-
structure linking campus operations, research, and curriculum.
The thrust to advance sustainability at the University of Utah
happened on many fronts simultaneously. The sustainability
Resource Center (originally named the Office of Sustainability)
was created in 20072008 as a result of a student-led initiative
and focused on integrating sustainability throughout all opera-
tions, research, and curriculum at the University. While much of
the Sustainability Resource Centers initial work focused on
facilities, many co-curricular initiatives took shape including
campus gardens, a small-grants program to fund student and
faculty sustainability projects on campus, and some very suc-
cessful student blogs and social media. In 2008, the University
President signed the American College and University
PresidentsClimate Commitment, signaling the administrations
commitment to sustainability. In 2009, the Global Change and
Sustainability Center (GCSC; called the Global Change and
Ecosystem Center until it was renamed in 2012) was created
by 20 faculty from 4 colleges with a shared interest in interdis-
ciplinary environmental research and student training. In 2011,
the undergraduate Environmental Studies Program (created in
1990) became the Environmental and Sustainability Studies
Program and developed a set of core classes including a broad-
based introduction featuring scholars and practitioners from both
the campus and the community. Other core courses include
Environmental Science, Environmental Justice, Global
Challenges to Sustainability, and a capstone.
A major effort to incorporate sustainability more broadly
into the curriculum began in 2011 when the Senior Vice
President for Academic Affairs (the equivalent of a provost)
created a new position called BSustainability Curriculum
Development Director^and split the job of directing this
new initiative between two facultyone from Civil and
Environmental Engineering and one from Political Science/
Environmental and Sustainability Studies; this immediately
provided the initiative with a multi-disciplinary and multi-
college perspective. The Senior Vice President laid down
two rules to the new co-directors: (1) all programs that are
created must be broadly interdisciplinary and cannot be
housed in just one college and (2) there must be broad faculty
support. Although one might expect that pairing two faculty
from different colleges (in this case, Engineering and Social
and Behavioral Sciences) would facilitate fulfillment of this
directive, such an outcome is not guaranteed. Fortunately, in
our case, the specific individuals selected for this leader- ship
J Environ Stud Sci
role proved to have compatible personalities and complemen-
tary skills and expertise. Additionally, they received sufficient
funds from the Senior Vice President not only to visit other
universities to learn more about their interdisciplinary sustain-
ability programs but also to hire a graduate research assistant
to help prepare curriculum proposals. Coordination among
this initiative, the Sustainability Resource Center, and the
GCSC improved with the creation, in 2013, of a new position
of Chief Sustainability Officer to oversee and support all sus-
tainability initiativesincluding academic and campus oper-
ationsvia a new overarching unit, the Sustainability Office
(at this time the former Office of Sustainability was renamed
the Sustainability Resource Center).
In 2014, the Honors Scholars in Sustainability and Urban
Ecology wrote a compelling letter to the University President
and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs calling for
sustainability to become a general education requirement.
These students noted that the University has both the
Bresponsibility, and the opportunity, to provide an education
that prepares its students for a world facing serious challenges
to its sustainability^and they conveyed their passion: Bwe
can no longer passively watch as this commitment remains
optional within the curriculum.^Unfortunately, the institu-
tional roadblocks to implementing a sustainability general ed-
ucation requirement may be too great to overcome at the
University of Utahat least without continued activism from
a very broad base of supporters.
This history suggests that sustainability efforts at the univer-
sity have included top-down, bottom-up, and middle-out efforts
(see Brinkhurst et al. 2011). Such a diverse set of approaches to
effect change may be especially important in the context of a
large, highly decentralized university, like the University of
Utah, with 17 colleges and schools that must deal with funding
structures that can hinder cross-college collaboration. Indeed,
our experience has been that in order to build strong interdisci-
plinary programs, creative approaches wereand continue to
benecessary to connect previously unconnected units and
demonstrate the educational benefits of doing so.
Enabling program coherence: bridging widely
diverse disciplines
After exploring models at different universities and potential
niches for new sustainability programs at the University of
Utah, the Sustainability Curriculum Development co-
directors collaborated with faculty across campus to develop
two new interdisciplinary sustainability certificates at the un-
dergraduate and graduate level. The decision to develop cer-
tificates reflected the importance placed on creating programs
that would draw together different disciplines in a cooperative
way since certificate programs complement rather than com-
pete with degree programs (although in the case of the
undergraduate certificate, undergraduate majors in
Environmental and Sustainability Studies are ineligible).
Administrative innovations
One of the greatest challenges we faced in creating new sustain-
ability certificates was where to Bhouse^them, i.e., what existing
unit of the University would administer them and have the staff,
budget, and mission that is appropriate for the certificates. There
are two broad approaches to incorporating sustainability into
university life. One approach is to create a new college or school
of sustainability, transfer existing programs into the new unit,
and create new departments and programs specifically designed
for the goals of the new unit. Two notable examples are the
University of Washingtons College of the Environment and
Colorado State Universitys School of Global Environmental
Sustainability. This approach has the advantage of being a bold
and innovative statement that commits a University in a very
public way to sustainability. It can also be disruptive and lead to
significant turf battles. A second approach is to create a new
center or institute that offers incentives to existing programs to
participate in sustainability goals and cooperate with the new
unit in establishing new teaching and research venues. An ex-
ample of this approach would be the Earth Institute at Columbia
University. The advantage to this approach is that it creates a
reward structure that incentivizes existing programs to partner
with the new unit in a mutually supportive manner. However,
such an approach requires sufficient funding from the University
so that the new unit can offer attractive incentives.
To date, the University of Utah has tended towards the
second approach, drawing onand reinforcingthe integra-
tive power of non-discipline-based units, namely, the Office of
Undergraduate Studies, the Graduate School, the
Sustainability Resource Center, and the GCSC. Although the
Sustainability Resource Center and the GCSC coordinate sus-
tainability research and educational synergies between depart-
ments and colleges, their status as Centers precludes them
from granting degrees; they can, however, help administer
them. Moreover, their unique position at the interface of re-
search and education facilitates project-based learning and the
transformation of the campus into a Bliving lab.^
However, faculty and administrative concerns about the
allocation of internal resources can pose a barrier to creating
and maintaining successful interdisciplinary centers and insti-
tutes. It is important to demonstrate that interdisciplinary sus-
tainability programs enhance the University as a whole, do not
deplete disciplinary resources or compete for faculty time and
energy, and are open to students and faculty from all depart-
ments and colleges. As an example of a concrete step taken to
emphasize the latter, a new course designator (SUST for
Bsustainability^) was created for the core courses of the grad-
uate certificate (course details in the next section). This explic-
itly acknowledged that the core courses are not tied to a single
J Environ Stud Sci
department. Student credit hours generated through the SUST
core courses are returned to the various departments of the
course instructors.
Curricular innovations
For the undergraduate sustainability certificate, students are
required to take a core introductory course (Imagined
Landscapes, Visions of Sustainability) that brings together
students from different disciplines for a shared experience.
Students then pursue 12 elective credits of their choosing (at
least 6 elective credits must be outside the students home
college) and must take a 1-credit final project preparation
course in the semester before their final project requirement
(3 credits). The graduate certificate program creates a cohort
experience by requiring students to take three core courses,
including Global Changes and Society (3 credits); Global
Change and Sustainability Seminar (1 credit); and a Bgateway
course^to a specific track in leadership, water, or global
change. Graduate students must also take 9 elective credits,
distributed across courses that address environmental, social,
and economic or policy dimensions of sustainability. Of these
electives, only one course may be within the studentshome
department and only two may be within the studentshome
The decision to create one graduate certificate with several
tracks (students may also design their own track in consulta-
tion with program advisors) was made after careful consider-
ation. Sustainability certificates are often focused within dis-
ciplinary frameworks (e.g., business) or on certain dimensions
(e.g., social justice) or themes (e.g., climate). However, these
approaches risk creating Bsilos of sustainability^wherein stu-
dents learn about and pursue sustainability goals without the
benefits of a wider network to push their intellectual bound-
aries and creative potential in new and exciting ways. The so-
called creative friction that emerges organically from interdis-
ciplinary dialogue and collaboration can be an important stim-
ulus for sustainability problem-solvingand certainly multi-
disciplinary teamwork characterizes many sustainability pro-
jects outside of academia. The core courses create a safe space
for this kind of dialogue and contribute to a shared cohort
For the graduate certificate, this culminates with BGlobal
Changes and Society,^a project-based course taught by the
Directors of the GCSC, faculty who are invested and actively
involved in interdisciplinary research and training initiatives.
To date, this has included a Distinguished Professor of
Biology who is the founding Director of the GCSC and the
lead PI on several multi-disciplinary research projects and an
Associate Professor of Geology and Geophysics who has
worked on several projects at the fringes of geoscience and
other fields (e.g., microbiology, energy policy, social science,
etc.). The scope and structure of the course was developed by
the GCSC Executive Committee, an interdisciplinary group of
faculty with representation from each of the disciplines en-
gaged with the Center. The course invites faculty with relevant
expertise from across campus as well as professionals in local
government agencies and advocate groups as guest speakers
(Walsh et al. 2015).
Students from a wide range of disciplinesincluding ge-
ology and geophysics, atmospheric science, mathematics, bi-
ology, civil and environmental engineering, mechanical engi-
neering, geography, sociology, communications, parks recre-
ation and tourism, and city and metropolitan planninghave
taken the course. Through the course they learn to speak a
common languageeach bringing their own expertise to bear
as they explore the connection between earth systems and
human systemsin order to find real-world solutions to
Bwicked problems.^Specifically, the students select a sustain-
ability theme with local to global implications and explore
disciplinary paradigms, biases, and perspectives. The students
develop an interdisciplinary project, addressing conflicting
disciplinary normsincluding differences in priorities, meth-
odologies, scope, and expected outcomesand the overarch-
ing challenge of finding a jargon-free common language.
Students also explore the uncomfortable territory between sci-
ence and value judgments, which prepares them for the com-
plex task of communicating the significance of their research
to policy makers and the public (Walsh et al. 2015).
Ongoing challenges
Indeed, the substantive challenge to creating a broadly inter-
disciplinary curriculum is straightforward: disciplines differ in
the questions they ask and the tools they use to answer them.
Disciplinary differences in approaches to analyzing and
interpreting the world create epistemological barriers that
can be difficult to overcomeyet sustainability problems
cross-cut so many dimensions of socio-ecological systems
that strictly discipline-based approaches can be inadequate
(Miller et al. 2008;Redman2013). Consequently, putting to-
gether a curriculum that integrates different disciplines in a
coherent manner, although challenging, is an important step
towards preparing students for tackling complex sustainability
problems in the real-world. This task is not made any easier by
the fact that different disciplines often conceptualize sustain-
ability differently. For example, business students commonly
consider sustainability to mean the ability to make a profit
indefinitely, whereas engineers will commonly engage with
sustainability in terms of efficient system design. In addition,
student attitudes towards sustainability change as they prog-
ress through their programs. For example, findings from a
study of civil and mechanical engineering programs suggest
students became less interested in sustainability concepts as
they progress from freshman to senior standing (Blevins and
Burian 2012). Clearly, both economic and ecological concerns
J Environ Stud Sci
are critical, yet a true understanding of sustainability calls on
us to move beyond creating technicians to considering how
students will respond as community members and citizens to
the complex challenges we all face.
In addition to the cognitive barriers created by disciplinar-
ity (see Strober 2010)and the institutional structures that
reinforce themthere are practical difficulties to integrating
sustainability in the curriculum. For example, the GCSC was
initially established on a funding model based on returned
overhead from GCSC mission-related grants successfully ob-
tained by affiliate faculty. Confusion and inconsistency about
how returned overhead credit and funding was allocated to
both home Colleges and the Center became a primary source
of stress and uncertainty for the GCSC over the last few years.
With the support of the Sustainability Office, the Vice
President for Research, and the Central Administration, the
GCSC recently moved to a more stable budget model where
funding support is requested and granted in the same manner
as Departments and Colleges on an annual basis. With this
new model, returned overhead directly linked to specific fac-
ulty and projects will not be a part of the budget discussion.
Rather, base funding will be supplied for the GCSC to contin-
ue to provide the service and resources that it has established
over the last few years. The hope is that this new model will
serve to invite faculty from all disciplines (not just those that
actively engage in research that generates external funding) to
engage with the Center.
Another ongoing challenge is that departments may be con-
cerned about losing funding from student credit hours to other
departments if they encourage students (especially graduate stu-
dents) to enroll in interdisciplinary certificate programs.
However, to the extent that any given department gains enroll-
ment in its sustainability-related courses as a consequence of
students pursuing interdisciplinary certificates, there is potential
for reciprocal, cooperative relationships among departments.
Indeed, building this sense of interdepartmental cooperation is
integral to the long-term success of interdisciplinary programs.
To this end, the University of Utah has established several means
for connecting faculty across campus and building a strong in-
terdisciplinary community for sustainability. These initiatives are
discussed in detail below.
Fostering systemic and resilient innovation
Ongoing curriculum development and support
The University of Utah provides ongoing support for interdis-
ciplinary sustainability curricula in several ways. First, the
GCSC, the administrative home for the graduate certificate in
sustainability, is a hub of interdisciplinary activities. For exam-
ple, every 2 weeks, the GCSC hosts a speaker as part of its
seminar series. The seminar is open to all, but students enrolled
in the graduate certificate program are required to attend for one
semester (during the off-weeks the students meet to discuss
relevant materials). Thus, the seminar series serves to integrate
interdisciplinarity, research, and education for graduate stu-
dents. The GCSC also sponsors an annual research symposium
where students and postdoctoral researchers present
sustainability-related research. In addition to regular events,
the GCSC provides the organizational effort to bring together
interdisciplinary teams for educational, outreach, engagement,
and research initiatives in sustainability.
Second, in 2014, the University followed the lead of many
other institutions across the country in offering a faculty work-
shop for integrating sustainability into their courses. Like the
Ponderosa, Piedmont, and Chesapeake projects before it, the
Wasatch Experience sought to bring a diverse group of faculty
together to modify an existing course (or create a new one) to
incorporate sustainability concepts. In order to broaden partic-
ipating facultys perspectives of what sustainability Bis,^the
Wasatch Experience placed participants into interdisciplinary
groups of four and assigned each group a mentor. Rather than
ending at the close of the 2 day workshop, the Wasatch
Experience was carried on throughout the academic year with
cohort meetings and ongoing mentorship. The continuation of
the program beyond the 2 days was intended to foster a stron-
ger sense of community. An attempt to integrate the partici-
pants of the Wasatch Experience into the broader sustainabil-
ity education community on campus was made by encourag-
ing them to attend meetings of the Sustainability Faculty
Learning Community (FLC).
The Sustainability FLCcreated in 2011 as a partnership
between the Sustainability Resource Center and the Center for
Teaching and Learning Excellenceis a third way that the
University supports curricular innovation. The group meets
monthly to discuss sustainability concepts and address issues
of collective interest. Because the FLC is open to faculty and
staff from across campusand its existence is not contingent
upon funding like the Wasatch Experienceit is a long-term,
resilient campus network for supporting sustainability curric-
ula. Indeed, the expense of the initial Wasatch Experience
resulted in the decision to offer it only every other year. The
Sustainability FLC, on the other hand, requires very little ad-
ministrative support and budget allocation.
Finally, to reward as well as incentivize sustainability lead-
ership, the University partnered in 2015 with Alta Ski Area to
create the Alta Sustainability Leadership Awards for students,
faculty, and staff in four specific areas: Campus as a Living
Lab, Sustainability Community Partnership, Sustainability
Integration (i.e., integration into courses), and Sustainability
Research. These awards give the university community a
chance to celebrate the good work of our colleagues and at,
the same time, subtly educate all faculty on campus of the
interdisciplinarity of sustainability and its value to the
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  • Article
    • Shirley Vincent
    Since the late 1980's the necessity and urgency of implementing strategies to achieve a sustainable future have been broadly acknowledged in the United Nations declarations at Rio (1992) and Johannesburg (2007). The momentum in the global political realm is driving the development of new education programs centered on the concepts of sustainability and the realignment of many current programs toward sustainability as a core principle. Environmental Studies and Science programs are at the forefront of this transition and are experiencing rapid growth both in the numbers of degree programs as well as in enrollment. The Council of Environmental Deans and Directors, a group of academic programs leaders operating under the University Affiliate program of the National Council for Science and the Environment, sponsored the first comprehensive survey of broadly interdisciplinary environmental programs in the U.S. Conducted in the spring of 2008, the survey included all programs (administrative units) offering baccalaureate and graduate level degree programs named environmental science(s) or environmental studies, and some degree programs with other names such as sustainability, water resources, environmental policy and management, natural resources, and environmental dynamics. The survey population excluded programs that offer only associate degrees or minors/certificates and programs that offer professional and related degrees in specific environmental fields such as conservation biology, environmental engineering or sustainable agriculture. A census count of programs conducted prior to the survey identified 840 degree-granting programs at 652 institutions that offer 1183 interdisciplinary environmental degrees. Degree programs named environmental science(s) are most common, comprising 46% of all broadly interdisciplinary environmental programs. Another 25% are named environmental studies. The remaining 29% of program names and focus areas vary widely with environmental policy and planning, environmental management and risk analysis, and natural resources management most common. Figure 1 shows the distribution of universities and colleges hosting these programs. The number of institutions per state ranges from 1 (Wyoming and Mississippi) to 59 (New York).
  • Book
    Full-text available
    • Shirley Vincent
      Shirley Vincent
    • Stevenson Bunn
    • Sarah Stevens
    This is a summary of the full report. This report documents the results of a census of all interdisciplinary environmental and sustainability (IES) academic programs at 4-year colleges and universities in the United States. The report documents the rapid growth of the field, the emergence of new types of IES programs, and trends. A census of community colleges programs is underway; a report will be forthcoming in 2014. The National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) is a not-for-profit organization that improves the scientific basis for environmental decision-making. NCSE specializes in bringing together diverse institutions and individuals to advance environmental science, education, and their applications in five strategic areas: strengthening education and careers; communicating science to the public through the online Encyclopedia of Earth; organizing the National Conference on Science, Policy and the Environment; developing science solutions to specific environmental challenges; and promoting science-driven policy for the environment. The Council of Environmental Deans and Directors, representing the over 170 institutions of higher education in the United States formally affiliated with the NCSE, works to strengthen academic environmental programs.
  • Article
    Full-text available
    • Marena Brinkhurst
    • Peter Rose
    • Gillian K. Maurice
      Gillian K. Maurice
    • Josef Daniel Ackerman
      Josef Daniel Ackerman
    Purpose – The dynamics of organizational change related to environmental sustainability on university campuses are examined in this article. Whereas case studies of campus sustainability efforts tend to classify leadership as either “top‐down” or “bottom‐up”, this classification neglects consideration of the leadership roles of the institutional “middle” – namely the faculty and staff. Design/methodology/approach – The authors draw from research conducted on sustainability initiatives at the University of Guelph combined with a review of faculty and staff‐led initiatives at universities across Canada and the USA, as well as literature on best practices involving campus sustainability. Using concepts developed in business and leadership literature, faculty and staff are shown to be universities' equivalent to social “intrapreneurs”, i.e. those who work for social and environmental good from within large organizations. Findings – Faculty and staff members are found to be critical leaders in efforts to achieve lasting progress towards campus sustainability, and conventional portrayals of campus sustainability initiatives often obscure this. Greater attention to the potential of faculty and staff leadership and how to effectively support their efforts is needed. Originality/value – In the paper, a case is made for emphasizing faculty and staff leadership in campus sustainability efforts and several successful strategies for overcoming barriers are presented.
  • Book
    • R. McKeown
    • C. A. Hopkins
    • R. Rizi
    • Center for Geography and Environmental Education