September 2021: Adopting Sustainable Practices Through Initiatives in Higher Education


In this section of Campus, EuropeNow features a selection of scholarly articles and books on topics pertinent to the teaching of Europe or teaching in Europe that were published within the last 5 years. This dynamic bibliography, with monthly installments, seeks to highlight both pedagogy research as well as critical analyses of debates taking place in higher education in and about Europe.

If you are interested in reviewing any of the books featured in any of our Campus Round-Ups, please contact our Research and Pedagogy Chair, Hélène Ducros, at


1. How the Structures of a Green Campus Promotes the Development of Sustainability Competences: The Experience of the University of Bologna

By Gabriella Calvano, Angelo Paletta, and Alessandra Bonoli

Abstract: Pursuing sustainable development in universities is not just a political issue or management issue of the universities. Strategies and action plans are only partially useful if they are not accompanied by concrete actions in teaching, in research and in the outreach as well as the development of physical structures that respond to the principles and criteria of sustainability. Many universities made steps in this direction, making green their campuses. It lacked, however, the awareness that the “physical structures” can effect learning, allowing students to develop skills useful to promote sustainable lifestyles and they become professionals “of the future capable of.” This paper aims to highlight the educational function that the University of Bologna has developed through the changes implemented to the plexus structures “Terracini” of the School of Engineering and Architecture. Through a series of interviews with key observers (students, faculty, staff), the paper illustrates how, even enhancing the leading role of the students, the campus has become a real “living lab” in which design new ideas, test participation initiatives and concrete realization of the projects, teaching and dissemination of good practices. In other words, it is a starting point for the promotion of social, educational and research the principles of sustainability.

Find this chapter in Sustainability on University Campuses: Learning, Skills Building, and Best Practices here


2. The Role of Green and Sustainability Offices in Fostering Sustainability Efforts at Higher Education Institutions

By Walter Leal Filho et al.

Abstract: Green and Sustainability Offices are special settings which assist initiatives within higher education institutions to coordinate their efforts and work in the field of sustainable development. The set-up of such offices is known to be an effective tool in supporting the implementation of sustainability initiatives on campuses, and in fostering awareness among students and staff on matters related to sustainable development. But despite their usefulness and proven effectiveness, the use of Green Offices and Sustainability Offices is not as wide as it could -or should-be. Also, there is a limited amount of empirical international work performed to date, which have investigated the various barriers related to their works. This paper, which focus on the role played by green offices in a higher education context, addresses a research gap. On the basis of the need to address this research gap, this paper presents the results of an international study on Green and Sustainability Offices, performed with a sample of 70 higher education institutions from round the world. The study consisted of an on-line survey which identified the extent to which Green Offices or similar governance structures are being deployed, some specific aspects of their operations and the barriers or difficulties related to their activities. The study concludes by suggesting some topics higher education institutions may take into consideration, in order to maximise their potential benefits.

Find this article in the Journal of Cleaner Production here


3. Sustainability Strategies in Portuguese Higher Education Institutions: Commitments and Practices from Internal Insights

By Carla Farinha, Sandra Caeiro, and Ulisses Azeiteiro

Abstract: The Copernicus Declaration of 1994, which was understood as a commitment to sustainable development (SD) by top management in higher education, was signed by many universities. This signature worked as an important driver for these institutions to put different dimensions of SD principles into practice. In Portugal, a Southern European country, six of the fourteen universities belonging to the Portuguese University Rectors Council signed the declaration, but no attempt has been made to evaluate how these public universities integrated education for sustainable development at policy and strategy levels. This paper presents the results of a study aimed at identifying to what extent the integration of sustainability in the fourteen universities was achieved, through their own strategic and activity plans and activity and sustainability reports. A detailed content analysis was conducted on these plans and reports within the period from 2005 to 2014 (the time frame of the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development), to identify the main commitments and practices. Notwithstanding a lack of national integrated strategies or policies related to education for SD, the results show that the movement made progress at the university level, with good examples and initiatives at several universities. This paper highlights the importance of analyzing the content of plans and reports from higher education institutions (HEIs) when intending to assess and define a country profile for the implementation of sustainability in the educational sector. In addition, this research, conducted in Portugal, may be helpful to understand and value how SD is being applied in the policies and strategies of other European HEIs, as well as to share and encourage best practices and ways of improvement.

Find this article in Sustainability here


4. Key Competencies in Sustainability in Higher Education: Toward an Agreed Upon Reference Framework

By Katja Brundiers et al.

Abstract: Hundreds of sustainability programs have emerged at universities and colleges around the world over the past 2 decades. A prime question for employers, students, educators, and program administrators is what competencies these programs develop in students. This study explores convergence on competencies for sustainability programs. We conducted a Delphi study with 14 international experts in sustainability education on the framework of key competencies in sustainability by Wiek et al. (Sustain Sci 6: 203–218, 2011), the most frequently cited framework to date. While experts generally agreed with the framework, they propose two additional competencies, suggest a hierarchy of competencies, and specify learning objectives for students interested in a career as sustainability researcher. The refined framework can inform program development, implementation, and evaluation to enhance employability of graduates and facilitate comparison of sustainability programs worldwide.

Find this article in Sustainability Science here


5. Overcoming Diverse Approaches to Vocational Education and Training to Combat Climate Change: The Case of Low Energy Construction in Europe

By Linda Clarke, Melahat Sahin-Dikmen, and Christopher Winch

Abstract: Vocational education and training (VET) can play a transformative role in reducing CO2 emissions and improving the energy efficiency of buildings across Europe. Nearly zero energy building (NZEB) requires an energy literate workforce, with broader and deeper theoretical knowledge, higher technical and precision skills, interdisciplinary understanding, and a wide range of transversal competences. Through an investigation into VET for low energy construction (LEC) in 10 European countries, the article identifies a range of different strategies advanced under constraints imposed by the VET systems and construction labour markets. At one extreme, representing the ‘high road’, LEC elements are mainstreamed into broad-based occupational profiles, curricula and qualifications, whilst at the other, the ‘low’ road, short, specific and one-off LEC courses simply aim to plug existing ‘skills’ gaps. It is argued that the ‘high road’ approach, in encompassing a broad concept of agency, successfully addresses NZEB requirements whereas the ‘low road’ represents an instrumentalist approach to labour that jeopardises the achievement of higher energy efficiency standards. The article concludes by presenting a transparency tool set within the European Qualifications Framework, against which different VET for LEC programmes can be assessed.


Find this article in the Oxford Review of Education here


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