Handbook of Theory and Practice of Sustainable Development in Higher Education

Part of the series World Sustainability Series pp 329-342


Sustainability Champions: Role Models in Sustainability Graduate Education

  • Michael C. CavallaroAffiliated withSchool of Environment and Sustainability, University of Saskatchewan Email author 
  • , Martin BoucherAffiliated withSchool of Environment and Sustainability, University of Saskatchewan
  • , Toddi A. SteelmanAffiliated withSchool of Environment and Sustainability, University of Saskatchewan

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Sustainability champions are iconic men and women who have shaped the scholarly understanding of sustainability by considering broad, alternative, and visionary solutions to sustainability problems. For instance, sustainability champions such as Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, Wangari Maathai, Daniel Quinn, and Vandana Shiva have disciplinary expertise whose inspiration has radiated through the pillars of sustainability, crossing disciplines in natural and social sciences. The roles played by sustainability champions and their role in sustainability education have not been fully explored. This study aimed to identify sustainability champions within an academic unit focused on sustainability research, to provide context for their inspiration, and bring attention to the use of role models in sustainability graduate education. Using survey results from students, faculty, post-doctoral fellows, and staff within the School of Environment and Sustainability at the University of Saskatchewan, we discovered that the sustainability champions they selected embodied diverse backgrounds and expertise: writers, artists, professors, activists, and politicians. Participants were mostly inspired by individuals in the Professor category, representing 33.8 % of the 47 total survey responses. However, other categories such as Writer/Artist received moderate attention with 18.3 % and both Activists and Multiple (more than one category) with 15.5 %. Furthermore, surveyed faculty credited their sustainability champion for broadening their views and research, whereas students felt their champions opened them to new ideas. More than half of students, faculty, post-doctoral fellows, and staff surveyed indicated their sustainability champions had changed at some point during their academic career—possibly demonstrating that impression from a sustainability champion can inspire at any stage of career.


Education Curriculum Interdisciplinary Role model Academic supervisor