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An Indicator-Based Approach to Sustainability Monitoring and Mainstreaming at Universiti Sains Malaysia


This chapter presents the results of the research we have been doing to develop a new methodology to monitor and mainstream sustainability throughout Universiti Sains Malaysia, in keeping with our new vision of “Transforming Higher Education for a Sustainable Tomorrow.” We have focused both on global sustainability challenges and on campus sustainability. In the first part of our research we developed a new tool, a Sustainability Assessment Methodology (SAM), to assess the sustainability content of courses and projects. This method involves a screening step, consisting of three generic questions; an identification step, with 24 more specific questions; and a classification step, in which the results of steps 1 and 2 are used to classify courses and projects as either Green (High), Yellow (Medium), or Red (Low) in terms of sustainability. When we used SAM to do a USM Sustainability Audit, out of 2671 courses examined, 44 % were found to have elements of at least one pillar of the “Triple Bottom Line” sustainability model, 27 % had elements of two pillars, and 9 % had elements of all three pillars. In the second part of our research, we developed a Framework with Four Worksheets that presented targets, tasks, and timelines for sustainability infusion at all levels of USM’s activities. The outcomes of this part of our research provide feedback and guidance to all practitioners to build sustainability content in their mission activities. This may include reorienting existing courses or designing and managing new research and community-oriented projects. Together, the results may be used either for rating or ranking sustainability performance, though we have used them only for rating at this stage.


  • Sustainability indicator (SI)
  • Sustainability assessment methodology (SAM)
  • Education for sustainable development (ESD)
  • Higher education
  • USM-APEX (Universiti Sains Malaysia accelerated program for excellence)

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  1. 1.

    Indicator framework and worksheets are accessible at: (All the six (6) links in this paper can be viewed by ‘Ctrl + left-clicking’ the hyperlinks in the text or in the footnote and following prompts (click OK) on the screen.).

  2. 2.

    Indicator worksheets are available at:

  3. 3.

    USM-APEX Sustainability Roadmap is accessible at:

  4. 4.

    WEHAB +3 is available for download at:

  5. 5.

    USM-APEX Sustainability Fact Sheets are accessible at:

  6. 6.

    The sustainability indicator checklist is available for download at:


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The authors are deeply indebted to the research assistants of the indicator research team (Nordiana binti Mohd Yusoff, Nur Afiqah binti Ismail, Masratul Hawa), to Ratisya Radzi and Nurhazliyana Hanafi of CGSS@USM, Christopher Smith for editing the draft, and to all others who helped to make this project a success.

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Correspondence to Kanayathu C. Koshy .

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Appendix 1

Permutation Combination

  1. The (+, ~ , –) responses when applied to the three pillars of SD, Economy (Eco), Environment (Env) and Society (Soc), generate the following permutations.
  2. (Note This table itself need not be understood in any depth to apply SAM, but this explains the basis for it. It is true that those who use SAM need to have a working knowledge of SD and ESD. There are no other easy approaches to assessing sustainability content as we have attempted here. It is similar to a clinical approach; while instrument based test results are useful in diagnosis, qualified and experienced medical personnel are needed to treat patients).
  3. Any combination of two or more positives (+) with other sign was considered to indicate a distinct situation for sustainability—a smiling face. The other two faces have less and less + signs and hence relatively less sustainability content.

Appendix 2

Brief check list for SAM–KIPs* and KPIs* (Based on USM-APEX Sustainability Priorities—WEHAB +3)

No. Indicator type: Impact indicators (8 KIPs); scope—general (check compatibility of statements here to audit items) + (H) ~ (M) – (L) Remarks (sector/cross-sec)
1 Depletion of natural capital; institutional arrangements
Development footprints; globalization, culture
2 Pollution; institutional arrangements
Integrated waste management - 3R approach
3 Knowledge economy, skills generation; poverty eradication (social uplift)     Economy
4 Emphasis on “the economy and society are wholly owned subsidiaries of the environment” or “the economic goods and services come from the ecological goods and services”     Economy
5 Green business for income generation and societal well being     Society
6 Health, conflict resolution, social capital, democracy, equity, good governance     Society
7 In human history, there have been ‘waves’ of major innovations. The next wave of innovation will be in Sustainability. EE/ESD as the educational approach for this innovation     EE/ESD
8 The intent of the ESD decade (2005-14, UNDESD)     EE/ESD
No. Indicator type: performance indicators (10 KPIs); scope—‘WEHAB + 3’ (WEHAB = water, energy, health, agriculture and biodiversity) + ~ Remarks
9 Quality and quantity     Water
10 Distribution and accessibility     Water
11 Efficiency/accessibility:     Energy
12 Diversification/renewable energy     Energy
13 Communicable diseases     Health
14 Non-communicable diseases     Health
15 Land use and land cover changes     Agriculture
16 Food security     Agriculture
17 Biological goods and services     Biodiversity
18 Habitat integrity, conservation     Biodiversity
No. Indicator type: performance indicators (6 KPIs); scope—WEHAB + 3’ (3 = (i): climate change/disaster risk management, (ii): population/poverty, (iii): production/consumption) + ~ Remarks
19 Science, sectoral impacts and capacity building     Climate change/disaster risk management
20 Mitigation, adaptation, Networking and Policy     Climate change/disaster risk management
21 Demography, settlement, natural resources, income generation, and Poverty     Population/poverty
22 Human capital, education, health, globalization, culture, and governance     Population/poverty
23 Natural resource use, pollution, policies     Production/consumption
24 Industry, trade, transportation, business, market, policies     Production/consumption
  1. (+) If the answer is positive/yes
  2. (~) If the answer is neutral (neither positive or negative)
  3. (–) If the answer is negative/no (if in doubt here, use precautionary principle)
  4. *KIP Key intangible performance; KPI, Key performance indicators

Appendix 3

Appendix 4

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Koshy, K.C., Nor, N.M., Sibly, S., Rahim, A.A., Jegatesen, G., Muhamad, M. (2013). An Indicator-Based Approach to Sustainability Monitoring and Mainstreaming at Universiti Sains Malaysia. In: Caeiro, S., Filho, W., Jabbour, C., Azeiteiro, U. (eds) Sustainability Assessment Tools in Higher Education Institutions. Springer, Cham.

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