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The Unit-Based Sustainability Assessment Tool and its use in the UNEP Mainstreaming Environment and Sustainability in African Universities Partnership

Abstract

This paper reports on the development and use of a Unit-based Sustainability Assessment Tool (USAT) for establishing the status of Education for Sustainable Development initiatives and sustainable development practices in universities. The tool was developed for use in the Swedish/Africa International Training Programme (ITP) on ‘Education for Sustainable Development in Higher Education’ and complements the UNEP Mainstreaming Environment and Sustainability into African Universities (MESA) ‘Education for Sustainable Development Innovations Programmes for Universities in Africa’ materials. The USAT facilitates a quick assessment of the level of integration of sustainability issues in university functions and operations, both to benchmark sustainability initiatives and identify new areas for action or improvement. It is based on a unit-based framework which allows for sustainability assessments to be done per division, unit, department, or faculty within universities. Collectively, the unit-based assessments provide for development of an institution wide picture of university sustainability. The USAT has been widely used, in different ways, in African universities which are participating in the MESA Universities Partnership, and it has been found that it provides a useful reflexive learning tool for furthering sustainability objectives. This chapter discusses the context in which the USAT was developed, its development and pilot use at Rhodes University and the design features of the tool. The chapter also showcases use of the USAT in a whole university assessment at the University of Swaziland to illustrate how data from the assessment can be analyzed and presented and what the tool enables reviewers to perceive from the results. It further illuminates how the tool is being employed in identifying actions for change (called change projects) in the MESA Universities Partnership. Use of the USAT across a range of African universities suggests that its value lies in showing the level of integration of sustainability, and in facilitating change oriented learning and practice.

Keywords

  • Sustainable Development
  • United Nations Environment Programme
  • Sustainability Assessment
  • Global Reporting Initiative
  • Sustainability Practice

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Phase 1 (2004–2007): Establishing and piloting of the MESA Universities Partnership Project in 15% of African Universities; Phase 2 (2007–2010): Consolidation and strengthening of MESA Universities Partnership Project activities in 30 % of African Universities; and Phase 3 (2011–2014): Expansion of the MESA Universities Partnership to 60 % of African Universities (UNEP 2007, p. 1).

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Correspondence to Muchaiteyi Togo .

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Appendices

Appendix The USAT

USAT Part A: Teaching Departments

PART A Unit-Based Sustainability Assessment Tool Teaching, Research and Community Service

Institutions/departments committed to sustainability feature certain topics in their course offerings, e.g., globalization and sustainable development; environmental philosophy; nature writing; land ethics and sustainable agriculture; health promotion, urban ecology and social justice; population, intercultural understanding and peace, women and development; human rights, overcoming poverty, sustainable production and consumption; the role of information and communication technologies and many others (ULSF 1999). Sustainability would be integrated into faculty and student research on topics such as renewable energy, sustainable building design, ecological economics, indigenous wisdom and technologies, population and development, total environmental quality management, etc. (ibid.) The USAT is designed to assist in assessing the extent to which your department is engaging in sustainable development concerns in its teaching, research, and outreach activities. It requires you to give your impression on the identified dimensions using the assessment criteria below.

Assessment criteria
X =  Don’t know no information concerning the practice
0 =  None there is total lack of evidence on the indicator
1 =  A little evidence show poor performance
2 =  Adequate evidence show regular performance
3 =  Substantial evidence show good performance
4 = A great deal excellent performance
   Score
Code Indicator x Don’t know 0 None 1 A little 2 Adequate 3 Substantial 4 A great deal
  Curriculum       
C1 The extent to which the department offer courses that engage sustainability concerns       
C2 The level of integration of sustainability topics in courses referred to above       
C3 The degree to which local sustainability issues and challenges form part of the department’s teaching programme       
C4 The degree to which global sustainability issues and challenges form part of the department’s teaching programme       
C5 The extent to which the department enroll students in courses that engage sustainability concerns       
C6 The level of cross faculty collaboration in teaching sustainability programs       
  Teaching approach How far the teaching approach contributes to development of the following characteristics among students:       
T7 The capacity to make informed decisions       
T8 Critical thinking skills       
T9 A sense of responsibility       
T10 Respect for the opinions of others       
T11 Integrated problem solving skills       
  Research and scholarship activities       
R12 The extent to which the department (staff and students) is involved in research and scholarship in the area of sustainability       
R13 The degree to which global sustainability issues and challenges form part of the department’s research       
R14 The degree to which local sustainability issues and challenges form part of the department’s research       
R15 The extent to which the department is collaborating with other faculties, institutions, and stakeholders in pursuit of solutions to sustainability problems       
R16 The extent to which aspects of sustainable development are used in selection/execution of research       
R17 The level to which aspects of sustainable development are reflected in the department’s research outputs       
  Community Engagement       
E18 The extent to which the department (staff and students) is involved in community engagement in the area of sustainability       
E19 The level of commitment of the department’s resources in sustainability projects in the community       
E20 The degree to which local sustainability issues and challenges form part of the department’s community engagement       
E21 The extent to which the department collaborates with other stakeholders in addressing community sustainability challenges       
E22 The extent to which aspects of sustainable development are used in selection/execution of community engagement projects       
  Examination (assessment) of sustainability topics       
X23 The extent to which sustainability aspects are assessed/examined during course       
X24 The extent to which sustainability aspects are considered in evaluating/assessing projects       
X25 The degree to which sustainability aspects are assessed in evaluating service learning programs       
  Staff expertise and willingness to participate       
S26 The level of expertise of staff members in the area of sustainability       
S27 The extent to which staff members are willing to carry out research and service activities on sustainability aspects/topics       
S28 The extent to which staff members are willing to teach sustainability topics       
  Others (please specify):       

USAT Part B: Operations and Management

PART B Unit-Based Sustainability Assessment Tool Operations and Management

Institutions committed to sustainability often emphasize some of the operational practices listed below (adapted from ULSF 1999). The USAT helps to assess the extent to which an institution has implemented these practices using the assessment criteria below. Please complete the score sheet, Add a tick (√) for key project areas and where more information is needed, leave blank where the practices are non-existent. Briefly indicate what you think can be done, what can be done to improve the sustainability of the practice.

Assessment criteria
X =  Don’t know no information concerning the practice
0 =  None there is total lack of evidence on the indicator
1 =  A little evidence show poor performance
2 =  Adequate evidence show regular performance
3 =  Substantial evidence show good performance
4 = A great deal excellent performance
Code Practices Rate Key area Inadequate info What can be done to improve the sustainability of the practice?
WR1 Waste reduction practices     
RW2 Recycling of solid waste (including paper, plastic, metal, etc.)     
TW3 Source reduction of toxic materials and radioactive waste     
AP4 CO2 and air pollution reduction practices (including alternative fuel use, renewable energy sources, emission control devices, etc.)     
AQ5 Indoor air quality standards and practices     
BC6 Building construction and renovation based on ecological design principles     
EC7 Energy conservation practices (in offices, laboratories, libraries, classrooms, and dormitories)     
LP8 Local food purchasing programme     
PE9 Purchasing from environmentally and socially responsible companies (including buying and using 100 % post consumer chlorine free paper)     
OP10 Organic food purchasing programme     
TP11 Transportation programme (including bicycle/pedestrian friendly systems, car pools, bus pass programs, electric/natural gas campus vehicles)     
BF12 Use of bio-fuel     
WC13 Water conservation practices (including efficient shower heads and irrigation systems)     
PM14 Integrated Pest Management practices (including reduction of pesticides to control weeds)     
SL15 Sustainable landscaping (emphasizing native plants, biodiversity, minimizing lawn, etc.)     
OE16 Integration of sustainability operations into the educational and scholarly activities of the university     
RB17 The presence of a body responsible for sustainable development at the institution     
SH18 Consideration of aspects of sustainability in staff hiring decisions     
OR19 Consideration of aspects of sustainable development in orientation programs for new staff members     
ST20 Staff development in sustainable development     
RE21 Staff rewards in sustainable development     
IP22 Consideration of aspects of sustainable development in institutional planning     
RF23 Allocation of research funds for sustainability projects     
AW24 Awareness raising in sustainable development     
SV25 Visibility of sustainable development through celebration of environmental days (e.g., Arbor day, water week, etc.)     
  Others (please specify):     

USAT Part C: Student’s Involvement

PART C Unit-Based Sustainability Assessment Tool Student’s Involvement

Institutions committed to sustainability provide students with specific opportunities and settings. They also encourage students to sustainability issues when choosing a career path. Conversely, students can initiate some of the activities, especially, if the institution is supportive. Listed below are some of the opportunities and activities for and by students (some were adapted from the ULSF 1999) which reflect commitment to sustainability. The USAT helps in assessing the degree of involvement of students in environmental and sustainability issues using the given assessment criteria. Add a tick (√) for key areas and where more information is needed; briefly outline key activities in the area of sustainability

Assessment criteria
X =  Don’t know no information concerning the practice
0 =  None there is total lack of evidence on the indicator
1 =  A little evidence show poor performance
2 =  Adequate evidence show regular performance
3 =  Substantial evidence show good performance
4 = A great deal excellent performance
Code Activities and opportunities Rate Key areas Inadequate info Outline of activities (what exactly is being done?)
SC1 Student environmental centre     
CC2 Career counseling focused on work opportunities related to environment and sustainability     
ES3 Environmental societies or other Student Group(s) with an environmental or sustainability focus     
SD4 Sustainability practices in residences or dormitories by students (e.g. recycling)     
OP5 Orientation programme(s) on sustainability for students     
SA6 Student environmental and sustainability awareness programs     
VS7 Voluntary community service by students related to sustainability issues and concerns     
SI8 Involvement of student groups across campus in sustainability initiatives     
SR9 SRC involvement in environmental and sustainability initiatives     
SM10 Student collaboration with management in the area of environmental and sustainability     
ES11 Environmental and sustainability activities initiated by students themselves (independent of departments, lecturers, management, etc.)     
SW12 Students’ willingness to take responsibility in the environmental and sustainability area     
  Others (please specify):     

USAT Part D: Policy and Written Statements

PART D Unit-Based Sustainability Assessment Tool Policy and Written Statements

Part D of the USAT focuses on integration of sustainability in higher education policy and the degree to which such higher education policy is shaped national and global sustainability issues. It also considers the level to which institutional policies and written statements reflect mainstream sustainability issues, and the degree to which they show commitment on the part of the university to address national and global sustainable development agendas. According to ULSF (1999), institutional commitment to sustainability can also be expressed through written statements of the mission and purpose of the institution; Rate activities and opportunities in the environmental and sustainability area by completing the score sheet. Add a tick (√) for key areas and where more information is needed; leave blank where the practices are non-existent. Briefly outline key activities in the area of sustainability.

Assessment criteria
X =  Don’t know no information concerning the practice
0 =  None there is total lack of evidence on the indicator
1 =  A little evidence show poor performance
2 =  Adequate evidence show regular performance
3 =  Substantial evidence show good performance
4 = A great deal excellent performance
Code Practices Rate Key Area Inadequate info Elaborate on the situation What can be done to improve the situation
PH1 The extent to which the country’s HE policy reflects an engagement with sustainability concerns      
PN2 The degree to which national and global sustainability issues inform decision-making processes in HE policy and structures      
PS3 The level of support given to HE institutions on sustainability programs      
PE4 Existence of sustainability/sustainability related policies at the institution      
PR5 Integration of sustainability issues in institutional policies      
PV6 Integration of aspects of sustainable development in university vision and mission statement      
PC7 Reflection of local sustainability challenges in policies and written statements      
PG8 The degree to which policies and written statements reflect national and global sustainability issues      
PI9 Implementation of policies of sustainability/sustainability related policies      
PP10 Plans to improve sustainability focus in the next policy review cycle      
  Others (specify):      

Appendix 2 USAT Data Tables

Data table for all teaching departments

Indicator Department
Curriculum & Teaching ACSa Consumer Sciences Geography Agricultural & Biosystems Eng. Business Administration Sociology Total score per indicator
C1 2 0 1 4 1 1 2 11
C2 3 0 1 4 1 1 2 12
C3 1 1 1 3 1 1 1 9
C4 3 1 1 3 1 1 2 12
C5 1 0 1 4 1 0 1 8
C6 3 0 0 3 0 0 0 6
T7 3 2 1 3 1 2 1 13
T8 4 2 1 4 1 1 2 15
T9 2 2 1 4 1 2 2 14
T10 2 2 1 3 1 2 2 13
T11 3 2 1 4 1 1 1 13
R 12 3 0 0 4 2 1 0 10
R 13 3 0 1 4 1 1 1 11
R 14 2 0 1 4 1 1 1 10
R 15 3 0 0 2 0 0 0 5
R16 3 0 1 4 1 1 1 11
R17 3 0 0 4 1 1 1 10
E18 0 0 2 4 1 1 1 9
E19 1 0 1 4 1 1 0 8
E20 1 0 1 4 0 1 0 7
E21 2 0 2 3 0 1 0 8
E22 2 0 1 4 0 1 0 8
X23 3 0 1 4 1 1 1 11
X24 3 0 1 3 1 1 1 10
X25 1 0 1 2 1 1 0 6
S26 2 X 1 3 2 1 2 11
S27 2 X 3 4 3 1 2 15
S28 3 X 3 4 3 1 2 16
Average 2.3 0.5 1.1 3.6 1.0 1.0 1.0  
Total (112) 64 12 30 100 29 28 29  

r* Academic Communication Skills

Data table for operations and management

Indicator Rate
WR1 1
RW2 1
TW3 0
AP4 1
AQ5 0
BC6 0
EC7 0
LP8 0
PE9 0
OP10 0
TP11 0
BF12 0
WC13 0
PM14 0
SL15 1
OE16 0
RB17 0
SH18 0
OR19 0
ST20 0
RE21 0
IP22 2
RF23 0
AW24 1
SV25 1
Average 0.32
Total (100) 8
Rating (%) 8

Data table for students’ involvement

Code Rate
SC1  
CC2 0
ES3 1
SD4 0
OP5 0
SA6 1
VS7 1
SI8 1
SR9 1
SM10 1
ES11 2
SW12 3
Average 1
Total (48) 11
Rating (%) 22.9

Data table for policy and written statements

Indicator Rate
PH1 0
PN2 2
PS3 1
PE4 3
PR5 3
PV6 3
PC7 3
PG8 3
PI9 1
PP10 2
Average 2.1
Total (40) 21
Rating (%) 52.5

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Togo, M., Lotz-Sisitka, H. (2013). The Unit-Based Sustainability Assessment Tool and its use in the UNEP Mainstreaming Environment and Sustainability in African Universities Partnership. In: Caeiro, S., Filho, W., Jabbour, C., Azeiteiro, U. (eds) Sustainability Assessment Tools in Higher Education Institutions. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02375-5_15

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