Sustainability Curriculum in UK University Sustainability Reports

  • Katerina KostaEmail author
Part of the World Sustainability Series book series (WSUSE)


One of the major barriers to incorporating sustainability in the HE curriculum is its absence from the university sustainability strategy, the annual reflection of which is the annual sustainability report. While strategies specify targets, reports record what has already been achieved. In that respect, reports function as internally created reviews of universities’ sustainability activity. Various reviews of sustainability teaching activity have taken place in the UK HE sector. The current study attempts to explore formal sustainability teaching provision exclusively through HEIs’ annual sustainability reports. The sample consists of the most recent, whole-institution sustainability reports issued by UK HEIs from 2016 to 2018. An exploratory content analysis identifies sustainability curriculum coverage patterns, using a coding frame based on the STARS framework. Findings suggest that of the 167 UK HEIs 4% report on their sustainability curriculum provision comprehensively. The findings might be of interest to sustainability professionals in the reporting or the curriculum provision end. The study hopes to encourage wider coverage of sustainability curriculum provision in HE sustainability reports.


Sustainability reporting Sustainability curriculum Sustainability in higher education (SHE) 


  1. Beveridge D, McKenzie M, Vaughter P, Wright T (2015) Sustainability in Canadian post-secondary institutions. The inter-relationships among sustainability initiatives and geographic and educational characteristics. Int J Sustain High Educ 16(5):611–638. doi: 10.1108/IJSHE-03-2014-0048CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bloemen O (2013) Learning for change: social responsibility and sustainability courses at the University of Edinburgh 2012–2013. Institute for Academic Development, University of Edinburgh. Edinburgh. Accessed 20 Jan 2017
  3. Ceulemans K, Lozano R, del Mar Alonso-Almeida M (2015a) Sustainability reporting in higher education: interconnecting the reporting process and organisational change management for sustainability. Sustainability 7(7):8881–8903. doi: 10.3390/su7078881CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Ceulemans K, Molderez I, Van Liedekerke L (2015b) Sustainability reporting in higher education: a comprehensive review of the recent literature and paths for further research. J Clean Prod 106:127–143. doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2014.09.052CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dade A, Hassenzahl DM (2013) Communicating sustainability: a content analysis of website communications in the United States. Int J Sustain High Educ 14(3):254–263. doi: 10.1108/IJSHE-08-2011-0053CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Disterheft A, Caeiro S, Ramos MR, Azeiteiro U (2012) Environmental management systems (EMS) implementation processes and practices in European higher education institutions: top-down versus participatory approaches. J Cleaner Prod 31:80–90. doi: 10.1108/IJSHE-05-2014-0079CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Drayson R, Taylor C (2015) The student voice: experiences of student engagement in education for sustainable development. In: Filho W, Brandli W, Kuznetsova O, Paço A (eds) Integrative approaches to sustainable development at university level. World sustainability series. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-10690-8_43CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Evans J, Jones R, Karvonen A, Millard L, Wendler J (2015) Living labs and co-production: university campuses as platforms for sustainability science. Curr Opin Environ Sustain 16:1–6. doi: 10.1016/j.cosust.2015.06.005CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Fischer D, Jenssen S, Tappeser V (2015) Getting an empirical hold of the sustainable university: a comparative analysis of evaluation frameworks across 12 contemporary sustainability assessment tools. Assess Eval High Educ 41(1):1–16. doi: 10.1080/02602938.2015.1043234CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Fonseca A, Macdonald A, Dandy E, Valenti P (2011) The state of sustainability reporting at Canadian universities. Int J Sustain High Educ 12(1):22–40. doi: 10.1108/14676371111098285CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Glover A, Peters C, Haslett SK (2011) Education for sustainable development and global citizenship: an evaluation of the validity of the STAUNCH auditing tool. Int J Sustain High Educ 12(2):125–144. doi: 10.1108/14676371111118192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Green Gown Awards (2017) Categories and criteria: sustainability reporting. EAUC, Cheltenham. Accessed 30 Jan 2017
  13. GRI (2015) Sustainability and reporting trends in 2025; preparing for the future. Global Reporting Initiative, Amsterdam. Accessed 30 Jan 2017
  14. Hahn R, Kühnen M (2013) Determinants of sustainability reporting: a review of results, trends, theory, and opportunities in an expanding field of research. J Clean Prod 59:5–21. doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2013.07.005CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. HEFCE (2008) HEFCE strategic review of sustainable development in higher education in England by the Policy Studies Institute, PA Consulting Group and the University of Bath Centre for Research in Education and the Environment. HEFCE, London. Accessed 30 Jan 2017
  16. HEFCE (2014) Sustainable development in higher education: HEFCE’s role to date and a framework for its future actions. HEFCE, London. Accessed 30 Jan 2017
  17. HESA (2017) Environmental information by higher education provider. HESA, Cheltenham. Accessed 20 Jan 2017
  18. KPMG (2012) Sustainability reporting systems: a market review. KPMG Advisory N.V., Amstelveen. Accessed 15 Jan 2017
  19. Lambrechts W (2015) The contribution of sustainability assessment to policy development in higher education. Assess Eval High Educ 40(6):776–795. doi: 10.1080/02602938.2015.1040719CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lidstone L, Wright T, Sherren K (2015) An analysis of Canadian STARS-rated higher education sustainability policies. Environ Dev Sustain 17(2):259–278. doi: 10.1007/s10668-014-9598-6CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. LiFE (2017) Life self-assessment tool higher education version. EAUC, Cheltenham. Accessed 20 Jan 2017
  22. Lock I, Seele P (2016) The credibility of CSR (corporate social responsibility) reports in Europe. Evidence from a quantitative content analysis in 11 countries. J Clean Prod 122:186–200. doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2016.02.060CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lozano R (2011) The state of sustainability reporting in universities. Int J Sustain High Educ 12(1):67–78. doi: 10.1108/14676371111098311CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Parkin S, Johnston A, Buckland H, Brookes F, White E (2004) Learning and skills for sustainable development: developing a sustainability literate society. Guidance for higher education institutions. London: Forum for the Future. Accessed 30 Jan 2017
  25. PwC (2016) Good practices in sustainability reporting: building public trust awards. PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP., London. Accessed 30 Jan 2017
  26. QAA (2014) Education for sustainable development: guidance for UK higher education providers. QAA, Gloucester. Accessed 30 Jan 2017
  27. Ramos T, Pires SM (2013) Sustainability assessment: the role of indicators. In: Caeiro S, Filho W, Jabbour C, Azeiteiro U (eds) Sustainability assessment tools in higher education institutions; mapping trends and good practices around the world. Springer, London, pp 81–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Responsible Futures (2017) NUS responsible futures: the criteria. NUS, London. Accessed 10 Jan 2017
  29. Ryan A, Cotton D (2013) Times of change: shifting pedagogy and curricula for future sustainability. In: Sterling S, Maxey L, Luna H (eds) The sustainable university. Routledge, Oxon, pp 151–167Google Scholar
  30. STARS (2016) STARS technical manual; Version 2.1. Administrative Update One. AASHE, Philadelphia. Accessed 30 Jan 2017
  31. Sterling S (2012) The future fit framework: an introductory guide to teaching and learning for sustainability in HE. Higher Education Academy, York. Accessed 10 Jan 2017
  32. TEF (2016) Teaching excellence framework year two additional guidance. London: HEFCE.,2014/Content/Pubs/2016/201632/HEFCE2016_32.pdf Accessed 15 Jan 2017
  33. Tilbury D, Ryan A (2011) Embedding sustainability in the DNA of the university. International Research Institute in Sustainability. University of Gloucestershire, Cheltenham. Accessed 10 Jan 2017
  34. Tilbury D, Wortman D (2008) Education for sustainability in higher education: reflections along the journey. J Plan High Educ Soc Coll Univ Plan 36(4):5–16Google Scholar
  35. Tierney A, Tweddell H, Willmore C (2015) Measuring education for sustainable development. Int J Sustain High Educ 16(4):507–522. doi: 10.1108/IJSHE-07-2013-0083CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) (2017) Search for courses. UCAS, Cheltenham. Accessed 10 August 2017
  37. UI Green Metric (2017) University of Indonesia Green Metric: criteria and indicators. University of Indonesia, Depok. Accessed 30 Jan 2017
  38. Vaughter P, McKenzie M, Lidstone L, Wright T (2016) Campus sustainability governance in Canada. Int J Sustain High Educ 17(1):16–39. doi: 10.1108/IJSHE-05-2014-0075CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. White S (2014) Campus sustainability plans in the United States: where, what, and how to evaluate. Int J Sustain High Educ 3(3):203–220. doi: 10.1108/14676371111098320CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Wyness L, Sterling S (2015) Reviewing the incidence and status of sustainability in degree programmes at Plymouth University. Int J Sustain High Educ 16(2):237–250. doi: 10.1108/IJSHE-09-2013-0112CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Humanities and Social SciencesOxford Brookes UniversityOxfordUK

Personalised recommendations