Exploring a transformative orientation to sustainability in universities: a question of loose and tight framings

Posted in: Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

A week ago, I was at a poorly-attended, but rather stimulating, meeting of the Higher Education Academy's advisory group on ESD.  It benefitted from the presence of a senior HEA staffer who brought keen knowledge of the Academy's current problems to the table, along with a willingness to be open about them.

One of the issues we discussed was the evaluation report of how Green Academy cohort 1 institutions were now faring, some 2 years since they began.  The report is here.

I asked this question:

It seems possible, and perhaps even helpful, to make a distinction between universities that are setting out to do sustainability – maybe even right across everything the institution gets involved in – and those that are on a developmental and transformative journey towards being sustainable – as institutions.  We might suppose that, in the second of these, the work of the institution would embody a vision, values, and values-informed practices that have been shifted to be tightly framed around a particular conceptualisation of sustainability, and it is this framing that gives meaning, not just to what that institution does, but also to what it is trying to become.

By contrast, an institution that is more loosely framed around sustainability is one that clearly takes sustainability seriously in what it, and its various constituent parts do, without having in place capstone values, sustainability dispositions and orientations, and the appropriate conceptually-grounded vision necessary to commit to a transformative orientation.

It seems clear from this report, and the wider literature, that there is now much evidence of loose sustainability framings in universities across the globe.  Have you found any evidence in your Green Academy work of tight framings and transformative journeys?

The short answer to this overly-long question was "No".   Even though there is a considerable amount of innovation to be seen, the picture on the ground in this cohort of Green Academy institutions, two years in, is patchy at best and distinctly loosely-framed.

It's clear, however, that there are institutions in the UK that think that they are on such a journey.  I wonder if Bristol is one of them.  We may find out on Friday when its "ESD team" plays host to an ELSA meeting.  I'll report back.

Posted in: Comment, New Publications, News and Updates


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