Higher education's sustainability imperative: How to practically respond?

Kevin J. Krizek, Dave Newport, James White, Alan R. Townsend

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

103 Scopus citations


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to describe four phases for how universities have addressed a sustainability agenda and offer specific lessons for how and where experiences on one campus, the University of Colorado Boulder, have been met with success and other challenges. The authors offer general reflections for executing university-wide sustainability initiatives with a central intent of illuminating central barriers against, and incentives for, a coordinated and integrated approach to campus sustainability. Design/methodology/approach: The approach for arriving at four phases and a description of the University of Colorado Boulder is based on experiences from learning, teaching, and administering within universities-collectively for almost a century among the authors-and lessons from "war room" discussions. Findings: Sustainability initiatives on campus may evolve through a series of phases labeled: grassroots; executive acceptance of the business case for sustainability; the visionary campus leader; and fully self-actualized and integrated campus community. The University of Colorado Boulder, while a leader in many respects of sustainability (research, student activities, facilities management) has experienced serious challenges for coordination. Originality/value: The four phases are a relatively novel contribution for the specific literature on sustainability education. Second, the tangible examples from University of Colorado Boulder demonstrate how coordination is difficult in these situations; these examples allow readers to better relate to and understand such challenges. Finally, the authors reflect on central issues according to three categories: self-reflection, recommendations, and advantages.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-33
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012


  • Campus framework
  • Coordination
  • Higher education
  • Sustainability
  • United States of America
  • Universities
  • University administration


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