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Special Issue "A Holistic View of Sustainability Assessment in Higher Education: From Campus Operations to Curricula, Research and Outreach"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Sustainable Education and Approaches".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 14 May 2018

Special Issue Editors

Guest Editor
Assist. Prof. Dr. Kim Ceulemans

University of Toulouse, Toulouse Business School, Toulouse, France
Interests: sustainability management; sustainability assessment and reporting; sustainability teaching and learning
Guest Editor
Assoc. Prof. Dr. Rodrigo Lozano

University of Gävle, Department of Engineering and Sustainable Development, Kungsbäcksvägen 47, Gävle, Sweden
Website | E-Mail
Interests: organizational sustainability; higher education for sustainable development; assessment and reporting; organisational change management; collaboration

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Over the last two decades, there has been growing awareness of the pivotal role higher education institutions (HEIs) play in striving towards a society that is based on sustainability principles and able to tackle complex global problems, such as climate change, or poverty and social inequality (Disterheft et al., 2013; Wals, 2014). Supported by international efforts such as UNESCO’s Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (UN DESD) (2005-2014), and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) (2015-2030), HEIs around the world have been proposing and implementing initiatives to enhance their ability to address sustainability issues, and to, most importantly, equip their students with the necessary competences to address wicked sustainability challenges (Buckler and Creech, 2014; Filho et al., 2015; Lozano et al., 2013, 2015).

The topic of sustainability integration into higher education has been covered extensively in the literature. Some authors have provided reviews of the literature on Education for Sustainable Development (e.g., Karatzoglou, 2013; Vaughter et al., 2013), and on specific subtopics, such as sustainability in management education (Figueiro and Raufflet, 2015), sustainability reporting in higher education (Ceulemans et al., 2015), sustainability assessment tools (Yarime and Tanaka, 2012), and learning and institutionalisation processes in the context of the UN DESD (Wals, 2014). Such reviews have highlighted the need for further research covering initiatives that address sustainability integration holistically, in contrast to studying stand-alone initiatives into education, research, campus operations, or community outreach (Karatzoglou, 2013; Lozano et al., 2013, 2015). Another issue is the question of how to assess (holistically) ongoing sustainability initiatives in individual HEIs and on a larger scale (regional, national, international) (Ceulemans et al., 2011, 2015; Lozano et al., 2015; Wals, 2014).

The latest UN framework to support Education for Sustainable Development, i.e. the Global Action Programme, has also pointed to the need to provide adequate monitoring and evaluation of sustainability efforts (Hopkins, 2014). While there are a number of existing tools to assess HEIs’ main activities in relation to sustainability (for examples, see Fischer et al., 2015; Shriberg, 2002; Yarime and Tanaka, 2012), there have been limited in-depth reviews of such tools, or testing their validity and reliability through empirical studies. Other topics missing in the literature are the use of participatory approaches to assess sustainability in higher education and the connection of sustainability assessment to organizational change management (see Ceulemans et al., 2015; Disterheft et al., 2015).

Therefore, this Special Issue of Sustainability focuses on advancing the topic of sustainability assessment in higher education. We ask for conceptual and empirical contributions addressing holistic approaches to assess and integrate sustainability into all aspects of HEIs. The topics of interest for this Special Issue include (but are not limited to):

  • Analysing the need for sustainability assessment: To what end and for whom?
  • Addressing the challenge of how to assess sustainability integration in HEIs holistically;
  • Providing in-depth reviews (validity, reliability) of assessment tools with empirical data;
  • Studying the link between sustainability assessment and the achievement of the SDGs;
  • Covering the assessment of sustainability capacities (competencies/skills) of students;
  • Addressing challenges such as measuring inputs or outputs of sustainability integration in curricula;
  • Studying the importance of participatory approaches and stakeholder dialogue in sustainability assessment; and
  • Addressing the link between sustainability reporting and sustainability assessment tools in higher education.

In case of any questions on possible topics to include in this Special Issue, please contact the guest editors.


Assist. Prof. Dr. Kim Ceulemans
Assoc. Prof. Dr. Rodrigo Lozano
Guest Editors


Buckler, C. & Creech, H. (2014). Shaping the Future We Want. UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014). FINAL REPORT. DESD Monitoring and Evaluation. Paris, France: UNESCO.

Ceulemans, K., De Prins, M., Cappuyns, V. & De Coninck, W. (2011). Integration of sustainable development in higher education’s curricula of applied economics: Large-scale assessments, integration strategies and barriers. Journal of Management & Organization, 17 (5), 621–640.

Ceulemans, K., Molderez, I. & Van Liedekerke, L. (2015). Sustainability Reporting in Higher Education: A Comprehensive Review of the Recent Literature and Paths for Further Research. Journal of Cleaner Production, 106, 127–143.

Disterheft, A., Caiero, S., Azeiteiro, U. M. & Leal Filho, W. (2013). Sustainability Science and Education for Sustainable Development in Universities: A Way for Transition. In: Caeiro, S., Leal Filho, W., Jabbour, C. & Azeiteiro, U. (Eds.). Sustainability practices in higher education institutions - Mapping Trends and Good Practice at Universities round the World, Springer, 3–27.

Disterheft, A., Caeiro, S., Azeiteiro, U. M. & Filho, W. L. (2015). Sustainable universities – a study of critical success factors for participatory approaches. Journal of Cleaner Production, 106, 11–21.

Figueiro, P.S. & Raufflet, E. (2015). Sustainability in higher education: a systematic review with focus on management education. Journal of Cleaner Production, 106, 22-33.

Filho, W.L., Manolas, E. & Pace, P. (2015). The future we want: Key issues on sustainable development in higher education after Rio and the UN decade of education for sustainable development. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 16(1), 112-129.

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. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 40(6), 785-800.

Karatzoglou, B. (2013). An in-depth literature review of the evolving roles and contributions of universities to Education for Sustainable Development. Journal of Cleaner Production, 49, 44–53. 

Lozano, R., Ceulemans, K., Alonso-Almeida, M., Huisingh, D., Lozano, F. J., Waas, T., Lambrechts, W., Lukman, R. & Hugé, J. (2015). A review of commitment and implementation of sustainable development in higher education: results from a worldwide survey. Journal of Cleaner Production, (in press). doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2014.09.048.

Lozano, R., Lukman, R., Lozano, F. J., Huisingh, D. & Lambrechts, W. (2013). Declarations for sustainability in higher education: becoming better leaders, through addressing the university system. Journal of Cleaner Production, 48, 10–19.

Shriberg, M. (2002). Institutional assessment tools for sustainability in higher education: Strengths, weaknesses, and implications for practice and theory. Higher Education Policy, 15, 153-167.

Vaughter, P., Wright, T., McKenzie, M. & Lidstone, L. (2013). Greening the Ivory Tower: A Review of Educational Research on Sustainability in Post-Secondary Education. Sustainability, 5, 2252–2271.

Wals, A. E. J. (2014). Sustainability in higher education in the context of the UN DESD: a review of learning and institutionalization processes. Journal of Cleaner Production, 62, 8-15.

Yarime, M. & Tanaka, Y. (2012). The issues and methodologies in sustainability assessment tools for higher education institutions. A review of recent trends and future challenges. Journal of Education for Sustainable Development, 6(1), 63-77.

Other reference papers:

Alonso-Almeida, M. M., Marimon, F., Casani, F. & Rodriguez-Pomeda, J. (2015). Diffusion of sustainability reporting in universities: current situation and future perspectives. Journal of Cleaner Production, 106, 144–154.

Alshuwaikhat, H. M. & Adenle, Y.A. & Saghir, B. (2016). Sustainability Assessment of Higher Education Institutions in Saudi Arabia. Sustainability, 8(8), 750.

Beringer, A. (2006). Campus sustainability audit research in Atlantic Canada: pioneering the campus sustainability assessment framework. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 7 (4), 437–455.

Caiero, S., Filho, W.L., Jabbour, C. & Azeiteiro, U. (2013). Sustainability assessment tools in higher education: Mapping trends and good practices around the world. Springer International Publishing, Cham, Switzerland.

Ceulemans, K., Lozano, R. & Alonso-Almeida, M. (2015). Sustainability Reporting in Higher Education: Interconnecting the Reporting Process and Organisational Change Management for Sustainability. Sustainability, 7, 8881–8903.

Fonseca, A., Macdonald, A., Dandy, E. & Valenti, P. (2011). The state of sustainability reporting at Canadian universities. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 12 (1), 22–40.

Holm, T., Sammalisto, K., Grindsted, T.S., Vuorisalo, T., 2015. Process framework for identifying sustainability aspects in university curricula and integrating education for sustainable development. Journal of Cleaner Production, 106, 164-174.

Lidstone, L., Wright, T. & Sherren, K. (2015). Canadian STARS-Rated Campus Sustainability Plans: Priorities, Plan Creation and Design. Sustainability, 7(1), 725-746.

Lozano, R. (2006). A tool for a Graphical Assessment of Sustainability in Universities (GASU). Journal of Cleaner Production, 14, 963–972.

Lozano, R. (2010). Diffusion of sustainable development in universities’ curricula: An empirical example from Cardiff University. Journal of Cleaner Production, 18 (7), 637–644.

Lozano, R. (2011). The state of sustainability reporting in universities. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 12 (1), 67–78.

Madeira, A. C., Carravilla, M. A., Oliveira, J. F. & Costa, C. A. V. (2011). A Methodology for Sustainability Evaluation and Reporting in Higher Education Institutions. Higher Education Policy, 24 (4), 459–479.

Salvioni, D.M., Franzoni, S. & Cassano, R. (2017). Sustainability in the Higher Education System: An Opportunity to Improve Quality and Image. Sustainability, 9(6), 914.

Stough, T., Ceulemans, K., Lambrechts, W. & Cappuyns, V. (2017). Assessing sustainability in higher education curricula: A critical reflection on validity issues. Journal of Cleaner Production, (in press).

Waheed, B., Khan, F. I. & Veitch, B. (2011). Developing a quantitative tool for sustainability assessment of HEIs. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 12 (4), 355–368.

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  • sustainability assessment
  • higher education
  • sustainability indicators
  • sustainability reporting
  • sustainable development goals

Assist. Prof. Dr. Kim Ceulemans
Assoc. Prof. Dr. Rodrigo Lozano
Guest Editors

Published Papers

This special issue is now open for submission.
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