Next Article in Journal
A Circular Economy Approach to Military Munitions: Valorization of Energetic Material from Ammunition Disposal through Incorporation in Civil Explosives
Next Article in Special Issue
Sustainability Education and Organizational Change: A Critical Case Study of Barriers and Change Drivers at a Higher Education Institution
Previous Article in Journal
GIS Analysis of Land-Use Change in Threatened Landscapes by Xylella fastidiosa
Previous Article in Special Issue
Carbon Footprint of Academic Air Travel: A Case Study in Switzerland
Font Type:
Arial Georgia Verdana
Font Size:
Aa Aa Aa
Line Spacing:
Column Width:

About the Triggering of UN Sustainable Development Goals and Regenerative Sustainability in Higher Education

Interuniversity Department of Regional & Urban Studies and Planning, Politecnico di Torino and Università di Torino, 10124 Turin, Italy
Fairsnape, Lancashire PR3 2LE, UK
Institute of Architecture and Technology, School of Architecture, Design and Conservation, Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, 1435 Copenhagen, Denmark
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2019, 11(1), 254;
Submission received: 13 November 2018 / Revised: 21 December 2018 / Accepted: 2 January 2019 / Published: 7 January 2019


Humans are at the center of global climate change: The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are igniting sustainability with proactive, global, social goals, moving us away from the Brundtland paradigm ‘do nothing today to compromise tomorrows generation’. This promotes a regenerative shift in the sustainability concept, no longer only considering resources and energy, but also significant human-centric attributes. Despite this, precise ecological and sustainable attitudes have little prognostic value regarding final related individual human behavior. The global cultural challenge, dominated by technological innovations and business imperatives, alongside the mirroring technological fallacy and lack of ethical reasoning, makes the role of small actions, at individual and at academic scale even harder. This paper outlines the context in which universities can collaborate and contribute to triggering sustainability values, attitudes, and behavior within future regenerative societies. This contribution consists in three main areas: the first analyzes the issue of sustainability transitions at the individual scale, where influencing factors and value–behavior links are presented as reviewed from a number of multi and transdisciplinary scholars’ works. The second part enlarges the picture to the global dimension, tracing the ideological steps of our current environmental crisis, from the differences in prevailing western and eastern values, tradition, and perspectives, to the technological fallacy and the power of the narratives of changes. Finally, the task of our role as academics in the emerging ‘integrative humanities’ science is outlined with education promoted as an essential driver in moving from sustainability to regenerative paradigms.

1. Introduction

As reported in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) paper, humans are at the center of global climate change: causing anthropogenic climate breakdown, and social factors identified as key to effectively respond to current challenges [1].
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are igniting sustainability with proactive, global, social goals, moving us away from the ‘do nothing today’ Brundtland paradigm and promoting a regenerative shift of the sustainability concept, no longer only considered with resources and energy, but significantly human-centric [2].
The phrase ‘sustainable development’ has been so abused that it has maybe lost meaning. This gives room for an initial explanation in the societal domination of a particular epistemology, it can be an opportunity to diagnose the present by the past, using a Foucaultian approach [3], often referred as “history of the present” [4].
Using Habermas’ ideas of the system colonizing the lifeworld [5], we agree with Fergus and Rowney when they state that the meaning of sustainable development changed before it could be fully explored through an inclusive and diverse discourse [6]. An inclusive discourse based on the comparison of different epistemological perspectives is therefore the aim of this paper, exploring the ethics of individual and society as a whole having a choice and a responsibility in terms of a new sustainability narrative [7].
Universities can play an important role in this narratives’ shift, triggering new sustainability values, attitudes, and behavior in future regenerative societies [8,9]. However, higher education institutions (HEIs) are often lacking in holistic visions and incentives have a strong anti-transdisciplinary attitude and a tendency for academics and departments to focus on silos approaches in teaching and researching activities [10].
Between these philosophical discourses, global values, and individual attitudes, this contribution aims at highlighting the role of HEIs in a regenerative sustainability transition in four main moments: in the introduction, old and new definition of sustainability are depicted from a policy/abstract level. Then, the second section analyzes the issue of sustainability transitions at the individual scale, where influencing factors and value-behavior links are presented as reviewed from a number of multi and transdisciplinary scholars’ works. The third section enlarges the picture to the global dimension, tracing the ideological steps of our current environmental crisis from the differences in prevailing western and eastern values, tradition, and perspectives, to the technological fallacy and the power of the narratives of changes. Finally, the task of our role as academic in the next revolutionary “integrative humanities” science is outlined, as education is envisaged as an essential element of moving towards regenerative paradigms [11].

1.1. Toward a New Definition of Sustainability

The Brundtland report in the 1980s defined sustainable development as a process that meets todays needs without compromising future generations [12]. Further sustainability definitions stated that sustainability should be intended as a dynamic equilibrium within humans and ecosystem [13,14]. The regenerative paradigm pushes forward the positive balance, aiming for restoring environments and communities, and to enable conditions for regenerative growth [15,16,17], and sustainability efficiency [18]. In this paradigm shift, Figure 1, not only technological solutions, but also humanistic and ecological values are embraced [19,20].
This shift has recently been witnessed in a new normal at legislative and governmental levels: while in the Paris Agreement (December 2015) 197 countries agreed to reduce any increase in global warming to “well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels” [21], with an aspiration to cap temperatures at 1.5 °C. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report (October 2018) stressed the importance of demand-side measures to achieve consistent pathways toward global CO2 mitigation [22].
Hence, humans are at the center of global climate change: their actions cause anthropogenic climate change, and social change is key to effectively respond to climate change [23,24,25]. Potential synergies and trade-offs between 1.5 °C mitigation pathways and different sustainable development (SD) individual dimensions are an emerging field of research: in Section 5.4, the IPCC 2018 report assesses interactions between individual mitigation measures with other societal objectives. The same adaptation strategy is supporting the sustainable development goals (SGDs) call for behavioral change and institutional capacity, as social learning strengthen is key for longer-term changes [26,27,28].
The SDGs have the potential for igniting sustainability with proactive, global, social goals, moving us away from the do nothing today Brundtland paradigm toward a regenerative paradigm [29,30]: the regenerative sustainability is indeed defined as the one enabling social and ecological systems to maintain a healthy state and to evolve [31]. Its key related topics (place, energy, carbon, water, resources, wellbeing, equity, education) are synoptically displayed in Table 1.

1.2. Regenerative Behaviors

Following the conceptual framework outlined above, regenerative behaviors are introduced as additional, positive behaviors, intentional or otherwise, created through regenerative sustainability interventions [31]. We focus on social aspects of decision making considering that some of the challenges related to sustainable development are social in their core identity [32,33]. They are social regarding the motivations towards our consumption, the configuration in which we shape the institutes and companies we interact with and the behavioral assumptions behind many of the strategies and interventions for the transition to better consumption and production pathways [34,35,36]. Indeed, eloquent collective changes start with individual transformation.
Emerging theories, like the “Theory U” by Otto Schirmer [37], are social field theory that makes visible the source from which we operate—i.e., individuals, as teams, as organizations, and as larger systems—and the impact depending on which source we are operating from: [38].
Our feelings will affect our actions towards climate change issues [39]. While negative feelings can reinforce adaptation [40], positive feelings may be counterproductive in terms of protective attitudes [41]: people are more willing to take action for climate change when they are directly affected and concerned [42], and when they can be rewarded somehow from their actions [43].
For many years, policies have presumed that humans make a decision and act in logical and foreseeable ways; however, in reality, how and why we (as individuals, communities, and entities) behave is due to the confluence of many factors. For instance, individual conduct is extremely entrenched with our social circumstances, formal settings, religious and cultural rules, together with many contingent mental dynamics [44,45,46].
A recurrent outcome from behavioral and attitudinal surveys is that people are increasingly caring towards the planet and concerned about the need for an ecologically sound lifestyle [47,48]. However, values and attitudes may not always be mirrored by actual actions and choices. This is not only related to sustainability: our practices, instincts, and wish for comfort and opportunities challenge much even with our best intents and trusted views. This gap is well recognized in behavioral and cognitive science, and it unlocks concerns regarding the confidence we have on surveys and qualitative information-based policies aiming at behavioral changes [49,50,51].
Nevertheless, the need for a focus on human values, attitudes, and behaviors to establish the basis for a sustainability transition is urgent [33,52,53]. Even if the drivers vary, this remains the case both at individuals’ level and at public/private entity level. Higher education institutions, as education providers, have a crucial role in cultivating sustainability awareness and values within in future generations of citizens, entrepreneurs, and policy makers [8,54,55].

1.3. Between the Individual and Global Dimensions

Although the topic of individual ecological shift is well researched and debated, people sometimes can feel powerless in applying their principles in capitalist systems. However, individual inner self-observation and awareness can create the basis for a collective change in a social, economic, and environmental sustainability [56,57,58,59].
The evolution of economic thought can be regarded as a system moving from traditional ego-system awareness (something we still teach today at business schools around the world) to a new stage of awareness, an “eco-system awareness” focusing on the well-being of not only a few but the well-being of all [60,61,62].
The EGO-ECO-SEVA scheme illustrates these three worldviews [63,64,65]. The path from EGO to ECO to SEVA begins by stepping up from our EGO dimension, realizing the connectedness of all ECO spheres, arriving to a SEVA position for a life on earth via a regenerative approach. The regenerative sustainability shift therefore requires a radical turn of our worldview, from a mechanistic to ecological one [15].

2. Individual Dimension

According to Leiserowitz et al., “Values are abstract ideals, such as freedom, equality, and sustainability. They often evoke emotional reactions and are typically expressed in terms of good or bad, better or worse, desirability or avoidance. Values define or direct us to goals, frame our attitudes, and provide standards against which the behavior of individuals and societies can be judged. Attitudes refer to the evaluation of a specific object, quality, or behavior as good or bad, positive or negative. Attitudes often derive from and reflect abstract values. Finally, behavior refers to concrete decisions and actions taken by individuals and groups, which are often rooted in underlying values and attitudes” (p. 414, [33]).
All these converge progressively toward a proper value system: a set of values assumed by an individual or a society inducing the conduct of (often unaware) associates [5,66]. We rank our decisions with judgment categories that can become private, shared, monetary, civil, or religious based. Our values make us who we are and whom we want to appear to be and eventually who others see in us: collectively, they are the driving factors that can change the relationship between us and ourselves, us and society and us with the ecosystem in which we live [67,68]. There is much investigation that confirms how personal well-being, curiosity, empathy, kindness, and non-materialistic values are linked with more sustainable behaviors [59,69,70]. Sustainability thus really condenses into nurturing and allying values, beliefs, and behaviors with ecological stewardship and with collective responsibility. Through our everyday choices, we can choose either to improve or weaken the planet, our society, and commercial wealth. Emerging from these, global attitudes toward the Millennium Declaration Values are envisaged in freedom and democracy, fairness, solidarity, acceptance, respect for nature, and shared responsibility [71]. A study by Pappas defines ‘individual sustainability’ as follows:
Sustainable individuals are characterized by creating harmony, interconnection, and relatively high levels of self-awareness in their values, thoughts, behaviors, and actions as well as cultivating continued individual growth in their physical, emotional, social, philosophical, and intellectual abilities. Individual sustainability includes possessing a well-developed and demonstrated value system that acknowledges the importance and interconnectedness of all global biological and social systems, and our appropriate place within them.
(p. 12, [72])
A number of research projects comment that people with self-enhancing, money-oriented goals and values concentrating on accomplishments, wealth, control, prestige and image have more adverse attitudes to the environment, and are less expected to be moved into eco-friendly behaviors [73]. The conclusions presented in the work of Lavelle et al. [74] show the heterogeneity and richness of ecological behaviors [73,75]: according to studies by Martinsson et al. [76], (infra)structural and cultural factors are found to be a significant aspect in shaping behavioral change. This means that working upon strategies tailor-made for a specific target of people can be far more effective than promoting general policies for sustainable consumption [77]. Moreover, from a social cognitive perspective [78] it has been found that personal agency (as the ability to deliberately select, perform, and achieve personal intentions and desires) is crucial to obtain visible results in sustainable behavioral change. From an environmental psychology point of view, positive circumstantial conditions and ecological self-efficacy, visible outcomes are stressed to foster an individual’s expectations and more stimulating goals. The work by Shapiro et al. [79] explores mindfulness practices at schools as useful tools to help illuminate one’s values, to learn how to think more impartially, so that students can experience and understand attitudes that may be truer and responsive to real intentions. According to Rosenberg [80], mindfulness training can help to become more attentive of believed processes and so more critical when receiving an external narrative/influence. This approach can also be found in the INDICARE model [55]. As a sustainability assessment framework, it aims at stimulating the sustainability debate in higher education, suggesting a more holistic approach emphasizing the interconnectedness of human–nature relationships, combined with meditative workouts that help the transformative process both at individual and institutional level.
Inspired by biophilic ideas, transformative learning theories, and participatory evaluation, INDICARE is an evaluation framework that seeks an eco-centric and integrative approach toward our inner being, the earth and its communities Outlines proposed by [81] also draw from transformative learning concepts and propose key competencies including: “Gestaltungskompetenz” [82,83]; heads, hands, and heart tools [84]; values, knowing, skills, understanding [85,86,87]; and a few others [88].

3. The Global Dimension

In the previous paragraph, sustainability values, attitudes and behaviors are tracked, mirroring the culture, as socially transmitted behavior. Here we explore the connection of the local focus on sustainability transition to a wider value dimension, sense of responsibility and identity given by a new alternative culture (as, quoting Clyde Kluckhohn, it would not have been be fish who discovered the existence of water [89]). The individual dimension is not enough to understand real opportunities for the desired paradigm shift. A third part of this essay attempts to depict, from a higher level of “Weltanschauung”, why we need to observe the meta-culture of change against current narratives of positivism and technology fallacies.

3.1. Values Beyond Sustainable Development

Sustainable development, at its most theoretical level, highlights the values of economic development, environmental, and social thriving. Whilst this three pillars model has been generally accepted, it is now clear that tough trade-offs between these values, conflicting value promises, and main concerns are rarely openly or debated, leading to increased misinterpretation, intensified disagreement, and confusion.
Integrated sustainability values strategy aims to reconcile these constructively. Considering the language of the UN General Assembly, the World Summit on Sustainable Development, the Earth Charter, and the Global Scenario Group, values for sustainable development include ‘freedom, equality, unity, tolerance, regard for nature, and joint responsibility’. More specific and practical translation of these aspirations were posed to echo more specific actions for achieving a global peace, equitable development, diffuse human rights, African protection, and so forth. It was through this lens that the United Nations in 2015 took the very ambitious step of setting its 17 Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs).
The 17 SDGs address social and economic development whilst incorporating poverty, hunger, health, gender equality, water, sanitation, education, climate change, energy, environment, and social justice issues. They differed from their forerunners—the eight UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set in 2000—in crucial ways. Their focus was on social issues in developing countries and success was limited to areas such as impacting poverty, HIV and malaria. In setting the SDGs, the most extensive global consultation in history was launched to gauge opinion on what they should include, embracing governments, international organizations, academia, civil society, businesses, and individuals around the world. With the world’s population set to exceed 8.5 billion by 2030, growing demands on resources will in turn heighten risks of insecurity, poverty, and disadvantage. The rapid advances in digital technology and artificial intelligence brings to light new risks and impacts the way we work. As Spangenberg [90] warns, the SDGs can be seen re found to be weak on ‘agency’, since public administrations have limited duties on reporting and achievements, while business or consumers almost none (which is why success of SDGs is seen to be through the private, not public sector).
SDGs have made a big effort on compromise and discussion among nations and rights. However, being so wide they can just focus on a single state and impact, overlooking the burdens and in the end allowing contemporary counterproductive drivers. In order to allow positive interaction between the different targets, the means of implementation must set legally binding guidelines and criteria for all important stakeholders and entities (importantly including business), for ruling the market second equity principles, for a transparent governance of the public–private partnership instead of deregulation, and for a stronger role of public bodies and citizens and all main civil society assemblies.
The attitudes pursuing the values carried by SDGs should address the root causes of the inequalities and climate breakdown we live in. This requires behaviors taking more radical steps than corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports or the frequent intellectual exercises of greenwashing. For success with the SDGs, we need to go to the roots of our analysis, be visionary in willing change and stop defending the status quo, individually and as a society.
But what is at the root for change?

3.2. Three Main Narratives of Change

While SDGs condense the values and bring attitudes for radical change in society and ourselves towards sustainability, three main narratives of this change are taking place, as envisaged by Sörlin and here redrawn in more general terms.

3.2.1. The Anthropocene “Weltanschauung”

One such narrative of change is the Anthropocene “Weltanschauung”, a German word for a fundamental concept of German philosophy and epistemology referring to a wide world perception.
In the case of Anthropocene, it defines the radical new phase of earth history that begun when human activities started to have a significant global impact on the Earth’s geology and ecosystems. In the words of the eminent geographers and sociologists, we need to start thinking in revolutionary terms about the opportunities to impact this earth with a regenerative switch [91,92,93].
Jason suggests we live in the ‘age of capital,’ the Capitalocene [94], seen as arrangement of control, profit, and re/production as the essence of life. The troubled binary relationship of human/nature is one cause of our reluctance to consider human organizations—in addition to capitalism—as part of nature [95]. Societal post-war transformations must be viewed also in the light of how they work into procedures of power, capital, and nature established four centuries earlier, which have at their bases values such as the scientific progress and anthropocentrism.
Such values misled humanity in the believing of possessing an intellectual culture very far from giving us a better knowledge of our life conditions, since our relationship with our cultural instruments is strongly mediated by technology [96]. In other words, we are prisoners of the culture (as a mix of values, attitudes, and behaviors) we produced, and we live in, like fish in a stream of water. However, unlike other species, we are also able to see where we are heading.
While the meta-culture is usually a very difficult operation, being wide, branched, and enveloping, we, as members of the academic sector and elements delivering culture, must reflect upon this issue and be aware of the power of this narrative. Ethics and values lie at the very heart of the SDGs and can be seen as a vision for how we want to share the earth’s resources among the whole of humanity. We now are aware that earth’s resources are finite and that the human population is on track to reach approximately 10 billion by the middle of this century. Ethically, it is hard to argue that any one individual has more or less right to development than any other person on earth. For not exceeding planetary boundaries while increasing social justice [97,98,99], we need to be well-informed and develop brave imagination, responsible reflexivity, and a market with a sense of direction [100]. The last centuries’ myths demonstrated that laws of economic motion produce intentional inequality, and that is why it is an incredibly exciting time to redesign the economy so that we meet the needs of all within the means of the planet. Drawing from the Kluckhohn fishes’ metaphor, we must imagine to proceed in the counter stream [68] and observe how the ‘dominion’ of man over nature finds its root very far, and show its limit with all the clarity of natural disaster and diffused unhappiness of individuals.

3.2.2. The ‘Extended Now’ and the Right to Development

The second great transformative narrative is the directionality of this change [97]. In the book “Regimes d’historicité” [101], Francois Hartog describes the years after 1989 as a period when time had lost track, since the past and future appear of no importance in a system destroyed in its inner values. Before 1789, the past strongly informed the current life. Between 1789 and 1989, the fascination with the future. According to Hartog, our time is trapped between fears and senses, of one of emptiness, against a scenario where the earth ecosystem is devastated by a market still running as it was created in the initial capitalism. The ‘extended now’ is a well detected phenomenon, but we can still influence and heal the future, with narratives of positive change (for example through resilience) and improving the environment through principles of regenerative sustainability [14].
A regenerative sustainability shift allows for profound personal, societal, and global renewal, likened to the deeply religious, but perhaps heretical, sense that Franciscans claimed as the spiritual independence of all parts of nature. Fairness, equality, respect between humans and all other natural components are revolutionary values proposed by St. Francis. His belief in the value of humility, not merely for the individual but for man as a species, set up a form of democracy of all God’s creatures, putting human beings in a system of equality. It is perhaps regrettable that our current science and technology are so entangled with a certain Christian/western arrogance towards nature, that any solution from here alone cannot be trusted [102].
That concept of domination over nature re-emerged fiercely between 1500 and 1600 and was enshrined in Western culture until recently, where our values allow investing in more and more technological power than political wisdom (the vested interests became stronger than public ones), giving authority to lineal causal planning instead of holistic approaches, giving privilege to arrogance and not to scientific understanding of complexity, prioritizing the short-term, instead of the long-term strategic vision [103,104].

3.2.3. The New Epistemology for Transdisciplinarity

The third great transformative narrative is the epistemological widening of the domain of knowledge, that is often the tool called into action for the big climate change challenge. Recent research is composed of specialists of multifaceted analysis, dealing with what Ronald Barnett called “supercomplexity” [105,106]. A new epistemology is needed above all in the places of knowledge transfer and sharing.
Great utopias like the Tommaso Campanella “La città del sole” or the “New Atlantis” by Francis Bacon have generated a mentality that is technically possible [107,108], regardless of a duty of respect for the created world that has been “entrusted to man’s responsibility for its conservation and the maintenance of its beauty”. The perspectives and promises of the socio-technical system in which we are still immersed are retraceable also in the discourses of the great intellectuals of the 17th century ([109], p. 168).
A key to that future utopia, a non-place, cannot be found in human nature: the key must in a revolutionary relationship between human culture and nature. The true utopia is our modernity, our techno-scientific vision of the world was that of Descartes, connecting that of the Renaissance alchemists and the research groups of our laboratories. This utopia is an intentional narrative accountable for the prevailing and furious alterations to the terrestrial landscape up to today’s ecological and individual/phycological crisis. The contemporary rise of fundamentalists can be intended as a way to recover a sort of identity from the past, where the society has lost all its norms and values (anomia), and broke down all its social structures (atomia) [110,111], and seeks for a new epistemology.
The epistemological widening of the domain of knowledge is often the tool called into action for this big “supercomplexity” challenge of sustainability, embracing social, economic, and environmental issues in uncertain and unpredictable ways [106]. A new epistemology is needed in the knowledge transfer and sharing, communicating values of openness, boldness, community engagement, accessibility, and that should give to students occasions to learn how to solve societal challenges through experience
Such a new transdisciplinary epistemology should teach how to listen to many points of view and embrace uncertainty. The branch of integrative humanities emerged for understanding of such contemporary complexity and against the supremacy of any functionalist rhetoric as another symbolical turning point for this movement.
Aldo Leopold [112] can be viewed as a tipping point for such change in thinking: “We abuse the land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see the land as a community to which we belong we may begin to use it with love and respect” (p. 373, [113]). Other attempts to articulate the zeitgeist of regenerative sustainability can be seen in Henry David Thoreau’s Walden [114], in the rewilding of the land called for by George Monbiot [115], in Rachel Carson’s 1967 “Silent Spring” [116] and in Brown’s “FutuREstorative” [14], as well as in the recent “Doughnut Economics” from Kate Raworth [96].
This awareness brought the discourse to the third part of this paper, exploring the task of our role as academics in regenerative and revolutionary ‘integrative humanities’ science, with education outlined as an essential element for moving from sustainability to regenerative paradigms.

4. The Role of University

A “Great Transformation”, in the words of Karl Polanyi, is needed to reorganize our knowledge, our education and our markets [117]. Drawing from Arendt’s claim, science must now arise as a matter of political debate [118].
An essential element for this shift education [88,112,119]. This means rethinking, from a “change in education” to an “education for change” [120]. Eco-literacy in this sense may be the new seed to plant in future generations moving towards a collaborative, cooperative, and responsible approach [121,122,123].

4.1. The Importance of Words and Practices in Sustainability Education

Universities may take the responsibility of injecting behavioral change in future citizens and decision makers, considering the “acting”, the “going”, as a form of responsibility itself [124]. Communication is crucial since responsibility arises first by making all sustainability actions visible, and by creating a common language for sustainability, since a language deficit brings an attention deficit [125].
As suggested in the international literature, to act in an integrated lens is essential to develop a proper sustainability plan [126,127,128]. The University could, and should be the place of value transition, proceeding with coordinated actions on two fronts: implementing sustainability education, stressing its potential and in practicing what it preaches the classroom.
Transition theories also focus on the process of change [129] and transition (such as enroll in a new university, moving, getting a new job, or retiring). University-based policy initiatives could leverage into these ‘moments of change’ that characterize each new academic year.
The University can ultimately be an actor in society, being the place to reflect upon the relationship between the tecnè (τέχνη), our know-how on how cultural instruments should be used, and the ethos (ἦθος), the value system that should be able to control it. With integrative humanities support [130], a future university can overcome disciplinary silos, merging Social Science and Humanities (SSH) and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in a problem-based knowledge transfer and co-creation systems [131,132,133].
The change in the teaching/research system requires interdisciplinary studies to replace the conventional lecture, or course-based education: more open (including external, green, and biophilic) spaces providing place for cooperation, interactions, workshops, co-study and greater academic recognition for qualitative studies will be needed [134,135]
In addition, any education agenda for regenerative sustainability will need to rethink the scientific mindset and tools to enable change curriculum networks at all levels of education, from kindergarten to university, in vocational training schools and in business. The educational system should strengthen the bonds between nature, biophilic design, biodiversity, buildings, and other ecosystems which have impacts on us as humans [31,136,137]. Citizens will take an important task working with experts and researchers from the academia and other research institutions and organizations to understand the scientific effects of climate change [138].

4.2. Four Practicable SDGs Recommended for Implementation in Higher Education Institutions

As practical examples of implementation, we propose four actions per each of the issues envisaged in Leiserowitz [33,139,140] as current barriers for behavioral change. For each issue, a specific university action is proposed:
  • SDG 4: Individuals (and the institutions they are affiliated with) can claim they do not have the time or background knowledge, or skills, or they do not think their single act may be effective. The university should offer courses for students, administrative staff, and professors regarding sustainable behaviors and their social, economic, and environmental impacts while suggesting practical tips for a wiser energy and resource consumption both at work and at home.
  • SDG 17: People will claim for physical obstacles to reach sustainability goals inside the university: the lack of an eco-friendly mobility infrastructure, or technology for renewable energy production, laws allowing a more flexible purchase of goods selected upon green criteria, elevated cost for the ‘greener’ choice. The coalition of national universities for sustainability may be the collector of single intentions to ask energy providers for lower renewable energy costs, or national governments for more flexible rules for green purchases.
  • SDG 12: Even when not acknowledged, habit and routine are strong barriers for people and institutions willing to change their behaviors. Even the simple disposing of recyclable waste, or switching off lights when exiting the office, can require time to change habits. However, recent evidence suggests that we act irrationally very often and that a stringent law in response to a shocking event can change the habits from one day to another.
The introduction of the smoking ban inside public buildings, hard punishment for drunk driving, mandatory seat belts, are all cases of single behaviors that saw a relatively quick change. Aside from this top–down strategy, the concept of ‘bounded rationality’ has been proposed by psychological economics claiming that logical decision-making is frequently imperfect for lack of time, or for the high number of alternatives that leads to postponement [141]. This ‘paradox of choice’ can be intensified when dealing with the complexity of defining green behavior. In this case, the university may support new habits taking the responsibility of selecting, with the help of in-house environmental experts, the products and the consumption behavioral path that are scientifically found more sustainable, thus inducing a ‘forced’ but informed new greener, choice.
SDG 13: As also argued by Shove [142], the complexity of sustainable behavior cannot be tackled just by placing independent driving features, such as value systems and organization settings, into simple causal models. Behavioral change is reciprocally encouraging. Dynamic and visible management cared by a dedicated unit in universities may foster the making of positive feedback loops, essential to support and accelerate the impact of a single behavioral change. A more active approach that considers not users, but humans as part of the set-up they live and work in, is also encouraged by the theory-U [37] for the co-creation of values. Shove’s ‘three elements model’ (material—meanings-procedures) highlights the value of little gestures that can be easily promoted and performed by universities: for instance, providing physical items that allow or make easy a green behavior (such as waste points collections or energy consumption displays). A prosumer strategy put in place by communication offices in universities may profit of the co-creation with students and professors of a self-tailor-made strategy for effective sustainability communication, and increased wellbeing of all. Prosumer in the same institutions may easily identify a key field of action where the university can improve its environmental footprint—both in campus operations (estate management, procurement, etc.), and in teaching, research, and public impact—identify methods to communicate objectives to target audiences and enable individual communications projects to contribute towards a coordinated student engagement campaign.

5. Conclusions

Humans are at the center of global climate breakdown: The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have ignited sustainability with proactive, global, social goals, moving us away from the ‘do nothing today to compromise tomorrow’s generation’. This Brundtland paradigm promotes a regenerative shift in the sustainability concept, no longer only considering resources and energy, but also the significant human-centric attributes. Despite this, precise ecological and sustainable attitudes have little prognostic value regarding final related individual human behavior. The global cultural contest, dominated by technological innovations, anthropocentric imperatives, the mirroring technological fallacy and the oblivion of ethical reasoning, makes the role of small actions, both at individual and academic scale even harder. To outline the context in which universities can collaborate to trigger sustainability values, attitudes, and behavior in future regenerated societies, this contribution is articulated in three main parts.
The first part analyzes the issue of sustainability transitions at the individual scale, where influencing factors and value-behavior links are presented as reviewed from a number of multi and transdisciplinary scholars’ works. Structural and cultural factors are found to be a noteworthy part in behavioral change shaping. This means that working upon strategies tailor-made for specific target of people is far more effective than promoting general policies for sustainable consumption. Moreover, personal agency (as the ability to deliberately select, perform, and achieve personal intentions and desires) is crucial to obtain visible results in sustainable behavioral change. Mindfulness practices are found to be very useful tools to help illuminate one’s values, to learn how to think more impartially, so that students can re-experience and gather attitudes that may be truer and respondent to real intentions. Mindfulness training can also help us to become witnesses of our mind processes, and thus more critical when receiving an external narrative/influence/desire.
The second part enlarges the picture to the global dimension, tracking the ideological steps of our current environmental crisis from the differences in prevailing western and eastern values, tradition, and perspectives, to the technological fallacy and the power of the narratives of changes. The heretical and revolutionary figure of St. Francis, recalled by the last Pope encyclic, breaks the attitudes of domination, derived from Genesis, with his belief in the value of humility, not merely for the individual but for man as a species, setting up a sort of democracy of all God’s creatures.
The epistemological widening of the domain of knowledge is often a tool called into action for the big “supercomplexity” challenge of sustainability. A new epistemology is needed above all in the places of knowledge transfer and sharing like the university of the future, that should communicate values of openness, boldness, community engagement, accessibility, and that should give to students occasions to learn how to solve societal challenges by experiencing them in the streets. A new transdisciplinary epistemology should teach to listen to many points of view and embrace uncertainty. The branch of integrative humanities emerged precisely for the quest for much more authoritative and suitable understanding of such contemporary complexity and against the supremacy of the functionalist rhetoric.
This awareness brought the discourse to the third part of the paper, exploring the task of our role as academics in the revolutionary ‘integrative humanities’ science, as education is outlined as an essential element for moving from sustainability to regenerative paradigms.
Eventually, universities may take the societal role of injecting behavioral change in future citizens and decision makers, considering the ‘acting’, the ‘going’, as a form of responsibility itself.
Scaling up from the individual shift towards sustainability into a global shift must address the issue of responsibility. We may cite Edgar Morin in the beginning of his book [143]: “I felt in touch with the heritage of the planet, animated by the religion of what unites, from the rejection of what he refuses; animated by an infinite solidarity” ([143], p. 1). The aspiration and the intent of a planetary humanism offers the values, attitudes, and behavior not only as origin and purpose of complex thought, but also as a concrete journey of individual and global regeneration for exiting the crises of our time.
As suggested in the international literature, to act in an integrated optic is essential to develop an effectively-communicated sustainability plan. The University could, and should, be the place of value transition, proceeding with coordinated actions on two tracks: one, by implementing sustainability education, stressing the potential it has to orientate the civic sense; the other, for practicing what it preaches in its classrooms, by profiting of the transition moment of students enrolling or new staff hiring, experiencing concrete sustainable practices take place in the daily campus operations.

Author Contributions

G.S. is the main researcher. E.N. shaped the paper contents according to the aim of the RESTORE COST action in which this research spread out. M.B. contributed in respect to regenerative sustainability and refined the writing style.


This research received no external funding but the APC was funded by the COST Action CA16114 ‘RESTORE: Rethinking Sustainability towards a Regenerative Economy’. More information can be found at


The authors acknowledge the great influence in structuring this article after attending enlightening seminars by Francesco Remotti, Viriato Soromenho-Marques, Joachim Spangenberg, Sverker Sörlin, Sebastian Thomas, Dario Padovan, Andrea Bonaccorsi, Carlo Olmo, and the lovely conversation with Didac Ferrer-Balas, Julie Newman, and Davis Bookhart. Interesting aspects emerged while participating in the COST Action CA16114 “RESTORE: Rethinking Sustainability towards a Regenerative Economy”, the COST Action TD1408 “INTREPID: Interdisciplinarity in research programming and funding cycles”, and the H2020 funded project SHAPE-ENERGY “Social Sciences and Humanities for Advancing Policy in European Energy”.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


  1. IPCC. Global Warming of 1.5 °C; IPCC: Geneva, Switzerland, 2018. [Google Scholar]
  2. Flückiger, Y.; Seth, N. Sustainable Development Goals: SDG indicators need crowdsourcing. Nature 2016, 531, 448. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  3. Wickham, G.; Kendall, G. Using Foucault’s Methods; SAGE Publications, Ltd.: London, UK, 1999. [Google Scholar]
  4. Foucault, M. The Order of Things; Routledge: Abingdon-on-Thames, UK, 2005. [Google Scholar]
  5. Habermas, J. The Theory of Communicative Action; Beacon Press: Boston, MA, USA, 1984; Volume 2. [Google Scholar]
  6. Fergus, A.H.T.; Rowney, J.I.A. Sustainable development: Lost meaning and opportunity? J. Bus. Ethics 2005, 60, 17–27. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  7. Fergus, A.H.T.; Rowney, J.I.A. Sustainable development: Epistemological frameworks & an ethic of choice. J. Bus. Ethics 2005, 57, 197–207. [Google Scholar]
  8. Ferrer-Balas, D.; Buckland, H.; de Mingo, M. Explorations on the University’s role in society for sustainable development through a systems transition approach. Case-study of the Technical University of Catalonia (UPC). J. Clean. Prod. 2009, 17, 1075–1085. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  9. Sonetti, G.; Lombardi, P.; Chelleri, L. True Green and Sustainable University Campuses? Toward a Clusters Approach. Sustainability 2016, 8, 83. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  10. Lozano, R.; Lukman, R.; Lozano, F.J.; Huisingh, D.; Lambrechts, W. Declarations for sustainability in higher education: Becoming better leaders, through addressing the university system. J. Clean. Prod. 2013, 48, 10–19. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  11. Mader, C.; Scott, G.; Abdul Razak, D. Effective change management, governance and policy for sustainability transformation in higher education. Sustain. Account. Manag. Policy J. 2013, 4, 264–284. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  12. Brandon, P.S.; Lombardi, P. Evaluating Sustainable Development in the Built Environment; John Wiley & Sons: Hoboken, NJ, USA, 2010. [Google Scholar]
  13. Sarrica, M.; Richter, M.; Thomas, S.; Graham, I.; Mazzara, B.M. Social approaches to energy transition cases in rural Italy, Indonesia and Australia: Iterative methodologies and participatory epistemologies. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 2018, 45, 287–296. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  14. Brown, M. FutuREstorative: Working towards a New Sustainability, 1st ed.; RIBA Publishing: London, UK, 2016. [Google Scholar]
  15. Sonetti, G.; Naboni, E.; Brown, M. Exploring the Potentials of ICT Tools for Human-Centric Regenerative Design. Sustainability 2018, 10, 1217. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  16. Schuetze, T.; Chelleri, L. Urban Sustainability Versus Green-Washing—Fallacy and Reality of Urban Regeneration in Downtown Seoul. Sustainability 2015, 8, 33. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  17. Klein, J.T. Reprint of “Discourses of transdisciplinarity: Looking back to the future”. Futures 2015, 65, 10–16. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  18. Giovannini, E. L’utopia Sostenibile; Laterza: Roma, Italy, 2018. [Google Scholar]
  19. Fullerton, J. Regenerative Capitalism; Capital Institute: Greenwich, CT, USA, 2015. [Google Scholar]
  20. Dias, B.D. Beyond Sustainability–Biophilic and Regenerative Design in Architecture. Eur. Sci. J. 2015, 11, ISSN: 1857–7881 (Print) e - ISSN 1857–7431. [Google Scholar]
  21. Rogelj, J.; Den Elzen, M.; Höhne, N.; Fransen, T.; Fekete, H.; Winkler, H.; Schaeffer, R.; Sha, F.; Riahi, K.; Meinshausen, M. Paris Agreement climate proposals need a boost to keep warming well below 2 C. Nature 2016, 534, 631–639. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  22. Barr, S.; Shaw, G.; Coles, T. Times for (Un)sustainability? Challenges and opportunities for developing behaviour change policy. A case-study of consumers at home and away. Glob. Environ. Chang. 2011, 21, 1234–1244. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  23. Vlek, C.; Steg, L. Human Behavior and Environmental Sustainability: Problems, Driving Forces, and Research Topics. J. Soc. Issues 2007, 63, 1–19. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  24. Reid, W.V.; Chen, D.; Goldfarb, L.; Hackmann, H.; Lee, Y.T.; Mokhele, K.; Ostrom, E.; Raivio, K.; Rockström, J.; Schellnhuber, H.J.; et al. Earth System Science for Global Sustainability: Grand Challenges. Science 2010, 330, 916–917. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  25. Dietz, R.; O’Neill, D. Enough Is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources; Routledge: Abingdon-on-Thames, UK, 2013. [Google Scholar]
  26. Henly-Shepard, S.; Gray, S.A.; Cox, L.J. The use of participatory modeling to promote social learning and facilitate community disaster planning. Environ. Sci. Policy 2015, 45, 109–122. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  27. Ensor, J.; Harvey, B. Social learning and climate change adaptation: Evidence for international development practice. Wiley Interdiscip. Rev. Clim. Chang. 2015, 6, 509–522. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  28. Johannessen, Ã.; Hahn, T. Social learning towards a more adaptive paradigm? Reducing flood risk in Kristianstad municipality, Sweden. Glob. Environ. Chang. 2013, 23, 372–381. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  29. ISSC; UNESCO. World Social Science Report 2013: Changing Global Environments, 1st ed.; United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO): Paris, France; The International Social Science Council (ISSC): Paris, France; Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD): Paris, France, 2013; OECD ISBN 978-92-64-20340-2 (print) ISBN 978-92-64-20341-9 (PDF) UNESCO ISBN 978-92-3-104254-6 (PDF and Print). [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  30. Brandi, C. Safeguarding the earth system as a priority for sustainable development and global ethics: The need for an earth system SDG. J. Glob. Ethics 2015, 11, 32–36. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  31. Restore, C.A.C. Sustainability, Restorative to Regenerative; Brown, M., Haselsteiner, E., Aproó, D., Kopeva, D., Egla, L., Pulkkinen, K.-L., Vula Rizvanolli, B., Eds.; RESTORE Wo.: Wien, Austria, 2018. [Google Scholar]
  32. Dempsey, N.; Bramley, G.; Power, S.; Brown, C. The social dimension of sustainable development: Defining urban social sustainability. Sustain. Dev. 2011, 19, 289–300. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  33. Kates, R.W.; Parris, T.M.; Leiserowitz, A.A. What is sustainable development? Goals, indicators, values, and practice. Environment 2005, 47, 8–21. [Google Scholar]
  34. Jackson, T. Motivating sustainable consumption. Sustain. Dev. Res. Netw. 2005, 29, 30. [Google Scholar]
  35. Soron, D. Sustainability, self-identity and the sociology of consumption. Sustain. Dev. 2010, 18, 172–181. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  36. Fuchs, D.A.; Lorek, S. Sustainable consumption governance: A history of promises and failures. J. Consum. Policy 2005, 28, 261–288. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  37. Scharmer, C.O. Theory U: Learning from the Future as It Emerges; Berrett-Koehler Publishers: Oakland, CA, USA, 2009. [Google Scholar]
  38. Scharmer, O. The Essentials of Theory U: Core Principles and Applications; Berrett-Koehler Publishers: Oakland, CA, USA, 2018. [Google Scholar]
  39. Brosch, T.; Patel, M.K.; Sander, D. Affective influences on energy-related decisions and behaviors. Front. Energy Res. 2014, 2, 11. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  40. Kerstholt, J.; Duijnhoven, H.; Paton, D. Flooding in The Netherlands: How people’s interpretation of personal, social and institutional resources influence flooding preparedness. Int. J. Disaster Risk Reduct. 2017, 24, 52–57. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  41. Lefevre, A.; Chapman, M. Behavioural Economics and Financial Consumer Protection; OECD Working Papers on Finance, Insurance and Private Pensions, No. 42; OECD Publishing: Paris, France, 2017. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  42. Verplanken, B.; Roy, D. “My worries are rational, climate change is not”: Habitual ecological worrying is an adaptive response. PLoS ONE 2013, 8, e74708. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  43. Taufik, D.; Bolderdijk, J.W.; Steg, L. Going green? The relative importance of feelings over calculation in driving environmental intent in the Netherlands and the United States. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 2016, 22, 52–62. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  44. Masini, A.; Menichetti, E. The impact of behavioural factors in the renewable energy investment decision making process: Conceptual framework and empirical findings. Energy Policy 2012, 40, 28–38. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  45. McKenzie-Mohr, D. Fostering Sustainable Behavior: An Introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing; New Society Publishers: Gabriola Island, BC, Canada, 2013. [Google Scholar]
  46. Blok, V.; Wesselink, R.; Studynka, O.; Kemp, R. Encouraging sustainability in the workplace: A survey on the pro-environmental behaviour of university employees. J. Clean. Prod. 2015, 106, 55–67. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  47. Kollmuss, A.; Agyeman, J. Mind the gap: Why do people act environmentally and what are the barriers to pro-environmental behavior? Environ. Educ. Res. 2002, 8, 239–260. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  48. Kaiser, F.G.; Wölfing, S.; Fuhrer, U. Environmental attitude and ecological behaviour. J. Environ. Psychol. 1999, 19, 1–19. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  49. Blake, J. Overcoming the ‘value-action gap’ in environmental policy: Tensions between national policy and local experience. Local Environ. 1999, 4, 257–278. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  50. Kuo, F.; Young, M. A study of the intention–action gap in knowledge sharing practices. J. Am. Soc. Inf. Sci. Technol. 2008, 59, 1224–1237. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  51. Rhodes, R.E.; de Bruijn, G. How big is the physical activity intention–behaviour gap? A meta-analysis using the action control framework. Br. J. Health Psychol. 2013, 18, 296–309. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  52. Segalas, J.; Ferrer-Balas, D.; Mulder, K.F. What do engineering students learn in sustainability courses? The effect of the pedagogical approach. J. Clean. Prod. 2010, 18, 275–284. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  53. Feola, G.; Nunes, R. Success and failure of grassroots innovations for addressing climate change: The case of the Transition Movement. Glob. Environ. Chang. 2014, 24, 232–250. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  54. Leal Filho, W.; Manolas, E.; Pace, P. The future we want: Key issues on sustainable development in higher education after Rio and the UN decade of education for sustainable development. Int. J. Sustain. High. Educ. 2015, 16, 112–129. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  55. Disterheft, A.; Caeiro, S.S.; Leal Filho, W.; Azeiteiro, U.M. The INDICARE-model–measuring and caring about participation in higher education’s sustainability assessment. Ecol. Indic. 2016, 63, 172–186. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  56. Allen, M.W.; Hung Ng, S.; Wilson, M. A functional approach to instrumental and terminal values and the value-attitude-behaviour system of consumer choice. Eur. J. Mark. 2002, 36, 111–135. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  57. Maio, G.R.; Olson, J.M. Value—Attitude-behaviour relations: The moderating role of attitude functions. Br. J. Soc. Psychol. 1994, 33, 301–312. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  58. Dembkowski, S.; Hanmer-Lloyd, S. The environmental value-attitude-system model: A framework to guide the understanding of environmentally-conscious consumer behaviour. J. Mark. Manag. 1994, 10, 593–603. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  59. Ericson, T.; Kjønstad, B.G.; Barstad, A. Mindfulness and sustainability. Ecol. Econ. 2014, 104, 73–79. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  60. Pred, A. Production, family, and free-time projects: A time-geographic perspective on the individual and societal change in nineteenth-century US cities. J. Hist. Geogr. 1981, 7, 3–36. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  61. Watkins, K.E.; Marsick, V.J. Sculpting the Learning Organization: Lessons in the Art and Science of Systemic Change; ERIC, Jossey-Bass Inc.: San Francisco, CA, USA, 1993. [Google Scholar]
  62. Andersen, R.; Newman, J.F. Societal and individual determinants of medical care utilization in the United States. Milbank Mem. Fund Q. Health Soc. 1973, 95–124. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  63. Carew, A.L.; Mitchell, C.A. Teaching sustainability as a contested concept: Capitalizing on variation in engineering educators’ conceptions of environmental, social and economic sustainability. J. Clean. Prod. 2008, 16, 105–115. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  64. Tejedor, G.; Segalàs, J.; Rosas-Casals, M. Transdisciplinarity in higher education for sustainability: How discourses are approached in engineering education. J. Clean. Prod. 2018, 175, 29–37. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [Green Version]
  65. Leiserowitz, A.A.; Kates, R.W.; Parris, T.M. Sustainability values, attitudes, and behaviors: A review of multinational and global trends. Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 2006, 31, 413–444. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  66. Parsons, T.; Shils, E.A.; Smelser, N.J. Toward a General Theory of Action: Theoretical Foundations for the Social Sciences; Transaction Publishers: Piscataway, NJ, USA, 1965. [Google Scholar]
  67. Mèunch, R.; Münch, R.; Smelser, N.J. Theory of Culture; Univ of California Press: Oakland, CA, USA, 1992; Volume 2. [Google Scholar]
  68. Remotti, F. Contro L’identità; Gius. Laterza & Figli Spa: Bari, Italy, 2012. [Google Scholar]
  69. Czap, N.V.; Czap, H.J.; Lynne, G.D.; Burbach, M.E. Walk in my shoes: Nudging for empathy conservation. Ecol. Econ. 2015, 118, 147–158. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  70. Scherer, B.; Waistell, J. Incorporating mindfulness: Questioning capitalism. J. Manag. Spiritual. Relig. 2018, 15, 123–140. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  71. Mearns, R.; Norton, A. The Social Dimensions of Climate Change: Equity and Vulnerability in a Warming World; The World Bank: Washington, DC, USA, 2009. [Google Scholar]
  72. Pappas, J.B.; Pappas, E.C. The sustainable personality: Values and behaviors in individual sustainability. Int. J. High. Educ. 2014, 4, 12. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  73. Whitmarsh, L.; O’Neill, S. Green identity, green living? The role of pro-environmental self-identity in determining consistency across diverse pro-environmental behaviours. J. Environ. Psychol. 2010, 30, 305–314. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [Green Version]
  74. Lavelle, M.J.; Rau, H.; Fahy, F. Different shades of green? Unpacking habitual and occasional pro-environmental behavior. Glob. Environ. Chang. 2015, 35, 368–378. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [Green Version]
  75. Karlin, B.; Davis, N.; Sanguinetti, A.; Gamble, K.; Kirkby, D.; Stokols, D. Dimensions of Conservation: Exploring Differences Among Energy Behaviors. Environ. Behav. 2012, 46, 423–452. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  76. Martinsson, J.; Lundqvist, L.J.; Sundström, A. Energy saving in Swedish households. The (relative) importance of environmental attitudes. Energy Policy 2011, 39, 5182–5191. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  77. Fahy, F.; Doyle, R.; Rau, H.; Davies, A.R.; Pape, J. Situating sustainable consumption in a policy context. In Challenging Consumption; ROUTLEDGE in Association with GSE Research; ROUTLEDGE: Abingdon-on-Thames, UK, 2014; Volume 19, pp. 19–35. Available online: (accessed on 7 January 2019).
  78. Sawitri, D.R.; Hadiyanto, H.; Hadi, S.P. Pro-environmental Behavior from a SocialCognitive Theory Perspective. Procedia Environ. Sci. 2015, 23, 27–33. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [Green Version]
  79. Shapiro, S.L.; Bootzin, R.R.; Figueredo, A.J.; Lopez, A.M.; Schwartz, G.E. The efficacy of mindfulness-based stress reduction in the treatment of sleep disturbance in women with breast cancer. An exploratory study. J. Psychosom. Res. 2003, 54, 85–91. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  80. Rosenberg, E.L. Mindfulness and consumerism. Psychol. Consum. Cult. Struggl. 2004, 107–125. [Google Scholar]
  81. Wiek, A.; Withycombe, L.; Redman, C.L. Key competencies in sustainability: A reference framework for academic program development. Sustain. Sci. 2011, 6, 203–218. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  82. De Haan, G. The BLK ‘21’programme in Germany: A ‘Gestaltungskompetenz’-based model for Education for Sustainable Development. Environ. Educ. Res. 2006, 12, 19–32. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  83. Barth, M.; Rieckmann, M. Academic staff development as a catalyst for curriculum change towards education for sustainable development: An output perspective. J. Clean. Prod. 2012, 26, 28–36. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  84. Sipos, Y.; Battisti, B.; Grimm, K. Achieving transformative sustainability learning: Engaging head, hands and heart. Int. J. Sustain. High. Educ. 2008, 9, 68–86. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  85. Parkin, S. Contexts and drivers for operationalizing sustainable development. In Proceedings of the ICE-Civil Engineering; Thomas Telford: London, UK, 2000; Volume 138, pp. 9–15. [Google Scholar]
  86. Sterling, S. Learning for resilience, or the resilient learner? Towards a necessary reconciliation in a paradigm of sustainable education. Environ. Educ. Res. 2010, 16, 511–528. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  87. Segalàs, J.; Ferrer-Balas, D.; Svanström, M.; Lundqvist, U.; Mulder, K.F. What has to be learnt for sustainability? A comparison of bachelor engineering education competences at three European universities. Sustain. Sci. 2009, 4, 17–27. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [Green Version]
  88. Steiner, G.; Posch, A. Higher education for sustainability by means of transdisciplinary case studies: An innovative approach for solving complex, real-world problems. J. Clean. Prod. 2006, 14, 877–890. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  89. Kluckhohn, C. Culture and Behavior; Free Press Glencoe: Oxford, UK, 1962. [Google Scholar]
  90. Spangenberg, J.H. Hot air or comprehensive progress? A critical assessment of the SDGs. Sustain. Dev. 2017, 25, 311–321. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  91. Steffen, W.; Crutzen, P.J.; McNeill, J.R. The Anthropocene: Are Humans Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature. Ambio 2007, 36, 614–621. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [Green Version]
  92. Chelleri, L.; Waters, J.J.; Olazabal, M.; Minucci, G. Resilience trade-offs: Addressing multiple scales and temporal aspects of urban resilience. Environ. Urban. 2015, 27, 181–198. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  93. Steffen, W.; Persson, Å.; Deutsch, L.; Zalasiewicz, J.; Williams, M.; Richardson, K.; Crumley, C.; Crutzen, P.; Folke, C.; Gordon, L.; et al. The Anthropocene: From Global Change to Planetary Stewardship. Ambio 2011, 40, 739–761. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [Green Version]
  94. Moore, J.W. The Capitalocene, Part I: On the nature and origins of our ecological crisis. J. Peasant Stud. 2017, 44, 594–630. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  95. Shove, E.; Walker, G. CAUTION! Transitions ahead: Politics, practice, and sustainable transition management. Environ. Plan. A 2007, 39, 763–770. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  96. Weber, M. Wissenschaft als Beruf: 1917–1919; Politik als Beruf: 1919; Mohr Siebeck: Heidelberg, Germany, 1992; Volume 17. [Google Scholar]
  97. Rockstrom, J.; Steffen, W.; Noone, K.; Persson, A.; Chapin, F.S.; Lambin, E.F.; Lenton, T.M.; Scheffer, M.; Folke, C.; Schellnhuber, H.J.; et al. A safe operating space for humanity. Nature 2009, 461, 472–475. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed] [Green Version]
  98. Raworth, K. Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think like a 21st-Century Economist; Chelsea Green Publishing: White River Junction, VT, USA, 2017. [Google Scholar]
  99. Sörlin, S. Reform and responsibility—The climate of history in times of transformation. Hist. Tidsskr. 2018, 97, 7–23. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  100. Eriksen, T.H. Globalization: The Key Concepts; A&C Black: London, UK, 2014. [Google Scholar]
  101. Hartog, F. Régimes D’historicité. Présentisme et Expériences; Le Seuil: Paris, France, 2014. [Google Scholar]
  102. Francis, P. Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home; Our Sunday Visitor: Huntington, IN, USA, 2015. [Google Scholar]
  103. Peters, T. Nature as measure: The biomimicry guild. Archit. Des. 2011, 81, 44–47. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  104. Du Plessis, C. Towards a regenerative paradigm for the built environment. Build. Res. Inf. 2012, 40, 7–22. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [Green Version]
  105. Barnett, R. University knowledge in an age of supercomplexity. High. Educ. 2000, 40, 409–422. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  106. Barnett, R. Supercomplexity and the curriculum. Stud. High. Educ. 2000, 25, 255–265. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  107. Campanella, T. La Città del Sole; Newton Compton Editori: Roma, Italy, 2012. [Google Scholar]
  108. Bacon, F. New Atlantis and the Great Instauration; John Wiley & Sons: Hoboken, NJ, USA, 2016. [Google Scholar]
  109. Descartes, R. Discourse on Method; and, Meditations on First Philosophy; Hackett Pub Co Inc.: Indianapolis, IN, USA, 1993. [Google Scholar]
  110. Galtung, J. Cultural violence. J. Peace Res. 1990, 27, 291–305. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  111. Galtung, J. Violence, peace, and peace research. J. Peace Res. 1969, 6, 167–191. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  112. Knapp, C.E. The “I-thou” relationship, place-based education, and Aldo Leopold. J. Exp. Educ. 2005, 27, 277. [Google Scholar]
  113. Silvius, J.E.; Holtzman, L.T. Leopold Appealed to Conscience. Bioscience 2006, 56, 373. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [Green Version]
  114. Thoreau, H.D. Walden; Lyndon Shanley, J., Ed.; Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ, USA, 1971. [Google Scholar]
  115. Monbiot, G. Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea, and Human Life; University of Chicago Press: Chicago, IL, USA, 2014. [Google Scholar]
  116. Carson, R. Silent Spring; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Boston, MA, USA, 2002. [Google Scholar]
  117. Polanyi, K.; MacIver, R.M. The Great Transformation; Beacon Press Boston: Boston, MA, USA, 1944; Volume 2. [Google Scholar]
  118. Arendt, H.; Kohn, J. Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought; Penguin: London, UK, 2006. [Google Scholar]
  119. Bousquet, F.; Barreteau, O.; d’Aquino, P.; Etienne, M.; Boissau, S.; Aubert, S.; Le Page, C.; Babin, D.; Castella, J.C.; Janssen, M. Complexity and Ecosystem Management: The Theory and Practice of Multi-Agent Approaches; Cheltenham: Glos, UK, 2002. [Google Scholar]
  120. Ferrer-Balas, D.; Lozano, R.; Huisingh, D.; Buckland, H.; Ysern, P.; Zilahy, G. Going beyond the rhetoric: System-wide changes in universities for sustainable societies. J. Clean. Prod. 2010, 18, 607–610. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  121. Lozano, R.; Ceulemans, K.; Seatter, C.S. Teaching organisational change management for sustainability: Designing and delivering a course at the University of Leeds to better prepare future sustainability change agents. J. Clean. Prod. 2014. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  122. Venetoulis, J. Assessing the ecological impact of a university: The ecological footprint for the University of Redlands. Int. J. Sustain. High. Educ. 2001, 2, 180–197. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  123. Lombardi, P.; Sonetti, G. News from the Front of Sustainable University Campuses; Edizioni Nuova Cultura: Roma, Italy, 2017. [Google Scholar]
  124. Weber, M. La Politica Come Professione; Armando Editore: Roma, Italy, 1997. [Google Scholar]
  125. Macfarlane, R. Landmarks; Penguin: London, UK, 2015. [Google Scholar]
  126. Bentivegna, V.; Curwell, S.; Deakin, M.; Lombardi, P.; Mitchell, G.; Nijkamp, P. A vision and methodology for integrated sustainable urban development: BEQUEST. Build. Res. Inf. 2002, 30, 83–94. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  127. Bosher, L. Built-in resilience through disaster risk reduction: Operational issues. Build. Res. Inf. 2014, 4, 240–254. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  128. Mugerauer, R. Toward a theory of integrated urban ecology: Complementing Pickett et al. Ecol. Soc. 2010, 15, 31. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  129. Prochaska, J.O.; DiClemente, C.C. Transtheoretical therapy: Toward a more integrative model of change. Psychother. Theory Res. Pract. 1982, 19, 276. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  130. Available online: (accessed on 1 October 2018).
  131. Sovacool, B.K. What are we doing here? Analyzing fifteen years of energy scholarship and proposing a social science research agenda. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 2014, 1, 1–29. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  132. Arrobbio, O.; Sonetti, G.; Foulds, C. The SHAPE ENERGY Horizon 2020 Sandpits: Key Findings; SHAPE ENERGY: Cambridge, UK, 2018. [Google Scholar]
  133. Bonaccorsi, A. Towards an Epistemic Approach to Evaluation in SSH. In The Evaluation of Research in Social Sciences and Humanities; Springer: New York, NY, USA, 2018; pp. 1–29. [Google Scholar]
  134. Lang, D.J.; Wiek, A.; Bergmann, M.; Stauffacher, M.; Martens, P.; Moll, P.; Swilling, M.; Thomas, C.J. Transdisciplinary research in sustainability science: Practice, principles, and challenges. Sustain. Sci. 2012, 7, 25–43. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  135. Thomas, S.; Richter, M.; Lestari, W.; Prabawaningtyas, S.; Anggoro, Y.; Kuntoadji, I. Transdisciplinary research methods in community energy development and governance in Indonesia: Insights for sustainability science. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 2018, 45, 184–194. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  136. Available online: (accessed on 8 November 2018).
  137. Available online: (accessed on 8 November 2018).
  138. Available online: (accessed on 8 November 2018).
  139. Leiserowitz, A.A. American risk perceptions: Is climate change dangerous? Risk Anal. Int. J. 2005, 25, 1433–1442. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  140. Leiserowitz, A. Climate change risk perception and policy preferences: The role of affect, imagery, and values. Clim. Chang. 2006, 77, 45–72. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  141. Simon, H.A. Models of Bounded Rationality: Empirically Grounded Economic Reason; MIT Press: Cambridge, MA, USA, 1997; Volume 3. [Google Scholar]
  142. Shove, E. Beyond the ABC: Climate change policy and theories of social change. Environ. Plan. A 2010, 42, 1273–1285. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  143. Morin, E. La voie. In Pour L’avenir L’humanite; Fayard/Pluriel: Paris, France, 2011. [Google Scholar]
Figure 1. Stages of development, from conventional to the regenerative economy according to [19].
Figure 1. Stages of development, from conventional to the regenerative economy according to [19].
Sustainability 11 00254 g001
Table 1. Regenerative sustainability key topics. Reproduced from to [31].
Table 1. Regenerative sustainability key topics. Reproduced from to [31].
Key TopicsVisionState of ArtGap
PlaceEarth as a community, not a commodityRegenerative approaches departing from the recognition that each place is a unique dynamic entity.To evolve towards a harmony between people and space in which the human activity generates zero net waste and uses renewable resources to assure sustainable development for current and future generations. To restore the connection of people to nature and to the planet.
EnergyLocal/renewable ownership and managementFocus on renewable energy production, energy efficient construction, and green goods and services industries (green economy) and less on the role of energy for the ecosystem restoration.To move from a green economy to a balanced economy this implies the preservation and restore of the planet’s health. Energy as part of a coherent restoration approach aiming to increase the quality of the ecosystem contributing at the same time to sustainable economic growth.
CarbonCarbon working with natural systemsStrategies oriented to the remediation of the damage caused to the environment (e.g., revegetation).Strategies oriented to the restoration of the damaged ecosystems, comprehending activities aimed at the increase of carbon stocks and the reduction of the emissions of carbon dioxide, which would contribute for slowing the process of climate change.
WaterBuilding and cities to participate in water cycles, local watershedsBuildings and sealed areas prevents the functioning of the water cycle. Approaches dealing with water as if the human owns it.Innovative approaches in which cities incorporate natural cycles in the way they are built, function, and grow. Develop urban concepts that mimic nature as a requirement for a balance and healthy life. Transform the human relationship with water, which implies the respect of its natural processes.
ResourcesLocal, accessible, and low-cost resources and building responsibility of managing the commonsResources exist for human use. Management of resources based on an economic rationality: damage to the ecosystem can be compensated through a monetary payment.Policies based on the idea that it is impossible to compensate damages; so, damages have to be avoided. Resources are to be maintained for the future generations, which implies a responsible public management and an increasing participation of the society on the collective choices.
WellbeingHappiness that con-tributes to individual, community, and/or global well-being without exploiting other people, the environment, or future generations“Instant” happiness instigated by the consumer society that sustains the idea that more goods means higher individual and collective well-being, without considering the social and environmental impacts of their production and distribution.Sustainable well-being as an opportunity to enhance quality of life and contribute to individual, community, and society well-being. Wellbeing from acknowledging that human are part of a living system and a damaged planet impacts negatively on the health of people and communities, today and for the future (a biophilic approach towards the well-being of the earth). The well-being of society as being interconnected to the achieved well-being of the planet.
EquityAll voices shall be heard; equity beyond human communityGroups with economic power that exert lobby activities near governments guarantee for themselves economic and environmental advantages over the society without considering the depletion of the planet’s resources.To share the well-being between present people and future people, generating an intergenerational fairness in allocating resources between current competing interests.
EducationBottom–up cultures/initiatives (permaculture, urban gardening, local currencies, urban pioneer movement, placemaking)Top–bottom approaches to deal with imbalances and damages in nature.Bottom–up approaches which give voice to different sectors and interests of the society, and creates a forum for the promotion of a proactive collaboration to foster restoration actions, involving those affected in the process of change. Education for eco-literacy as a precursor of public participation.

Share and Cite

MDPI and ACS Style

Sonetti, G.; Brown, M.; Naboni, E. About the Triggering of UN Sustainable Development Goals and Regenerative Sustainability in Higher Education. Sustainability 2019, 11, 254.

AMA Style

Sonetti G, Brown M, Naboni E. About the Triggering of UN Sustainable Development Goals and Regenerative Sustainability in Higher Education. Sustainability. 2019; 11(1):254.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Sonetti, Giulia, Martin Brown, and Emanuele Naboni. 2019. "About the Triggering of UN Sustainable Development Goals and Regenerative Sustainability in Higher Education" Sustainability 11, no. 1: 254.

Note that from the first issue of 2016, this journal uses article numbers instead of page numbers. See further details here.

Article Metrics

Back to TopTop