Sustainability Assessment and Benchmarking in Higher Education Institutions—A Critical Reflection
2. Sustainability Assessment in Higher Education
- assess only one of the dimensions of implementing sustainability in HEIs such as Campus operations (e.g., Campus Sustainability Assessment Framework-CSAF, ; National Wildlife Federation’s State of the Campus, ) or Curricula (e.g., Sustainability Tool For Assessing Universities’ Curricula Holistically, STAUNCH, );
- only serve as manuals or supportive conceptual models (e.g., Greening Campuses, );
- assess only the level of literacy and knowledge of population sustainability (e.g., SULITEST, );
- adapt by an Institution but based on other existing metrics (e.g., UNI-Metrics—Value Metrics and Policies for a Sustainable University Campus, );
- specific to a type of HEI (e.g., Business School Impact System BSIS, see Reference );
- serve only as guidelines for supporting communication of performance for sustainability but are not themselves an assessment tool. This is the case of the guidelines developed by the International Campus Sustainability Network and Global University Leader Forum , two international networks that suggest the organization of sustainability reports for HEIs, based on GRI indicators and the Sustainability Tracking tool, Assessment & Rating System—STARS . This is also the case of the work developed by Nixon  who developed other guidelines for the implementation of sustainability in HEIs (under the CSARP project “Campus Sustainability Assessment Review Project” developed at Western Michigan University), in its different dimensions and practices, based on a literature review of existing tools, proposing no new tool.
- developed specifically for assessing the performance of sustainability implementation in HEIs;
- covering at least two of the various dimensions of sustainability implementation in HEIs ((i) facilities or campus operations; (ii) teaching and curriculum; (iii) organizational management; (iv) external community; (v) research; (vi) assessment and communication;
- covering at least two of the sustainability pillars (environmental, social. and economic), to guarantee that the tools in some way are based on a holistic and whole-school approach and since most are based on only two of the pillars.
3. Cases Studies
4. Materials and Methods
4.1. Tools Assessment
4.2. Sustainability Assessment in the Case Studies
5. Results and Discussion
5.1. Tools Assessment
5.2. Application of the Tools in the Case Studies
5.3. Overall Discussion
Conflicts of Interest
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|Tool and Source||Brief Description and Region Where Applicable|
|AISHE 2.0 Assessment Instrument for Sustainability in Higher Education.|
(Latest version) AISHE 2.0 Assessment Instrument for Sustainability in Higher Education [39,40]
|Based on narrative and indicators: 30 indicators, 5 dimensions (Operations, Education, Research, Society, Identity), less emphasis on the environmental component (just 1 indicator); incorporating the Deming cycle approach; the intended target is the university system; with a wide world application across the universities; the application domain adapts according to the university structure as an entire university, campus, buildings or research institute; AISHE first version was developed in 2000 and 2001 only focused in the educational role of universities, however, AISHE 2.0 has a wider scope in terms of the research, operations and relation with the society;|
Developed by a researcher in Europe;
Tool not available online, only the manual.
The Netherlands / international
|AMAS—Adaptable Model for Assessing, Sustainability in Higher Education ||Based on 3 domains (Institutional commitment, Leadership, Advanced sustainability); with 4 levels of application hierarchy that lead to the use of standardized indicators (based on other existing tools), with different weights and key actors’ participation, allowing to be adapted by each institution but comparable in the same country; With an expert consultation system; |
Developed by a researcher in Chile;
Tool not available online.
|ASSC—Assessment System for Sustainable Campus ||Based on a questionnaire and reported on graphical form; 26 indicators; 4 dimensions (Management, Education and Research, Environment, Local Community); based on other tools (STARS, Uni-metrics, GM, BIQ - AUA). Rating system with 4 levels, allowing to obtain a certification: platinum, gold, silver and bronze; It provides information on the strengths and weaknesses of implementing sustainability in HEIs and helps them decide future strategies; includes specificities of the country where it was developed (e.g., natural disasters); |
Developed by Hokkaido University in 2013, within CAS-NET JAPAN (Campus Sustainability Network in Japan) but used in other universities in Japan;
Tool available online, https://www.osc.hokudai.ac.jp/en/action/assc (see Reference ).
|AUSP—Evaluación de las políticas universitarias de sostenibilidad como facilitadoras para el desarrollo de los campus de excelencia internacional [29,42,43]||Based on 4 areas (Organization, Teaching, Research, Environmental management); less emphasis on the social component; 176 indicators; data collection by questionnaire and interviews (self-assessment) and reviewed by an external organization; the purpose is to improve performance and policies in terms of social responsibility, environment (including public procurement), economy and implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals; graphical representation of indicators; with several updates (last in 2018);|
Developed by the De La Crue Sectoral Commission for Environmental Quality, Sustainable Development and Risk Prevention of CRUE - Conference of Rectors of Spanish Universities specifically for HEIs in Spain and tested in several Spanish Universities;
Questionnaire available online, https://goo.gl/forms/Fol9qwVvYF2juTbC2 (see Reference ).
|BIQ-AUA—Alternative University Appraisal [29,44,45]||Based on self-assessment with questions to calculate indicators for benchmark (BIQ) and Dialogue. BIQ has a special focus on governance, education, research and communication. It is divided into 4 categories, 15 sub categories (with equal weight) and includes 30 indicators and 50 questions; does not include environmental management and social responsibility indicators; the highest rating is 100, thus allowing comparison; dialogue is the component that enables institutions to share their concerns, best practices and learning about ESD. Applied to 28 universities in Asia and the Pacific;|
Developed by ProSPER (Promotion of Sustainability in Postgraduate Education and Research Network), an academic alliance between Asia and the Pacific. It is composed of three components based on the evaluation according to the United Nations Decade for Sustainable Development;
Tool not available online
|CITE AMB—Red de Ciencia, Tecnologia, Innovacion y Educación Ambienal em Iberoamerica ||Based on a questionnaire with 27 questions (Yes/No answers); 4 areas (Management, Research, Education, Community), without focusing on the environmental component of campus infrastructure and social component;|
Developed by the Network of Science, Technology, Innovation and Environmental Education in Iberoamerica;
Not available online (existence of a link in the report for “google docs” but is no longer available), developed in 2014 but with no updates available.
|DUK—German Commission for UNESCO|
AG HS (2011) fidé [14,28]
|Based on indicators in 4 areas (Operations, Research, Education, Community); With a strong focus on the institutional part, the tool operates as moderator in the whole-school approach. It contains 10 action fields and each one offers 5 stages of implementation, allowing the HEIs option;|
Developed by the German Commission for UNESCO in 2011 for the German context;
Tool not available online; only a report about the tool in German is available.
|ESDGC—Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship [9,47]||Based on a ranking system with 5 areas (Commitment and leadership, Teaching and learning, Institutional Management, Partnerships, Research and Monitoring) and the categorization of 4 levels; adaptation of a maturity model and training usually applied to companies and the industrial sector; results with a semaphore system; |
Developed specifically for HEIs in Wales, UK and outlined by the Government of Wales to enable an assessment of implementation of ESD in Universities;
Tool not available online.
Wales / United Kingdom
|GASU—Graphical Assessment of Sustainability in Universities tool ||Based on GRI report with adaptations to HEIs; applied in many universities, 8 dimensions (Direct economic impact, Environmental, Labor practices and decent work, Human rights, Society, Product liability, Curricula, Research), up to 126 indicators; graphical presentation of results; |
Developed by a researcher in Europe and marketed through a company;
Tool not available online for free, only with a fee payment.
United Kingdom / international
|GC—Good Company’s Sustainable Pathways Toolkit [24,48]||Based on 20 key performance indicators plus an additional 10 indicators; more emphasis on campus operations; without focusing 2 categories of sustainability implementation in HEIs, namely, Research and Stakeholder involvement; the purpose is to aid decision support / management and benchmarking;|
Developed by a US company (Good company) and without support to key experts / actors;
Tool not available online, neither report nor update.
USA / international
|GM—Green Metrics University Ranking [49,50]||Based on 6 domains (Scenario and infrastructure, Energy and climate change, Waste, Water, Transport, Education & Research); 33 indicators, two focus on the environment, no community involvement or other social components; ranking point system allowing benchmarking and comparison; with a wide world application across the universities; |
Tool available online, http://greenmetric.ui.ac.id (see Reference .
|GMID—Graz Model for Integrative Development ||Based on narrative and domains: 5 domains (Leadership, Social Networks, Participation, Education and Learning, Research); applicable but not specific to HEIs; applied to the RCE-an international network of formal, non-formal and informal education organizations -, mobilized to provide ESD to the local and regional community at 3 levels;|
Developed by a researcher in Europe;
Tool not available online.
Austria / international
|GP—Green Plan and the Label DD&RS ou Plan Vert ||Based on 5 domains (Strategy governance, Education and training research, Environmental management, Social policy, Regional presence); 44 indicators; can be audited and certified by internal and external stakeholders concerning the ISO 26000; purpose of assisting in the elaboration of sustainability plans/policies;|
Developed by Conférence des Grandes Ecoles, Conference of University Presidents, French Government and Non-Governmental Organizations within the Grenelle Environment Roundtable;
Tool not available online at the present
|HE 21—Higher Education 21’s sustainability Indicators or|
HEPS Higher Education Partnership for Sustainability [24,53]
|Based on indicators (12 key indicators and 8 strategic management indicators); focusing mainly on parameters of organizational management change; less emphasis on social indicators and does not encompass in a balanced way all the dimensions of ESD in HEIs (more emphasis on governance); difficult to benchmarking; latest version and network activity in 2003;|
Developed for 18 universities in the UK that have partnered to support English universities and their monitoring in the implementation of sustainability-HEPS Higher Education Partnership for Sustainability;
Tool not available online.
|PSIR—Penn State Indicator Report [24,54]||Based on 33 indicators, covering the environmental dimensions of the campus, transport, decision support, research and community; results of each indicator reported in 4 levels of implementation and with proposals for improvement; less emphasis on social indicators and without teaching and curriculum components; last version available in 2000;|
Developed by the Penn State Green Destiny Council to be applied at US universities, in the State of Pennsylvania and to be communicated to the general public how sustainability is being implemented;
Tool not available online, only on the report, http://www.willamette.edu/~nboyce/assessment/PennState.pdf (see Reference ).
USA, Pennsylvania State
|P&P—People & Planet University League ||Based on 13 indicators (not divided into dimensions), greater focus on environmental operations and less on community; graphical presentation of results; in operation for several years allowing the annual comparison and an annual ranking; data collection is carried out in the universities’ webpages and the UK Higher Education Statistics Agency;|
Developed by a network of UK students - People & Planet for universities in the UK and tested at various UK universities;
Tool available online. https://peopleandplanet.org/university-league (see Reference ).
|SAQ—Sustainability Assessment Questionnaire ||Based on narrative and indicators: 35 indicators, 8 dimensions (Curriculum, Research and scholarship, Operations, Faculty and staff, Extension and services, Student opportunities, Administration, Mission and planning); with greater emphasis on campus operations; presented through a questionnaire addressed to various internal stakeholders; |
Developed by the secretariat of the signatories of the Tailloires Declaration - Association of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future;
Tool available online, http://ulsf.org/sustainability-assessment-questionnaire/ (see Reference ).
|SRC—Sustainability Report Card ||Based on narrative and indicators: 52 indicators, 5 dimensions (Campus operations, Meal service, Donation investment, Transportation, Involvement of key stakeholders); more focus on energy saving and less emphasis on education; presented through a questionnaire with a final grade from A to D; suspended in 2012; |
Developed by a North American Non-Governmental Institution - Sustainable Endowments Institute;
Tool not available online.
USA / Canada
|STARS—Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System ||Based on narrative and indicators: 74 indicators, 5 dimensions (Academic, Involvement of key actors, Operations, Planning and Administration, Innovation and leadership); 5 levels of final classification, allowing the ranking (reporter, bronze, silver, gold, platinum); one of the most used tools internationally; updated every year;|
developed by a North American Non-Governmental Institution-Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education and initially developed for HEIs in the US and Canada but applicable to any region;
tool available online, https://reports.aashe.org/accounts/login/?next=/tool/ (see Reference ).
USA / international
|SUM—Sustainable University Model ||Based on narrative and indicators: 23 indicators, 4 dimensions (Education, Research, Dissemination and partnership, Campus sustainability); divided in 4 phases (Vision development, Mission, Sustainable committee, Audit of sustainability strategies) incorporating the Deming cycle approach; tested at various world universities; without updates;|
Developed by a researcher in Mexico;
Tool not available online.
Mexico / international
|SLS—Sustainability Leadership Scorecard ||Based on performance indicators; 4 domains (leadership and governance, learning, teaching and research, operations); self-assessment developed specifically for colleges and universities to improve social responsibility and environmental performance through a whole-school approach; final scores with a range from 0–4 no weights in the indicators and final result in a dashboard index; adapted from the Green Scorecard and linked to Sustainable Development Objectives standards; |
Developed by a Non-Governmental Association of the United Kingdom and Ireland—The Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education;
Tool available online for free to United Kingdom and Ireland, https://www.sustainabilityleadershipscorecard.org.uk/#!/login (see Reference ).
United Kingdom / Ireland
|SustainTool—Program Sustainable Assessment Tool ||Based on indicators, focused on areas / programs or at the institution level; 8 dimensions (Environmental support, Funding stability, Partnership, Organizational capacity, Program, Evaluation, Program adaptation, Communications, Strategic planning) with a low weight in the environmental component; presented in a 40 multiple-choice questions in self-assessment questionnaire, with answers being given individually or in a group; allows the communication, review and development of an action plan; available for several years with updates;|
Developed by a north American university—Washington University for any university, particularly in the North American context but especially directed to the health area;
Tool available online, https://sustaintool.org/assess/ (see Reference ).
USA / international
|THE—Times Higher Education Impact University Ranking ||Based on the evaluation of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Objectives (ODS) in HEIs: 11 ODSs: 3,4,5,8,9,10,11,12,13,16, 17; each ODS has a small number of indicators associated with it; equal weight is given to each ODS; first version available for 7 ODS but still in development (1st version April 2019); |
Developed by the Times;
Tool available online, requesting by email, https://www.timeshighereducation.com/how-participate-times-higher-education-rankings (see Reference ).
|TUR—Three Dimensional University Ranking ||Based on indicators: 15 indicators, weighted based on a participatory process and Analytical Hierarchical Process (AHP), 3 dimensions (Research, Education, Environment); less holistic approach; graphical presentation of results; allows ranking based on rankings of world universities, simplified sustainability only in 5 indicators; tested in the best universities but without updates; |
Developed by researchers in Europe;
Tool not available online.
|UEMS—University Environmental Management System ||Based on EMAS / ISO14001 with a social responsibility component and indicators: 27 indicators, 3 dimensions (University EMS, Public participation and social responsibility, Teaching and research in sustainability); greater focus on the environment and campus areas; |
Developed by researchers in Saudi Arabia;
Tool not available online.
|USAT—Unit-Based Sustainability Assessment tool ||Based on indicators: 75 indicators, 4 domains (Teaching, Research and community services, Operation and management, Student involvement, Written policy and statement); score of 1 to 4 indicators; adapted from SAQ, AISHE and GASU; can be used in the department, college or HE unit; without updates;|
Developed by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) for the African context;
Tool not available online but questionnaire available online on report, https://www.ru.ac.za/elrc/publicationsandresources/unit-basedsustainabilityassessmenttoolusattool/ (see Reference ).
|uD-SiM model—Uncertainty-based quantitative assessment of sustainability for HEIs [9,64]||Based on indicators and the Models of Pressure, Exposure, Effects, Action (DPSEEA) and a multicriteria decision process (applying Fuzzy logic). Aggregate score in a final index that integrates the non-linear effects of the indicators, with different weights and normalized indicators. Indicators based on the GASU model; 4 areas (Environmental, Economic, Social and Education); applied to Canadian Universities but its implementation is international; calculation method is complex; |
Developed by researchers;
Tool not available online.
|Universidade Aberta||Raw data||Documents Analysis: Activity plans and reports, Strategic Plan and programs and courses study guides, databases.||Academics, Administrative services,|
|Data standardization||Search in databases /websites||-|
|Improvement Proposals||1st Focus group||Vice-rector for quality and 3 researchers (experts in sustainability assessment)|
|2nd Focus group||16 (researchers, students, teachers, administrative staff)|
|Universidad Autónoma de Madrid||Raw data||Documents Analysis:|
Reports and University web page information
|Administration and services staff, teacher|
|1st Focus group||4 members of Eco-campus team (Eco-campus Manager, Infrastructure Manager, Environmental Participation Officer, Electric Cars on Campus Officer)|
|2nd Focus group||3 Vice-Chancellors (Undergraduate Studies,|
Sustainability and Campus and Strategy and Planning)
|Improvement Proposals||3rd Focus group||6 students’ leaders from Faculty of Business|
and Economic Sciences
|UAM SDGs LAB|
|22 Professors and researchers|
6 External experts
|Tool||Comprehensibility||Comparability||Data Access||Progress over Time||Sustainability Broadness||Support to Decision||Participation||Accessibility||Sum||Index of Agreement|
|4. BIQ AUA||Mode||2||2||2||2||2||2||2||1||15||60.5%|
|5. CITE AMB||Mode||3||2||3||1||2||2||2||1||16||48.0%|
|13. P&P People & Planet||Mode||3||3||3||1||2||2||1||3||18||50.1%|
|Freq. Relative (3)||1||1||0.75||1||1||0.5||0.5|
|25. uD-SiM model||Mode||2||3||2||3||3||2||2||1||18||58.3%|
|Index of Agreement||51.3%||47.3%||59.3%||35.3%||70.0%||4.6%||47.3%||77.3%||-||-|
|Engagement, Planning and Administration|
|Operations and Innovation|
|Engagement, Planning and Administration|
|Operations and Innovation|
© 2020 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Caeiro, S.; Sandoval Hamón, L.A.; Martins, R.; Bayas Aldaz, C.E. Sustainability Assessment and Benchmarking in Higher Education Institutions—A Critical Reflection. Sustainability 2020, 12, 543. https://doi.org/10.3390/su12020543
Caeiro S, Sandoval Hamón LA, Martins R, Bayas Aldaz CE. Sustainability Assessment and Benchmarking in Higher Education Institutions—A Critical Reflection. Sustainability. 2020; 12(2):543. https://doi.org/10.3390/su12020543Chicago/Turabian Style
Caeiro, Sandra, Leyla Angélica Sandoval Hamón, Rute Martins, and Cecilia Elizabeth Bayas Aldaz. 2020. "Sustainability Assessment and Benchmarking in Higher Education Institutions—A Critical Reflection" Sustainability 12, no. 2: 543. https://doi.org/10.3390/su12020543