In the context of unsustainable development, the need to reorient formal education towards sustainable development prevails on the international level [1
], with the agreement that this will require a shift in thinking, learning, and teaching [2
]. However, what such a shift presupposes continues to be debatable. In addition to the expansion of the curriculum content, more current discourse in education for sustainable development (ESD) is being influenced by ecological and systems thinking and the need for education to create change for long-term sustainability, meaning changes within the mindsets, values, and lifestyles of individuals, organisations, and society [2
]. Ecological and systems thinking informs an alternative educational paradigm that is different to the current dominant ‘mechanistic’ one [3
], which is informed by dualistic view of the world, rationality, determinism, and linearity. Instead, the proposed new paradigm is relational, integrated, and joined up [5
]. It includes a set of alternative values such as social/ecological responsibility, cooperation, and interconnectedness [6
]. Finally, it presupposes new educational practices that are inclusive and integrative, participatory and cooperative [7
Educational systems around the world have been engaging with ESD in different ways [8
]. One of the leading approaches for implementing ESD in schools is a ‘whole-school approach’ [7
] that draws on organisational change theory and describes a desired state for ESD [9
] where sustainable development is considered in a holistic way [10
]. Within such schools, all stakeholders, including pupils and the organisation, value sustainability and express this value through active engagement in the ongoing development process [3
]. For example, the whole-school approach was linked to developing activity competencies in students [11
], explorations of local sustainable solutions within the curriculum that lead to whole-school participation in critical reflection of school culture [12
], day-to-day school practices, school operations, and stakeholder and community involvement [13
]. This approach highlights the participatory nature of the schools’ ESD pedagogy and describes a strong relationship between the curriculum towards ESD and the rest of the organisation, both on individual and organisational levels. However, despite being a key approach within ESD, evidence of whole-school approach implementation continues to suggest its incomplete nature with limited impact on schools, students, and staff.
Few studies have conceptualised the implementation of ESD at an organisational level, an area of research that continues to be poorly investigated [14
]. For example, Mogren and Gericke [16
] discuss ESD implementation through a metaphor of anchoring to either an organisational structure (e.g., vision) or individuals within an organisation [16
], arguing that the former embeds ESD and leads it to a more transformational change, whilst the latter promotes an isolated set of activities. Bosevska and Kriewaldt [18
] identify a school community as a complex adaptive socio-ecological system that is becoming sustainable, rather than is sustainable, drawing attention to the importance of not only having a vision and an image of what that should look like, but also the design and taking action to realise it. Yet despite recognition of the need to embrace the whole-school in an ongoing process of innovation towards sustainability, research on how to drive such change continues to focus on either student-centred pedagogy [19
] or resource management [20
], leaving the discussion on the school-wide engagement out.
This paper provides an opportunity to undertake further research on the implementation of a whole-school approach, through consideration of schools as service providers and change towards education for sustainable development as a service innovation process that is driven by schools as service organisations. The following sections will address the conceptualisation of schools as service organisations and draw on service innovation and service logic literature to position schools within that literature.
1.1. Schools as Service Organisations
This paper positions schools as service providers and students as service users [23
]. This view on schools and students draws on service logic, which has been defined as a logic for managing service organisations and evolved in contrast to the goods-dominant logic, proposing ‘service’ as a unit of exchange [25
]. Service logic does not see value to be embedded in goods and services to be destroyed by the users; instead, it defines value as being co-created [27
]. This emerging view on schools and education is referred to in studies that address a re-design of the student learning experience in educational institutions [28
], using participatory approaches of a ‘student journey’ to study student experience [29
]. The aim of the service is to help users to undertake processes that support ‘his or her goal achievement in a way that is valuable to them’ [33
]. This means placing service users at the centre and exploring how the service and service organisation facilitate the co-creation of value by service users [34
]. Such ‘servant’ perspectives on the service are in line with how this research perceives the aims of education for sustainable development and schools, being service organisations. However, there is also recognition of the complexity that is presupposed by helping service users to achieve their goal. For example, in education both individual citizens and the public may be considered users, whilst their goals may be similar or dissonant [34
], resulting in the need to question the extent to which the school as service provider should balance the goals of both these users. Further, schools encounter multiple users, some who may be using service involuntarily, and yet there is a need to enable value for all. This is of particular importance in a whole-school approach that aims to create value for the whole organisation and its wider set of stakeholders. Yet, so far literature does not link value creation to a whole-school approach and innovation in schools as service organisations. This paper aims to address this gap.
1.2. Sustainability as Srategy for Service Innovation
Sustainability presupposes change, and a few service innovation studies ouside of education have begun to explore a transition towards sustainability, notably in hotels [35
] and banks [37
]. These studies begin to link sustainability to new value configurations where service organisations move beyond ‘optimization’ to ‘transformational’ and ‘system builder’ levels [38
], which requires service organisations to acquire logic of service innovation. Service innovation is a multi-dimensional concept [39
] that describes change to take place in four major domains of the service including service concept, user interaction, organisational delivery system, and technological system [42
The first two dimensions may be defined as ‘interactive’ or user-facing dimensions that aim to develop a discerning user experience, creating sustainable advantage for the service provider [43
]. This is the space where organisations are strategically spending more time innovating [39
]. The experiential aspect of service innovation [44
] proposes an experience of the user as a starting point for innovation. Following service logic, this view recognises that service providers do not deliver value directly to the users. Instead, they innovate value propositions, with which users interact. The value-in-use is subjectively determined by service users whilst they co-create it. Research in service design has been particularly instrumental in promoting and enabling experience-centred, co-creative ways of service innovation through design-led, user-centred approaches [45
On the other hand, the latter two dimensions, organisational and technological delivery systems, are defined as ‘supportive’ and internal-facing [43
], focusing on organisational arrangements and use of technology. Such back-end activities [47
] are seen as generating value indirectly by providing configuration of resources to support value proposition for the user [48
]. Thus, these systems are key to the delivery of the value through strategic alignment of service concept with service structure (e.g., facilities) and infrastructure (e.g., skills, policies) [49
]. Hertog [42
] particularly puts emphasis on the ‘infrastructure’ element, and the employees within it, as key facilitators of service provision, and requirement to find means to empower them to deliver new service proposition. This calls for an integrated approach to service innovation where people, policies, processes, structures, and technology are considered. Studies on organisational change portray the level of resistance to adapting new systems and processes as a result of the social context of organisations and individuals in it [50
]. This, however, is linked to the level of innovation in the service, with most radical innovation requiring change at the deepest level of organisations [52
] or development of new organisational forms that support new skills, capabilities [42
], and even individual beliefs.
A whole-school approach in education for sustainable development presupposes the creation of value for the whole organisation, including students and its wider set of stakeholders. This section drew on literature from service innovation and sustainability to explore multifaceted approach that schools as service organisations need to engage with in order to facilitate such value co-creation at a whole-school level. Yet there is lack of empirical research that considers a whole-school approach to sustainability from a service innovation perspective. To address this, this paper explores how the implementation of sustainability supports value creation in schools as service organisations.
The following empirical findings present three broad themes: (1) sustainability as core value proposition in student experience; (2) practices of value creation; and (3) organisational culture, leadership, and operations. These themes also frame the discussion through which cases are compared and contrasted in their approaches towards sustainability transition.
3.1. Sustainability as Core Value Proposition in Student Experience
Cross-case analysis showed that a move towards a more sustainable service organisation required schools to expand their service offering to include sustainability values as part of the core value proposition to student experience. All schools acknowledge that they provide a core service offering to all students through formal and informal curriculum. Formal curriculum emphasises the teaching–learning nexus, whereas informal curriculum emphasises pastoral care. In both Cases, 1 and 4 (Table 1
), students enter education with ‘exceptionally low standards in all areas of their learning’ (Ofsted, 2009). For both schools, it is important to engage students in the process of learning in order to have a positive impact and support the core value proposition of education. In Case 4, the service offer and value proposition are rooted in the needs of the students. There are 26 cultures in the school, and 76% of the students have English as their additional language. The school seeks to provide student experience where diversity of students is preserved while engaging all students in learning and developing as ‘rounded and independent individuals’ (Staff Questionnaire, 4). To do so, the school innovates its service offering, from ‘lecture type of teaching’ to ‘visual, kinaesthetic, multisensory type of learning’ (Head teacher, 4), based on the student’s immediate need of ‘English as a second language’. At the same time, the school sets up multicultural events and brings local community to the schools’ grounds for classes in English. This promotes local integration of its students and seeks to address some issues of the emotional and physical well-being in students.
Students in Case 1 come ‘from the most deprived estate in the area’ (online report, 2004) with students having ’a raft of experiences’ (deputy head teacher, 1). The percentage of special educational needs and pupils eligible for free meals is ‘well above national average’ (Ofsted, 4). Case 1 also adapted service offering to the needs of the students; however, it was done by integrating values of care for environment, energy, resources, and healthy living as part of value proposition for the student experience. In particular, ‘children (are) to discover how they as individuals, groups and communities can improve quality of life now without damaging the planet in the future’ (staff questionnaire, 1). To support this student experience, the school had to innovate its service offering to ‘real life (and) experiential learning’, which is viewed as contributing to the enrichment of the curriculum (formal and informal) and helping ‘children to learn, above and beyond’ (head teacher, 1). For example, value of care and healthy living is embedded in the curriculum where students learn about healthy eating and its benefits. Children undergo experiential learning in their school year garden, as all classes ‘must have some time in the school garden’ (deputy head teacher, 1). The harvest from the garden goes into the kitchen and into the children’s school dinners. The garden is thus seen both as an educational resource and as a source of nourishment and emotional wellbeing. This is particularly important for the higher than national average number of learners whose emotional and social development needs are high at the school and whose needs are at the core of the service offering.
Cases 2, 3, and 5 also define their student experience in relation to sustainability values and the future of the planet. However, in Case 5, only half of the service offer supports that student experience. For example, both schools place value on care for the environment, care for the community, and local resources (Table 1
). For Case 5, this is defined through helping students to be aware of their role in sustainability with the focus on sustainable lifestyle (staff questionnaire, 5). The service offer of Case 5 integrates some experiential learning, yet mostly within the informal curriculum, engaging students and the wider community in sustainable behaviours such as recycling water, paper, etc. This is done on a small and practical level, reflecting the needs of the children.
On the other hand, Case 3, defined student experience as becoming ‘eco warriors’ (TA interview, 3) with sustainability values and behaviours instilled in them for the rest of their lives (staff questionnaire, 3). The main value of care is between students and their immediate community and local resources in the school, including its allotments, a farm and beehive. As in Case 1, Case 3′s service offering is an integrated formal and informal curriculum where ‘work on (local resources) and other work relevant to the school are incorporated into planning of the curriculum’ (head teacher, 3). Case 3 uses outdoor resources as learning platforms, to inspire learning activities across different subject areas. For example, stories are acted out in the woods and animals are used to perform basic numeracy lessons. In addition, inquiry-based activities are planned to encourage discovery about local and global environments. Students explore hedgerows and woodlands to learn about natural habitat and local history. Finally, as with other schools, Case 3′s service offer considers children’s needs, which are partly dictated by their age. For example, sustainable issues may be too complex for young children. School therefore seeks to balance how to explore issues with children without overwhelming them and at the same time without making issues too simple and redundant.
3.2. Practices of Value Creation
While the core value proposition is defined to be student-oriented for all schools, there are variations in how schools view and practice value creation (Table 2
). In Case 4, the process is seen to be driven by the service provider for the student with some engagement from the external stakeholders. For example, one school’s value proposition to the students is that of diversity while providing equal opportunity to education, and the head teacher sees his role and the role of the school as to develop resources and create innovative solutions that enable this value proposition. School’s main value proposition is mostly defined by the head teacher with school developing an acceptance culture for the process: ‘it’s one of my crazy ideas we’ll go with that, that’s fine’ (head teacher, 4). For example, the head teacher supported professional development for teachers to acquire skills to implement innovative ways of teaching that are not restricted by language fluency. Here, the value of diversity and equal opportunity was embedded in the style of teaching that teachers implement in the classroom. The head teacher also initiated the school’s involvement in bringing the local community to the schools’ grounds for classes in English to help foreign pupils in the local community including those going to the school to learn English and to promote local integration. The community is defined as an important partner in enabling local integration, yet the school still approaches it as a stakeholder to whom they deliver English language services. Finally, the school has created a mutual relationship with an architect in residence. The architect receives free office space from the school and in return he advises the headteacher on how to refurbish the grounds of the school, including advice on creating spaces for different tools of inquiry that the child may want to use independently. In this case, the stakeholder and service provider established a collaborative partnership around value of resources, which also results in solutions that link to value of diversity and equal opportunity to education. Overall, Case 4 exhibits practices of value proposition being defined by the service provider and delivered to the student. External stakeholders are perceived as school partners, helping school to create solutions for value delivery. While the relationship between school and students is mostly unidirectional, school does exhibit a variety of relationships it is able to create with its other stakeholders, including reciprocal processes of value proposition and resource co-creation.
In other cases, Cases 1, 2, 3, and 5, the rhetoric of students and their involvement with service development is different. In all these cases, students are perceived to be primary co-creators of the service and thus active partners in service offer development and delivery. For example, the head teacher in Case 5 describes the relationship between the school and the students as: ‘The children actually own the school...we encourage them to own the school’ (head teacher, 5). This view resonates with other schools, where students’ voice and action are integral to sustainable value co-creation.
For example, students’ ideas and opinions are listened to and incorporated into the decision-making about change at operational levels: ‘We got offered some apple trees, we got a school map, we did a little bit of orienteering, we went all around school grounds...and we looked… what sizes of the tree we want’ (TA Interview, 1). In these schools, students are also involved in the practices of environmental evaluation, which may lead to innovative proposition. In Case 5, students looked at and monitored water usage and proposed a way to decrease the amount of water the school uses: ‘Can we get the smaller systems, and a double presser, so we don’t use as much water…so those were all their ideas, which we did over the summer’ (head teacher, 5).
In addition to consulting and listening to students (which is the main practice in Case 5 in relation to sustainability), some schools also promote student’s active contribution to the school’s physical resource design, development, and management (Cases 1, 2, and 3). For example, in Case 1, students were involved in the research and development stages of an Eco Building that the school aimed to build. The new Eco Build project was embedded into the curriculum across all subjects: ‘The whole curriculum was taken over by the build, which gave children real life learning experiences in literacy, numeracy, art, science and many other subject areas’ (New Building Information, 2008). Students were involved in the design stages from researching and discussing eco credentials of the building materials to be used, to making models of the classrooms, all the way through visiting and experiencing the site during the construction stage (ibid.).
In Case 3, all children in the year 5/6 cohort have an opportunity to look after the animals at the farm. Students are paired up to work with a friend on a weekly rota. Spending a whole week with the animals allows each child to develop knowledge on animal husbandry, skills, and respect for diversity and at the same time to take care of the resource that the whole school engages with through formal and informal curriculum. Students are thus contributing to development of the resources that form part of value proposition to other students and stakeholders who use these resources. Thus, students may be described as service co-producers as well as service users, co-creating value with the service provider and for the service provider.
3.3. Value Creation with Immediate and Wider Sets of Stakeholders
In addition to students, these schools perceive external stakeholders as important sustainability value co-creators within the service ecosystem. All schools build partnerships with the most immediate stakeholders in their local communities, including parents, governors, parish councils, and local organizations. These partners are active in developing value propositions with the schools leading to projects that are based on gaining knowledge, co-creation of resources or experiences, and funding. In Cases 2, 3, and 5, local stakeholders already exhibited values that relate to sustainable development and coincide with values of the school. For example, in Case 2, the local council has an ongoing relationship with the school, sharing information on sustainable projects, sustainability-related competitions, and updates on certain operations (e.g., recycling). In Case 3, the school partners with parents, in their professional capacity. For example, a parent who is a veterinarian passes on knowledge to the staff member on how to take care of animals, helping the school to stay independent and save some money: ‘We also got a parent who is a veterinary nurse…she showed me how to inject so I can do all that now. Now I can buy the medicine… but then I am not actually billed for them physically giving medicine, because I can do it as well’ (TA interview, 3). Another example includes family homes used in the curriculum for students to investigate a new technology, such as solar panels or electric units (Case 2). However, in Case 1, the immediate stakeholders were less engaged with the issues of sustainability than in other cases, whilst being very much affected by them. For example, half of the families in Case 1 were experiencing fuel poverty. In order to co-create value with its stakeholders in the long term, the school took the initiative to educate its stakeholders on the topic first. It developed an eco-literacy programme for the families and set up Low Carbon Days that demonstrated low carbon behaviours to the parents. Consequently, the school was able to involve its local community in a renewable energy initiative, based on a ‘community investment model’. The local community funded the school to have photovoltaic panels to produce electricity by buying its shares and continued to receive a return on their investment when surplus electricity was sold by the school to the national grid (school case study, 1).
Finally, some schools broadened their value creation ecosystem by proactively partnering with the organisations who are working in the field of sustainability. These partners can support schools in determining what is of value to the school. For example, in Case 1, global organizations such as WWF and more local NGOs such as Sustainability and Environmental education (SEEd) are instrumental in helping schools to explore larger themes and definitions of sustainable development: ’we looked at WWF, it was 10 or 12 different behaviours for sustainability’ (deputy head teacher, 1).
3.4. Organisational Culture, Leadership, and Operations
Cases 1, 2, and 3 had a clear vision to embed sustainability as part of their school ethos: ‘If you cut us in half, the eco school is right in the middle of us’ (head teacher, 2). This approach endorses support of the whole school, building a proactive culture of sustainable education. Unlike Case 5, where the school had one dedicated staff member ‘to do something’ about the sustainability agenda, most staff, including teaching assistant and lunch ladies, in Cases 1, 2, and 3 view their role as keepers of the ethos and were motivated to look after it and to make it stronger. In these cases, schools took time to evaluate the existing values related to sustainability and the needs and interests of their staff members and to develop activities that enhanced them. For example, in Case 1, where gardening is part of the curriculum, the school draws on its internal expertise: ‘we have some fantastic gardeners, and an amazing experience in this school’ (TA interview, 1). A teacher in Case 3 notes, ‘I have always recycled and reused things…it is a lifestyle choice that has become part of everything I do’ (staff questionnaire, 3). This member of staff is responsible for looking after the food waste that comes from the kitchen and the garden and is recycled in the farm and composted. In addition to drawing on personal values, Cases 1 and 3 also makes sustainability part of the performance management as well as the continuous professional development: ‘The CPD of the staff… we have elements of sustainability within that, in any given year’ (head teacher, 1). Finally, Case 3 demonstrates the importance of personal values in the driving main service offer by placing them as a requirement in the hiring process: ‘So you are not going to get a job here unless you espouse those (sustainable) values and actually do something’ (head teacher, 3).
Further, leadership played an important role in driving sustainability value proposition and creation in the schools. For example, in Case 5, a leadership role was created for one senior teaching assistant (TA): ‘Steff now does it, I don’t really get involved anymore’ (head teacher, 5). The TA communicates with the rest of the staff, parents, and children, accumulating ideas and interests, and then proposes them to the head teacher for approval. Thus, for Case 5, most sustainability activity is governed by one member of staff, who relies on developing her sustainable value propositions as a result of the informal input from others. In Cases 1, 2, and 3, sustainable leadership has developed from being in the hands of the few passionate ambassadors, including head teachers, to being distributed amongst various stakeholders as well as institutionalised through leadership positions and clubs: ‘I am trying to spread the leadership in terms of development in this area’ (head teacher, 1). Ofsted (2007) has mentioned that leaders of Case 1 have strong commitment to ESD amongst other priorities. The school therefore has leadership positions that have responsibilities relating to ESD such as eco club coordinator, ethical procurement for budget manager, coordinator of nurture group, teacher managing year group plot, and outside learning coordinator. While these positions are ongoing, there are other responsibilities that are distributed on needs basis, for example, a teacher being sent to London to get an eco-school award. Further, in Case 3, a large eco-team was created for students around sustainability issues. The eco team is comprised of a gardening group, animal group, farm group, woodlands group, travel plan group, energy team, water team, light team, and recycling team. Each team is a platform through which students get involved with a specific task, but also a platform for raising issues, ideas, and suggestions for value creation. The role of the eco team is further institutionalised through having a permanent place to voice its work and suggestions in the assemblies and at governor’s meetings. Finally, in Case 2, external stakeholders play a vital role in shaping how the school engages with sustainability. The school is open to receive and act upon the incoming support from outside the immediate school community for example from local council on available funding for recycling. Thus, in most schools, sustainability leadership is distributed within the organisation and between the service providers and the students rather than residing in the hands of one or two individuals.
Most schools (1, 2, 3, and 5) manage their operations in line with sustainable values. For example, the Travel Plans of Cases 1 and 5 focus on the benefits walking and cycling can bring to the local community. As a result, both schools invested money in bike sheds, and Case 5 constructed a sheltered area for parents to encourage them to walk to school. Further, most schools have recycling embedded in their waste management plans. For example, Case 1 seeks to recycle its waste from all aspects of its work; it includes a wide selection of materials including from any construction process it is involved in. Case 2 expanded its scope of recycling material from paper and metal to include clothes. Case 3 focuses on animal and garden waste as an important component of the school with the farm and allotments. Finally, Cases 1 and 3 have also considered the procurement policy, aiming for the schools to become an ‘ethical consumer’. Schools began with their food purchasing ‘to source locally where possible, especially local and organic food’ (staff questionnaire, 1), and slowly expanded their scope, establishing a regional supply chain for their materials. Lastly, Case 1 established a fair trade shop in the school and Case 3 runs trade fairs, selling produce made by the school.