As a result of the realization of the importance of higher education institutions (HEIs) in promoting environmental sustainability, numerous universities around the world have within the last two decades been implementing initiatives to become sustainable. Universities are now restructuring their curriculum, research agenda and community services to focus more on sustainable development (SD) and have incorporated sustainability into campus development and daily operations [1
]. This is based on the realization of the need to reduce the impacts of campus activities and operations on the environment and to train students to gain sustainability literacy and embrace sustainable behaviors [4
]. In the US alone, over 300 HEIs have conducted campus sustainability assessments within the period of five years and hundreds more have planned to do so [6
]. Commitments to sustainability by HEIs also resulted from voluntary decisions by university management (through pledges and signing of declarations) as well as from pressure mounted by regulatory agencies, funding organizations, student activism, NGOs, and parents [7
Nevertheless, few universities in the developing countries, especially in the Middle East, are making the necessary adjustments to reduce the negative impact of campus operations on the environment and incorporate sustainability into their systems. Even in the few cases where attempts are being made to implement some sustainability initiatives, the efforts are highly centralized without students’ and other stakeholders’ involvements, which render the initiatives insufficient to insufficient to contribute to the transition to a sustainable society [9
]. Thus, several scholars have called for a more inclusive and “whole-of-university” approach to achieving sustainability and to rethink how higher education can address sustainability issues not only within the curriculum and research, but also via community outreach, collaboration, as well as through the participation of the various university stakeholders [10
Indeed, achieving campus sustainability more effectively is not possible without the cooperation and involvement of all stakeholders such as students, faculty and staff, university management, funding agencies, and the community [13
]. In developing countries the training and involvement of university students in environmental education have been largely neglected, leading to some scholars criticizing higher education for producing graduates who are ill-equipped to tackle the serious sustainability problems humanity now faces [15
]. Given that students are among the key university stakeholders, understanding their perceptions about and their involvement in environmental sustainability may give insight into whether or not and how a university is likely to employ sustainable practices [17
]. The importance of students’ involvement in “campus greening” has led to interesting initiatives such as the “Platform Information, Awareness, and Assessment of Sustainability at the University” and the “Sustainability Test”, which originated from a cooperation project between the Autonomous University of Madrid and the University of São Paulo in Brazil (http://www.projetosustentabilidade.sc.usp.br/index.php/eng
Previous studies that investigated college students’ perception and assessment of environmental sustainability or their roles in promoting campus sustainability are largely concentrated in the West and developing countries outside the Middle East. Examples of such studies were conducted in several universities in USA [4
], Europe—such as in Germany [15
] and UK [13
]—and in Australia [21
]. In all these studies, students are quite aware about and are willing to support and participate in sustainable initiatives at their colleages/universities. The studies also reported that the HEIs have implemented sustainability issues related to campus operations that include energy efficiency and waste recycling, building construction and renovation based on green design principles, and have promoted sustainable transport for students. Whereas in the developing countries, similar studies include an assessment of students’ perceptions of some factors contributing towards higher education for SD in a university in China [9
], research about the perceptions of students of a Malaysian university towards factors of a sustainable university [22
], and a survey of students’ perceptions of sustainability and changing life styles of a technical university in Turkey [24
Despite the importance of university campuses in promoting environmental sustainability, there is no known study in Saudi Arabia that explores students’ perception about environmental sustainability or their involvement in campus sustainability efforts. As such, this study attempts to fill this gap using University of Dammam as a case study. This study is very important because of the ongoing ambitious projects of establishing HEIs to cater for the country’s rapidly growing younger population that constitute more than half of the national population. Given that most of these Saudi HEIs are in infancy, it is high time to utilize the educational sector to play a key role in realizing the goals of achieving SD and protecting the environment and natural resources as part of the ninth five-year National Development Plan. Further, given that the education system and campus sustainability efforts in the country are largely top-down without sufficient regards for students’ involvement in sustainability decision making, this study thus presents an opportunity to convey the best practices of universities in more developed countries into the Saudi Arabian context.
The article has been organized in the following way. The next section reviews the role of HEIs in promoting environmental sustainability and presents a brief overview of the Saudi Arabian university system. This is followed by the methodology and then the results and discussion sections. The paper concludes by highlighting the role universities in Saudi Arabia could play in training future decision makers to confront the environmental challenges of the 21st century.
2. Higher Education for Sustainable Development (SD)
The 1987 Brundtland Report defines the term sustainable development (SD) as the development that “meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs” [25
]. The concept is often used interchangeably with that of sustainability, which strives to promote the continuity of ecological, economic, institutional, and socio-cultural aspects of our societies. Sustainability is envisioned to be an avenue for preserving natural ecosystems and biodiversity while meeting our material needs, transforming cultures and solving some of our society’s complex problems while collectively planning and acting to maintain the societal aspects far into the future [26
]. Sustainability affects every level of organization, from the local neighborhood to the entire planet.
Not just for cities and towns, incorporating sustainability into university systems has become a necessity given the significant environmental impacts of complex and large-scale activities and operations taking place on campuses, whose costs need to be avoided, hence universities are no longer overlooked in terms of environmental responsibility [8
]. The specific roles of universities in promoting SD have been highlighted in several significant declarations such as the Talloires Declaration in 1990, Agenda 21 in 1992, the Kyoto Declaration in 1993, Global Higher Education for Sustainability Partnership in 2000, the Luneburg Declaration in 2001, the Sapporo declaration in 2002, Graz Declaration in 2005, Abuja Declaration on Sustainable Development in Africa in 2009, the Rio+20 Higher Education Sustainability Initiative, as well as the UN Decade for Education for Sustainable Development. According to UNESCO, Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) fosters a process of learning how to make decisions that consider the long-term future of the economy, ecology, and equity of all communities [27
]. As such, universities worldwide are now becoming more proactive in becoming sustainable and in promoting sustainability via teaching and research, community outreach, and in campus operations [28
A sustainable campus according to Cole and Wright is a community that “acts upon its local and global responsibilities to protect and enhance the health and wellbeing of humans and ecosystems” and advances some ways of addressing our present and future ecological and social challenges ([14
] p. 30). Other scholars consider a sustainable campus as a healthy environment with an efficient environmental management and prosperous economy based on energy and resource conservation and waste reduction, and promoting equity and social justice in its affairs and exporting these values at community, national, and global levels [30
]. These definitions indicate that campus sustainability requires inclusion of key SD principles not only in the curricula, but also in research and community services. Campus sustainability is also unachievable without incorporating such principles as sustainable water use, energy efficiency in buildings and operations, green transportation, efficient waste management, resource conservation, equity, and minimizing environmental pollution into campus operations [31
]. It also requires participatory teaching and learning methods that motivate and empower students and the community to change their behavior and take action for SD [4
The literature review indicates that universities that are committed to becoming sustainable have undertaken several initiatives, which include: (a) formulating and implementing policies and strategies to ensure that environmental issues are managed consistently and systematically throughout the campus in order to reduce environmental impacts and increase operations’ efficiency; (b) greening the curricula and restructuring research such that both focus more on key SD principles such as environmental protection, pollution and climate change, global warming, biodiversity, equity, and poverty reduction, and sustainable energy and resource consumption and training of students to acquire the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values necessary to shape a sustainable future; (c) community outreach and partnering/collaborating with SD stakeholders (students, employees, other universities, public and private sectors, NGOs) so as to motivate and empower the entire society to change their behavior and take action for environmental sustainability; and (d) sustainability assessments and reporting [8
As highlighted above, higher education is a major driver of change to achieve environmental sustainability, sustainable living, economic opportunities, health ,and equity as well as in instilling students with a sense of being responsible global citizens not only on their campuses but also at the societal level [2
]. Universities world-wide have been significantly contributing to the promotion of sustainability in many ways. First, they play a leading role as agents of change by preparing most of the professionals that develop, teach, work in, manage, lead and influence society’s institutions. Future leaders, entrepreneurs, and decision makers are also educated and prepared by universities. Hence, university campuses are effective avenues for “communicating the value of environmental sustainability to a wide variety of audience” ([30
] p. 43). Second, they help coordinate, promote, and enhance the engagement of local authorities, the private sector, NGOs and the public to design and implement local and regional sustainability plans by acting as sources of technical expertise [32
]. Lastly, universities contribute to environmental sustainability by implementing sound environmental management systems that reduce the negative environmental impacts of campus operations and improve the efficiency of their systems (transportation, buildings, energy, utilities, etc.
Therefore, developing countries can utilize the ample opportunity presented by HEIs to train their youth and guide their population to understand the importance of sustainability and take action towards a more sustainable future. In Saudi Arabia, there are currently 25 public and 8 private universities, which are supervised and coordinated by the Ministry of Education. As of 2013 a total of 669,271 students, comprised of 62.9% females and 37.1% males, were enrolled in the public universities [33
]. The growth of universities, as indicated in Table 1
, from just seven about two and half decades ago to the present 33 is a response to the population that is increasing at the rate of 2.9% per annum since the era of oil boom (http://www.cdsi.gov.sa/english/
retrieved 22 February 2015). Between 2000 and 2010, the number of universities increased by 230% (from 10 to 33), unlike in the preceding decade where the increased was by about 50% (7 to 10). This dramatic increase can be attributed largely to the government’s efforts to develop higher education and promote knowledge-based economy in the country as stipulated in the seventh and eighth Saudi Arabia’s National Development Plans, coupled with increased national revenue from high oil prices. Thus, the funds earmarked for higher studies, mainly in constructing new and expanding the existing HEIs, have also jumped from approximately 10 billion Saudi Riyals (US$ 2.67 billion) in 2005 to about SR32 billion (US$ 8.53 billion) in 2009 ([34
] p. 110).
Growth of universities and colleges in Saudi Arabia, 1990–2010 [33
Growth of universities and colleges in Saudi Arabia, 1990–2010 .
The consequences of rapid and low-density urban growth that Saudi Arabia is experiencing is increasing demand for shelter, energy, and means of livelihood, which calls for the need for sustainable urban development that would not only be harmonious but advances energy efficiency, waste reduction, and intergenerational equity and minimizes natural resource depletion, environmental pollution, and degradation of ecosystem [35
]. Hence, one of the ways of achieving environmental sustainability of cities and regions in the country is by integrating sustainability learning opportunities across all higher education subject areas, so that students can be better equipped to deal with sustainability issues in all aspects of life and participate in practices that have widespread influence on global-local futures [36
]. However, the task of integrating sustainability into HEIs will not succeed without involving the students. Thus, this study aims to use University of Dammam as a case study to explore (a) University students’ awareness and concern about environmental sustainability; (b) the extent to which the offered courses are related to sustainability; (c) students’ assessments of whether campus operations and practices are moving toward sustainability; and (d) the availability of on-campus sustainability opportunities to students. The research methods in the following section outlines the way in which this study was undertaken.
5. Conclusions and Recommendations
This study set out to explore students’ perceptions about, and their involvement in environmental sustainability at the College of Architecture and Planning, University of Dammam in Saudi Arabia. The noteworthy findings are that while there is greater concern and substantial knowledge about environmental sustainability among the respondents, they generally indicated lack of interest and willingness to participate in initiatives towards achieving sustainability. On the issue of curriculum, students were largely of the opinion that offered courses, research and student projects have little focus on sustainability. In terms of campus practices for fostering environmental sustainability, respondents reported that, apart from limited sustainable landscaping and waste recycling, there exist very few initiatives in sustainable transportation, and energy and water conservation. Lastly, only job fairs were reported to provide the students with an opportunity to partake in sustainability issues.
Therefore, in trying to achieve the third and tenth goals of the country’s ninth five-year national development plan (sustainable development and protecting of the environment and natural resources respectively), there is the urgent need to transform Saudi universities into sustainable campuses so that they can become role models and play a leading role in promoting sustainable urbanization in the Arabian Gulf region. In order for Saudi universities to become more sustainable, the following key recommendations should be followed:
The Ministry of Education should mandate university managements to commit to sustainability by integrating sustainability into the HEI’s policies and strategies and to establish office/center for SD, with qualified personnel and budgetary provisions. The sustainability office should conduct campus sustainability assessments in collaboration with other stakeholders so as to establish the extent to which the university is moving towards sustainability in terms of campus environmental management, infrastructure and transportation, campus operations and services, energy and resource consumptions and waste management as well as the extent to which teaching and research relate to sustainability issues. This will ascertain the existing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in embedding sustainability in the institution.
The ministry should establish a set of indicators, standards, best practices, and policy guidelines required for the universities to become more sustainable and to increase the efficiency of campus environmental management practices, and to promote sustainability in teaching and research. A road map that would allow their universities to become more sustainable and play a leading role in promoting sustainable urban development in the country and at the regional level should be established and followed.
Saudi Universities should be utilized to also serve as laboratories for teaching environmental sustainability to students as well as for enlightening the entire society about the importance of and contributing towards achieving sustainability. This can be achieved by focusing more on training and educating the youth who are the country’s future decision makers on how to think strategically and act sustainably that would allow them to design and plan more sustainable cities. Training students to design for energy and water conservations, waste reduction, and green transportation is also highly recommended.
Universities should also realize the need for more inclusive campus management and decentralized decision making because ESD is an important mechanism in achieving strategic goals of higher education. It is a dynamic concept that involves students’ training and public awareness and capacity building to assume responsibility for creating and enjoying a sustainable future. It also seeks to empower students, faculty, and staff and the wider society to act for positive environmental change, implying a participatory and action-oriented approach.
In conclusion, as Saudi Arabia is rapidly urbanizing with increasing demand for shelter, energy, and means of livelihood and with increasing investment in building new universities there is the need for developing sustainable campuses so that they can help create a pattern of urban development that would be compatible with a safe environment, energy efficiency, waste reduction, and intergenerational equity. Saudi universities could learn from the campus sustainability initiatives and best practices of the universities of more-advanced countries. However cultural and environmental implications of any proposed sustainability initiatives must be taken into account.
This is the first study of this sort to be conducted in Saudi Arabia, which would not only assist in making cross-cultural comparative studies, but it could also be influential with respect to real-world decision-making at the university level in the country. Given that the study looks only at perceptions of students from a single college, it can be regarded as a first stepping-stone along a path towards campus sustainability. Future research covering other disciplines and universities could show whether students’ awareness and attitudes towards sustainability varies for different disciplines and between campuses. There is also need for a study with wider scope of sustainability program and best practices such as economic health and equity, and sustainable living opportunities in Saudi Universities. Further research is also needed to explore the role of faculty and staff (involved in campus operations) in promoting campus sustainability in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.