Special Issue "Advances and Innovations in Sustainability Education: Higher Education as an Avenue for Social Change"

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

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 January 2020).

Special Issue Editor

Prof. Tina Lynn Evans
Website
Guest Editor
Colorado Mountain College
Interests: Globalized political economy and its alternatives, grassroots economic and governance structures, industrialized culture and worldviews and their alternatives, sustainability education, transdisciplinarity in higher education, permaculture, service learning, sustainable leadership.

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

This Special Issue of Sustainability explores the current state and momentum of sustainability education in colleges and universities globally. In response to the state of the world and in recognition that sustainability is fundamentally about social change, we explore promising research, practices, and theory currently shaping the field of sustainability education as an important driver of social change.

Sustainability education is maturing as a field:

  • The availability of sustainability degrees and certificates offered by colleges and universities is expanding rapidly;
  • Sustainability competencies are coalescing within the literature and academic programs;
  • A growing number of graduate studies prepare inter- and transdisciplinary sustainability educators;
  • A standardized test (the Sulitest) measuring sustainability literacy is currently available and being utilized in colleges and universities, and
  • The United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development recently came to a close after inspiring and documenting many successes.

At the same time that sustainability education is making significant advances, many pillars of the current socio-ecological order are crumbling. In recognition of this both deeply troubling and opportune moment in educational and social history, this issue explores innovations and advances aimed at further developing and strengthening sustainability education and thereby improving its contributions to the wider project of sustainability-oriented social change. Article authors are asked to consider the contribution their work makes to sustainability education in a time of socio-ecological crisis.

We seek articles on innovative approaches and developments in higher education as well as fresh perspectives on continuing challenges. We encourage theoretical, methodological, and empirical research works on teaching and learning, competencies and assessment, policy, program development and implementation, instructor preparation, community- and project-based learning, institutional collaborations and partnerships, and other relevant subjects. Questions may be directed to the guest editor.

Prof. Dr. Tina Lynn Evans
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

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

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

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1800 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Published Papers (13 papers)

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Research

Open AccessArticle
Critical Thinking Using Project-Based Learning: The Case of The Agroecological Market at the “Universitat Politècnica de València”
Sustainability 2020, 12(9), 3553; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12093553 - 27 Apr 2020
Abstract
Higher education institutions play an important role in the transition processes to sustainable development through developing critical thinking (CT) in their students. The case of the Research Methodology course of the International Cooperation Master’s degree at the Universitat Politècnica de València is a [...] Read more.
Higher education institutions play an important role in the transition processes to sustainable development through developing critical thinking (CT) in their students. The case of the Research Methodology course of the International Cooperation Master’s degree at the Universitat Politècnica de València is a paradigmatic case of experiential learning, where students face their own realities related to sustainable topics through an action research project with the Agroecological Market (AM). The learning methodology is project-based learning and helps the participants to deeply analyze problems related to the transition of socio-technical systems, such as sustainable food. The objective of this research was to analyze the contribution of project-based learning to students’ critical thinking through a qualitative analysis of the pedagogical outputs obtained during the course. The analysis and results are structured in three dimensions of critical thinking: (i) students’ critical attitude towards reality; (ii) students’ ability to reason and analyze in order to form their own rigorous judgments; and (iii) students’ capacity to construct and deconstruct their own experiences and meanings. The results show that project-based learning using a real-life scenario helped students reflect on their critical thinking and the challenges that our societies face for a transition to sustainability. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Biophysical Economics for Policy and Teaching: Mexico as an Example
Sustainability 2020, 12(7), 2580; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12072580 - 25 Mar 2020
Abstract
Many parts of the world are currently facing unprecedented social turmoil. Few understand that most of these “exploding” situations have a biophysical basis in patterns of consumption and the ratio of number of humans to resources available. Most “solutions” proposed are political oppression [...] Read more.
Many parts of the world are currently facing unprecedented social turmoil. Few understand that most of these “exploding” situations have a biophysical basis in patterns of consumption and the ratio of number of humans to resources available. Most “solutions” proposed are political oppression or, for the lucky, economic development, usually led by conventional economists. However, we believe that, for many regions, conventional economics, certainly alone and perhaps in their entirety, are not up to the job of addressing these crises. We propose a new discipline, Biophysical Economics, that addresses these lacunae and offers a good set of procedures for bringing much more natural science to the discipline of economics. This approach provides a stronger basis for training young people in both economics and heterodox political economy. We will need economists with this new training for a future that appears very different from today. This article outlines the rationales for further developing and teaching Biophysical Economics to demonstrate its utility and applies this economic lens to the economy of Mexico. We finish by providing an example of how a Biophysical Economics curriculum appropriate to analyzing and addressing the Mexican economic context might be developed and taught at the University of Guadalajara. This curriculum could also be adapted to other national, educational and institutional settings. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Equitable Pathways to 2100: Professional Sustainability Credentials
Sustainability 2020, 12(6), 2328; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12062328 - 17 Mar 2020
Abstract
Across numerous industries and occupations, professional associations are contributing to knowledge and skills for sustainability by offering new credentials. This represents an opportunity to increase students’ career preparedness for clean economies that accomplish steep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions over the next thirty [...] Read more.
Across numerous industries and occupations, professional associations are contributing to knowledge and skills for sustainability by offering new credentials. This represents an opportunity to increase students’ career preparedness for clean economies that accomplish steep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions over the next thirty years. This also presents a particular opportunity to help lower-income young adults better position themselves for good jobs that make meaningful contributions to the societal transition ahead. Providing suggestions for navigating and embedding them into curricula, this article highlights seventeen sustainability credentials and mentions another fourteen. In addition to definitions, it also provides analysis of aspects such as third-party accreditation, student supports, academic and maintenance requirements, and fees. Internet research and e-mail correspondence with credentialed professionals was an iterative process in which the author set out with a list of aspects to consider, identified new aspects in the process of researching credentials, compared those aspects, and so on. The result is both a representative list of non-academic, professional credentials worth consideration as complements to the higher education curriculum as well as a set of suggestions for engaging with them in ways that foster opportunity for students from all backgrounds. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Student Competitions as a Learning Method with a Sustainable Focus in Higher Education: The University of Seville “Aura Projects” in the “Solar Decathlon 2019”
Sustainability 2020, 12(4), 1634; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12041634 - 21 Feb 2020
Abstract
In recent times, teaching in higher education has undergone a significant transformation. Current advances and innovative proposals in educational science research are centred around a transdisciplinary approach, the so-called integrated curriculum and the incorporation of the transversal concept of sustainability. In summary, the [...] Read more.
In recent times, teaching in higher education has undergone a significant transformation. Current advances and innovative proposals in educational science research are centred around a transdisciplinary approach, the so-called integrated curriculum and the incorporation of the transversal concept of sustainability. In summary, the so-called learning processes through problem-solving. The Solar Decathlon Competition is the most prestigious international university student competition for sustainable habitat. The aim of this article is to show how the Aura Strategy, developed by the University of Seville Solar Decathlon Team to participate in the Solar Decathlon 2019 Latin America and Europe competitions, is aligned with the aforementioned proposals. Among the results, the generation of a transforming teaching network of the departmental structures in the University of Seville is to be highlighted. These transformations in teaching lead students to new, broader and more holistic approaches to study, as well as new capabilities and skills. The question of interdisciplinarity requires new tools and research lines to achieve successful implementation in higher education, and the participation in the Solar Decathlon Competition is one of them. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Synergy of the (Campus) Commons: Integrating Campus-Based Team Projects in an Introductory Sustainability Course
Sustainability 2020, 12(3), 1224; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12031224 - 08 Feb 2020
Abstract
Faculty and staff at Duke have collaborated to teach a one-semester, introductory, undergraduate course on sustainability ten times over 12 years, including both theoretical and applied project-based content. This article describes the overall process and rhythm of the course, and provides a unique [...] Read more.
Faculty and staff at Duke have collaborated to teach a one-semester, introductory, undergraduate course on sustainability ten times over 12 years, including both theoretical and applied project-based content. This article describes the overall process and rhythm of the course, and provides a unique contribution by summarizing our process to accomplish on-campus sustainability projects where three- to five-person student teams collaborate with on-campus clients throughout the semester, researching questions posed by the client, and ultimately providing recommendations. The faculty/staff partnership on the instructional team permits five to six projects to be designed each year, with a much broader array of clients and authentic research questions than could be envisioned by an academic faculty member alone. Having a strong connection with the Sustainable Duke staff provides the trust with other staff on campus that project results can endure past the semester time period if warranted. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Sustainability as an Economic Issue: A BioPhysical Economic Perspective
Sustainability 2020, 12(1), 364; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12010364 - 02 Jan 2020
Abstract
This essay focuses upon how questions of sustainability are integrated into the teaching of introductory economics. While economics is insufficient by itself to understand the efforts we must take in order to live within nature’s limits, an understanding of economic theory is a [...] Read more.
This essay focuses upon how questions of sustainability are integrated into the teaching of introductory economics. While economics is insufficient by itself to understand the efforts we must take in order to live within nature’s limits, an understanding of economic theory is a vital part of a larger interdisciplinary whole. Yet sustainability is not well integrated into economic theory, especially mainstream, neoclassical, economics. Allocative efficiency and the rate of economic growth are the fundamental metrics while sustainability questions such as the stability of earth systems and the quality of energy resources are relegated to secondary status, if addressed at all. However, in order to address questions such as the earth’s continuing ability to support life, economists need to consider a variety of theoretical perspectives. In the late 1970s, Robert Carson published Economic Issues Today. It presents various economic topics from liberal, radical, and conservative viewpoints, and looking at crucial issues such as sustainability from various ideological perspectives could be an important teaching tool in this era of polarization. This article contends that environmental concerns today are no longer simply microeconomic but biophysical. Biophysical economics sees a sustainable economic theory as one that is grounded in the unity of social and natural sciences. The economy is embedded in a finite and non-growing biophysical system and is subject to its laws and its limits. The accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and the decline in the quality of energy resources limit further economic growth. So does the internal structure of capital accumulation. A system in overshoot cannot grow its way into sustainability, but a non-growing capitalist economy is mired in stagnation. We must develop new economic theories in order to achieve a sustainable future. Valuable insights can be found in behavioral economics, heterodox political economy, and natural science. Questions drawn from behavioral economics concerning how people think in difficult situations should be of great interest to sustainability educators. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Sustainable Well-Being Challenge: A Student-Centered Pedagogical Tool Linking Human Well-Being to Ecological Flourishing
Sustainability 2019, 11(24), 7178; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11247178 - 15 Dec 2019
Abstract
Human behavioral change is necessary if we wish to evolve into a more sustainable human society, but change is hard, especially given that many people equate environmentalism with personal sacrifice. This paper highlights a semester-long assignment in which undergraduate students examined five behaviors [...] Read more.
Human behavioral change is necessary if we wish to evolve into a more sustainable human society, but change is hard, especially given that many people equate environmentalism with personal sacrifice. This paper highlights a semester-long assignment in which undergraduate students examined five behaviors that claim to increase happiness with minimal ecological footprints. We used mixed methods to analyze students’ self-reported positive and negative affect scores before and after completing each of the five activities, along with descriptions of the carbon footprint of each activity and student self-reflections on whether each challenge promoted “sustainability”. Results indicated that students’ positive affect increased with each activity, while negative affect decreased. Student reflections indicated that engagement with systems thinking can be used to examine the relationship between their own well-being and the ecological outcomes of each of their chosen activities, as well as alternatives that would decrease their footprint. In final reflections, 85% of students stated that they would promote these five behaviors among the general public to enhance sustainability efforts. We discuss using the Sustainable Well-being Challenge as a tool to promote behaviors that support both human and ecological well-being. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Sustainability in the University: A Study of Its Presence in Curricula, Teachers and Students of Education
Sustainability 2019, 11(23), 6620; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11236620 - 23 Nov 2019
Abstract
This work forms part of the R + D + i ‘Training project in Spanish universities for professionals as agents of change in order meet the challenges facing society’ (Educación e Innovación Social para la Sostenibilidad (EDINSOST) 2017–2019). The purpose is to analyse [...] Read more.
This work forms part of the R + D + i ‘Training project in Spanish universities for professionals as agents of change in order meet the challenges facing society’ (Educación e Innovación Social para la Sostenibilidad (EDINSOST) 2017–2019). The purpose is to analyse the presence of sustainability in terms of curriculum content and training in competence for students, teachers and the curricula of Science of Education degree courses at the University of Seville. In this context, the curricula of the Degree in Early Childhood Education, Primary Education and Pedagogy have been analysed. Two questionnaires have been drawn up, and four reflection groups have been created—in which, a total of 49 teachers and 170 students have participated. The results show that there is a low presence of sustainability in Science of Education degree courses. The teachers express the opinion that they are engaged in sustainable initiatives and have an interest in ethical models. The students express a high degree of interest in receiving sustainability training. Findings provide information for introducing innovation into the university curriculum and the training of teachers and students in order to improve their competency in sustainability. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Competencies and Pedagogies for Sustainability Education: A Roadmap for Sustainability Studies Program Development in Colleges and Universities
Sustainability 2019, 11(19), 5526; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11195526 - 07 Oct 2019
Cited by 2
Abstract
Sustainability studies educators in colleges and universities must identify and teach the knowledge, skills, and abilities their graduates will most need to advance sustainability while confronting perhaps the most serious, sweeping, and integrated set of challenges humanity has ever known. Using a rigorous [...] Read more.
Sustainability studies educators in colleges and universities must identify and teach the knowledge, skills, and abilities their graduates will most need to advance sustainability while confronting perhaps the most serious, sweeping, and integrated set of challenges humanity has ever known. Using a rigorous grounded theory and hermeneutics based analysis/synthesis of the relevant literature, this study articulates and describes in depth a set of five competencies for the sustainability field and suggests potentially effective pedagogies for teaching them. Findings in the areas of both competencies and pedagogies for sustainability education imply the benefits of integrative, active, collaborative, and applied approaches to curriculum development and teaching—approaches that directly involve students in learning and practicing transdisciplinary engagement in service to sustainability. The Bachelor of Arts in Sustainability Studies program at Colorado Mountain College serves as an example of how the articulated competency framework is being applied to evaluate and enhance curriculum and learning outcomes. The competency framework and pedagogical recommendations offered may also serve as roadmaps for educators at other institutions who prepare graduates to address the pressing challenges of sustainability evident in communities, nations, and the world. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Insights from Alumni: A Grounded Theory Study of a Graduate Program in Sustainability Leadership
Sustainability 2019, 11(19), 5223; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11195223 - 24 Sep 2019
Abstract
This grounded theory action research study examines the impact of a graduate sustainability leadership program through the lens of its alumni. The study reveals elements of the leadership program that had the most impact on the lives and careers of its alumni, as [...] Read more.
This grounded theory action research study examines the impact of a graduate sustainability leadership program through the lens of its alumni. The study reveals elements of the leadership program that had the most impact on the lives and careers of its alumni, as well as suggestions for how the program could better prepare students in the future. This study finds that impactful sustainability leadership programs might incorporate opportunities for: paradigm and perspective shifts; a culture of support and care; holistic personal growth and development; experiential community-based learning opportunities; and leadership tools and skills that students can practice and use. This study also indicates that future students of sustainability leadership in higher education could benefit from more career preparation and job transition support, and from more emphasis on critical theory, social justice, and diversity/inclusion in all coursework. Implications for program design and implementation are discussed, including suggestions for future practice. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Sustainability Literacy in a Time of Socio-Ecological Crisis: Using Reaccreditation as a Leverage Point for Innovation in Higher Education
Sustainability 2019, 11(18), 5104; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11185104 - 18 Sep 2019
Abstract
This article presents a case study of innovation in sustainability education in higher education. It does so by explaining the to-date progress of a multi-year reaccreditation process begun in 2016 for the College of Charleston (CofC), a public liberal arts and sciences university [...] Read more.
This article presents a case study of innovation in sustainability education in higher education. It does so by explaining the to-date progress of a multi-year reaccreditation process begun in 2016 for the College of Charleston (CofC), a public liberal arts and sciences university in Charleston, South Carolina of approximately 10,000 undergraduates and 1300 graduate students. The question addressed is how can a higher education institute strategically embed sustainability literacy that is focused on social/environmental engagement, in a way that contributes to measurable student learning gains? We argue that the leverage point of institutional reaccreditation provides a strategic entryway into embedding such sustainability across curricular and co-curricular settings in innovative capacities. We do so by discussing how sustainability education was implemented into a co-curricular civic engagement program, alternative break, to build students’ sustainability literacy at the College of Charleston. The article concludes by reflecting on lessons learned at CofC on how to use institutional reaccreditation as a driver of sustainability education through civic engagement in an era of socio-ecological collapse. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Mapping Students’ Development in Response to Sustainability Education: A Conceptual Model
Sustainability 2019, 11(16), 4324; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11164324 - 09 Aug 2019
Cited by 2
Abstract
Target 4.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals requires that, by 2030, all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development. This not only demands an interdisciplinary approach, but also that this approach must seek to be transformative, with change for [...] Read more.
Target 4.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals requires that, by 2030, all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development. This not only demands an interdisciplinary approach, but also that this approach must seek to be transformative, with change for sustainability as an explicit outcome in addition to subject knowledge. Many have argued that the complex or ‘wicked’ nature of sustainability challenges indicates the need for a learning experience that emphasizes active, reflective learning across-and between-discipline areas. In this paper we develop a conceptual model of sustainability learning for higher education that can potentially address the distinctiveness of sustainability education and monitor students’ progression as learners. Our conceptual model of sustainability learning, has been developed on a university Master’s program in Sustainability and integrates continua of pedagogy and disciplinarity into a three-dimensional space. Learners can be represented as different loci within this space at different points in their development. This potentially allows a ‘learning journey’ to be plotted. We propose that the model can also be used more widely as a tool to visualize learning progression within other university programs, providing an opportunity for both learners and curriculum designers to reflect on progress. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
The Fear of Not Flying: Achieving Sustainable Academic Plane Travel in Higher Education Based on Insights from South Australia
Sustainability 2019, 11(9), 2694; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11092694 - 12 May 2019
Cited by 3
Abstract
Universities are both disseminators and producers of the climate knowledge needed to institute the social and cultural change required for climate adaptation and mitigation to occur. They also have the opportunity to lead and model pro-environmental behavior, yet often have large carbon budgets, [...] Read more.
Universities are both disseminators and producers of the climate knowledge needed to institute the social and cultural change required for climate adaptation and mitigation to occur. They also have the opportunity to lead and model pro-environmental behavior, yet often have large carbon budgets, partly caused by staff travel. This paper explores this topic via an institutional case study of what factors motivate the academic community to undertake plane travel and the implications this has for wielding wider societal influence in terms of pro-environmental behavior. We report on a year-long qualitative social science study of academic plane travel at the University of Adelaide, South Australia where we investigated the tension between academic requirements to travel and the institution’s formal commitment to sustainability within the Campus Sustainability Plan. We found that, while many academics were worried about climate change, very few were willing to change their current practice and travel less because they are not institutionally incentivized to do so. There is a fear of not flying: plane travel is perceived as a key driver for career progression and this is an ongoing barrier to pro-environmental behavior. We conclude that institutional and political change will be required for individual change to occur and sustainable agendas to be met within academic communities. Full article
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