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Special Issue "Exploring Sustainability Accounting and Management in Higher Educational Institutions"

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

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 July 2021) | Viewed by 19836

Special Issue Editor

Dr. Benedetta Siboni
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Management, University of Bologna, 40126 Bologna, Italy
Interests: sustainability reporting; gender accounting; performance measurement; intellectual capital; public sector; higher education institutions
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) play a key role in the development of society; consequently, their commitment is crucial for changing the current practices towards sustainable development (SD) and to support the achievement of the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).

Accordingly, since the last decade, several HEIs around the world have engaged in SD management practices and have experimented the integration of sustainability in their strategic plans, assessment tools, and external reports. However, sustainability accounting still appears to be an uncommon practice in this sector and needs contributions from the accounting literature to steer its progress.

Previous literature examining SD management practices found that efforts generally tend to be compartmentalized, thus failing to affect the overall strategic framework of institutions. In addition, initiatives are reported in a fragmented way; hence, HEIs fail to exploit opportunities to improve their positioning compared with competitors. However, to foster the diffusion of SD governance at HEIs and create a transdisciplinary network for the exchange of findings, experience, and methods, the HOCH project was developed in Germany, and the Sustainability Assessment Tool (SAT) was proposed in Brazil.

Several studies have focused on the practice of reporting, concluding that sustainability reporting by HEIs is still in an early stage, both in numbers of institutions involved and in level of reporting. Voluntary sustainability reporting is mainly driven by internal motivations. Factors enabling sustainability reporting include the presence of political structures or units devoted to SD, the accountability culture existing in some geographic areas, the involvement of third-party assurance institutions, the leadership exerted by institutions in the process of sustainability reporting.

In the absence of a dedicated guideline, sustainability reporting in institutions diverges considerably. However, in most of European countries, disclosure on economic aspects and on the profile of institutions prevails, whilst social and environmental information is scant. Conversely, disclosure in Canadian and US HEIs is clearly focused on environmental aspects, probably because of their participation in the STARS project, a North America’s sustainability self-assessment and reporting programme strongly focused on the environment.

A key element to ensure credibility of sustainability assessment tools and reporting practices is represented by indicators. The absence of a systematic collection of sustainability information and data has been indicated as the major barrier to assess and report on sustainability. In addition, the analysis of current sustainability assessment tools reveals that these systems largely neglect measuring the impacts that HEIs have outside their organisational boundaries, hence betraying the goals of the assessment.

This Special Issue aims to explore sustainability accounting and management initiatives implemented by HEIs, highlighting their strengths, weaknesses, and missing points in order to provide suggestions to foster advance of practices as well as to support the dissemination of commitment towards SD and UN SDGs Goals in HEIs. Contributions can be both theoretical and empirical. Expected papers shall address the following areas:

  • Incorporating sustainability in HEI’s missions and policies
  • Elements enabling and contrasting the introduction and success of sustainability practices
  • Sustainability management and accounting practices implemented by HEIs
  • Assessing strengths and weaknesses of sustainability practices currently implemented
  • Financial cost–benefit analysis of sustainable initiatives implemented by HEIs
  • Indicators for assessing and reporting results of sustainability practices
  • Indexes to rank sustainability performance of HEIs
  • Stakeholder engagement in sustainability practices
  • Sustainability reporting: diffusion, key actors, tools, contents, channels
  • Factors affecting contents and process of sustainability reporting
  • Integration between sustainability planning and reporting
  • Support to the credibility of sustainability reporting and assessment of the materiality of the aspects disclosed
  • Role of accountants in sustainability practices
  • Perception of SD commitment of HEIs by stakeholders

Type of contributions invited: Research Papers, Case studies, Conceptual papers, Literature Review, General review.

References

Aleixo A.M., Azeiteiro U., Leal S. (2018), “The implementation of sustainability practices in Portuguese higher education institutions”, International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 19, No. 1, pp. 146-178, DOI 10.1108/IJSHE-02-2017-0016

Bauer M., Bormann I., Kummer B., Niedlich S., Rieckmann M. (2018), “Sustainability Governance at Universities: Using a Governance Equalizer as a Research Heuristic”, Higher Education Policy, Vol. 31, No. 4, pp. 491-511. DOI: 10.1057/s41307-018-0104-x

Bebbington J., Unerman J. (2018), "Achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: An enabling role for accounting research", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 31 Issue: 1, pp. 2-24, https://doi.org/10.1108/AAAJ-05-2017-2929

Bentivoglio C.A., D’Antini G., Gison G., Giusepponi K. (2014), “Data warehouse, reporting and stakeholder engagement. Achievements of the University of Macerata”, Journal of e-Learning and Knowledge Society, Vol.10, No. 2, pp. 77-89.

Brusca I., Labrador M., Larran M. (2018), “The challenge of sustainability and integrated reporting at universities: A case study”, Journal of Cleaner Production, Vol. 188, 347-354

Ceulemans K., Lozano R., del Mar Alonso-Almeida M. (2015), “Sustainability Reporting in Higher Education: Interconnecting the Reporting Process and Organisational Change Management for Sustainability”, Sustainability, Vol. 7, pp. 8881-8903; doi:10.3390/su7078881

Chiba S., Talbot D., Boiral O. (2018), “Sustainability adrift: An evaluation of the credibility of sustainability information disclosed by public organizations”, Accounting Forum, Vol. 42, pp. 328–340

Cronemberger de Araújo Góes H., Magrini A. (2016), “Higher education institution sustainability assessment tools Considerations on their use in Brazil”, International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 17, No. 3, 2016, pp. 322-341, DOI 10.1108/IJSHE-09-2014-0132

del Mar Alonso-Almeida M., Marimon F., Casani F., Rodriguez-Pomeda J., (2014), “Diffusion of sustainability reporting in universities: current situation and future perspectives”, Journal of Cleaner Production, Vol. 106, N. 1, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2014.02.008

del Sordo C., Farneti F., Guthrie J., Pazzi S., Siboni B. (2016), “Social reports in Italian universities: disclosures and preparers’ perspective”, Meditari Accountancy Research, Vol. 24, No. 1, pp. 91-110, https://doi.org/10.1108/MEDAR-09-2014-0054

Findler F., Schönherr N., Lozano R., Stacherl B. (2019), “Assessing the Impacts of Higher Education Institutions on Sustainable Development-An Analysis of Tools and Indicators”, Sustainability, Vol. 11, No. 59; doi:10.3390/su1101005

Fonseca A., Macdonald A., Dandy E., Valenti P. (2011), “The state of sustainability reporting at Canadian universities”, International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 12, N. 1, pp. 22-40.

Larrán Jorge M., Javier A. Peña F., Herrera Madueño J. (2018), “An analysis of university sustainability reports from the GRI database: an examination of influential variables”, Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, DOI: 10.1080/09640568.2018.1457952

Leal Filho W., Londero Brandli L., Becker D., Skanavis C., Kounani A., Sardi C., Papaioannidou D., Paço A., Azeiteiro U., Olim de Sousa L., Raath S., Wessel Pretorius R., Shiel C., Vargas V., Trencher G., Marans R.W. (2018), “Sustainable development policies as indicators and pre-conditions for sustainability efforts at universities Fact or fiction?”, International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 19, No. 1, pp. 85-113, DOI 10.1108/IJSHE-01-2017-0002

Lozano R. (2011), “The state of sustainability reporting in universities”, International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 12, No. 1, pp. 67-78, DOI 10.1108/14676371111098311

Lozano R., Ceulemans K., Alonso-Almeida M., Huisingh D., Lozano F.J., Waas T., Lambrechts W., Lukman R., Hug J. (2015), “A review of commitment and implementation of sustainable development in higher education: results from a worldwide survey”, Journal of Cleaner Production, Vol. 108, pp. 1-18, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2014.09.048

Lozano R., Llobet J., Tideswell G. (2013), “The process of assessing and reporting sustainability at universities: Preparing the report of the University of Leeds”, Revista Internacional de Tecnología, Sostenibilidad y Humanismo, No. 8, pp. 85-112. Online available at: URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2099/14406 (accessed on: 29/01/2019)

Moggi S., Leardini C., Campedelli B. (2015), “Social and Environmental Reporting in the Italian Higher Education System: Evidence from Two Best Practices”, in Leal Filho W., Kuznetsova O., Brandli L., do Paço A.M.F. (Eds.), Integrative Approaches to Sustainable Development at University Level: making the links, Springer International Publishing Switzerland, DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-10690-8_6

Romolini A., Fissi S., Gori E. (2015), “Quality disclosure in sustainability reporting: evidence from universities”, Transylvanian Review of Administrative Sciences, No. 44 E/2015, pp. 196-218

Sassen R., Azizi L. (2018), “Assessing sustainability reports of US universities”, International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 19, No. 7, pp. 1158-1184, https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-06-2016-0114

Sassen R., Azizi L. (2018), “Voluntary disclosure of sustainability reports by Canadian universities”, Journal of Business Econonomic, Vol. 88, pp. 97-137, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11573-017-0869-1

Sassen R., Wedemeier D.J. (2018), “Characteristics of UK higher education institutions that disclose sustainability reports", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 19 Issue: 7, pp. 1279-1298, https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-03-2018-0042

Siboni B., del Sordo C., Pazzi S. (2013), “Sustainability Reporting in State Universities: an investigation of Italian pioneering practices”, International Journal of Social Ecology and Sustainable Development, Vol. 4, No. 2, pp. 1-15.

Prof. Benedetta Siboni
Guest Editor

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Keywords

  • Sustainability
  • Sustainability Accounting
  • Sustainability Management
  • Sustainability Reporting
  • UN Sustainable Development Goals
  • Higher Education Institutions
  • University.

Published Papers (8 papers)

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Research

Article
Developing the Ecological Footprint Assessment for a University Campus, the Component-Based Method
Sustainability 2021, 13(17), 9928; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13179928 - 03 Sep 2021
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 1601
Abstract
Global warming has become an increasing challenge due to the impact of human activities on the environment. In this regard, university campuses with various activities and departments have a great impact on the environment. Ecological Footprint Analysis (EFA) is a natural resource depletion [...] Read more.
Global warming has become an increasing challenge due to the impact of human activities on the environment. In this regard, university campuses with various activities and departments have a great impact on the environment. Ecological Footprint Analysis (EFA) is a natural resource depletion assessment tool, with a high level of accuracy, that measures the impact of human activities on the environment. Considering the Ecological Footprint (EF) capabilities, this study developed a method to assess the environmental impacts of a university campus using component-based parameters. The goals of the study are to explore the effective components of EF and to propose some policy guidelines to diminish the human impacts on the environment on university campuses. Five components, including natural gas and electricity consumption, water and food usage, and waste production, were measured in a survey from 2013 to 2016 at the building scale. The mean EF of the campus was 16,484 global hectares (gha). Fossil fuel energy had the highest level of environmental impact with 70.73%, followed by waste production and food and water usage with 26.87%, 1.28%, and 1.12%, respectively. The results demonstrate that the EF Index (EFI) of the case study campus was −0.82, which reveals an unsustainable performance. The EF results were illustrated on an Ecological Footprint Map (EFM), which shows the east and west parts of the camps were more unsustainable. Full article
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Article
Sustainability and Stakeholder Awareness: A Case Study of a Scottish University
Sustainability 2021, 13(8), 4186; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13084186 - 09 Apr 2021
Cited by 8 | Viewed by 1604
Abstract
This paper adopted a case study approach to investigate the sustainability practices of a Scottish university in order to understand if sustainability forms part of its central policy agenda. As such, the paper focuses on the levels of awareness and disclosure of their [...] Read more.
This paper adopted a case study approach to investigate the sustainability practices of a Scottish university in order to understand if sustainability forms part of its central policy agenda. As such, the paper focuses on the levels of awareness and disclosure of their sustainable practices, measuring the impacts and effectiveness of those initiatives. This paper introduces signaling theory to explore the idea that appropriate communication via integrated thinking can close the gap between the organization and its stakeholders. We believe that the provision of this relevant information will lead to better communication between the organization and its stakeholders, supporting a signaling theory interpretation. Therefore, we are suggesting that integrated thinking is an internal process that organizations can follow to increase the level of disclosure as a communication tool with stakeholders. From the literature reviewed, four themes were identified (definition of university sustainability, sustainability awareness, disclosure framework within universities, and level of accountability). The research adopted a pragmatic view and conducted individual interviews with participants belonging to three stakeholder groups (members of the university’s senior management, the governing council, and the student union executive). Although this study focused on just one Scottish university, it should still provide some insight for the better understanding of the underpinning issues surrounding the sustainability accountability practices of Scottish universities in general. The research findings indicated that the university prioritized only two sustainability dimensions—economic and environmental—and that the university still perceived sustainability as a voluntary exercise. Additionally, it is evident that the university had no framework in place for measuring its sustainability delivery—and therefore had no established medium of communicating these activities to its stakeholders. Moreover, research findings showed that the social and educational context of sustainability was lacking at the university. The university has done little or nothing to educate its stakeholders on sustainability. Full article
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Article
The Journey to Gender-Responsive Budgeting: Lessons Learned from Higher Education
Sustainability 2021, 13(4), 2019; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13042019 - 13 Feb 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 2295
Abstract
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Agenda includes gender equality as one of its 17 goals and emphasizes the importance of supporting women’s empowerment to meet the SDGs. Gender-responsive budgeting (GRB) can help achieve gender equality in organizations, but there continue to be [...] Read more.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Agenda includes gender equality as one of its 17 goals and emphasizes the importance of supporting women’s empowerment to meet the SDGs. Gender-responsive budgeting (GRB) can help achieve gender equality in organizations, but there continue to be limitations on exploiting its full potential. Further research is needed, especially in the public sector and at higher education institutions. This paper investigates the development of the GRB process and the related reporting practices, as well as the potential to fully integrate it into the university’s strategic policies at the University of Ferrara. The paper is based on a qualitative content analysis of annual GRB reports from 2011 to 2018. The results show that, during this period, GRB at the university changed from playing an accountability role to having a performance measurement role. Although GRB has become more relevant inside the organization, the extent of the integration with the university strategy and the budgeting cycle remains limited, which hampers the strategic relevance of GRB. Full article
Article
CSR Implication and Disclosure in Higher Education: Uncovered Points. Results from a Systematic Literature Review and Agenda for Future Research
Sustainability 2021, 13(2), 525; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13020525 - 07 Jan 2021
Cited by 13 | Viewed by 2967
Abstract
This research reviews and analyzes prior corporate social responsibility (CSR) studies centered on its implications and disclosure in higher education institutions (HEIs). Nine major databases were analyzed to review research articles from various business, management, higher education, and accounting journals for the period [...] Read more.
This research reviews and analyzes prior corporate social responsibility (CSR) studies centered on its implications and disclosure in higher education institutions (HEIs). Nine major databases were analyzed to review research articles from various business, management, higher education, and accounting journals for the period of 2004–2020. We follow the seven-step systematic review guidelines developed by Fink 2019 and we base our review analysis on fifty-eight journal articles. The systematic literature review results show a significant increase in the number of CSR article publications and the extent and trend of disclosure. The majority of prior research was based on questionnaires to evaluate the HEIs curriculum and focus on the CSR implication process. However, HEIs are still lagging behind in CSR implication and disclosure, and with a long way to go to obtain sustainability goals. From the study, several opportunities for future research emerged. This study can be useful for HEIs policymakers and practitioners to access the usefulness of CSR implications and disclosures in HEIs. In addition, this analysis assists scholars to explore in-depth the uncovered points related to CSR in HEIs context. This is the first systematic review of CSR implications and disclosures that comprehensively covers higher education institutions as a sector and presents a reference for academic literature from 2004 to 2020. Full article
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Article
University as Change Manager of Attitudes towards Environment (The Importance of Environmental Education)
Sustainability 2020, 12(11), 4568; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12114568 - 03 Jun 2020
Cited by 14 | Viewed by 2847
Abstract
The university is an essential participant in education, a key place where societal change processes are developed. So, it must be a place to bring up current challenges and social requirements. That is the reason why it holds the responsibility to assure the [...] Read more.
The university is an essential participant in education, a key place where societal change processes are developed. So, it must be a place to bring up current challenges and social requirements. That is the reason why it holds the responsibility to assure the creation of knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values in the students to achieve an effective solution to environmental issues. The objective of this research was the assessment of the attitudes, knowledge, and pro-environmental behavior in university students from different faculties, studies, and degrees, as well as their influence in this group. The results show that most of the students have previous concepts of environment, and they consider that a good environmental education is necessary to solve the environmental issues that they have around. This proves that key factors in attitudes become essential elements for changing them. The differences made by gender and studies in several fields in attitudes (cognitive and emotional levels) are also confirmed. Full article
Article
Moving from Social and Sustainability Reporting to Integrated Reporting: Exploring the Potential of Italian Public-Funded Universities’ Reports
Sustainability 2020, 12(8), 3172; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12083172 - 15 Apr 2020
Cited by 15 | Viewed by 2613
Abstract
Over recent years, the meaning of accountability has evolved and has reshaped what public sector institutions are expected to account for and how. Consequently, a large number of initiatives have emerged promoting non-financial reporting. In this context, public universities have started to experiment [...] Read more.
Over recent years, the meaning of accountability has evolved and has reshaped what public sector institutions are expected to account for and how. Consequently, a large number of initiatives have emerged promoting non-financial reporting. In this context, public universities have started to experiment with sustainability reporting initiatives, but these efforts are still limited and challenged by the parallel development of multiple forms of reporting, which include integrated reporting (IR). IR has been interpreted as a further step in the reporting journey, suitable for representing the creation of public value and addressing accountability pressures. The current research aims at understanding if and how IR constitutes a feasible next step for improving the reporting practices of public universities. For this purpose, the research carries out a content analysis of social or sustainability reports written by a number of Italian public universities to find out which of the key elements of IR have already been included in such reports. Results show that some of those elements are already included, but often in a fragmented and non-homogeneous way. The findings pave the way for further considerations on how the potential adoption of IR may strengthen the value of social and sustainability reporting by integrating the information reported in different documents, fostering toward a bureaucracy that is more sustainable and providing more opportunities of innovation in reports on public sector organizations’ accountability. Full article
Article
Sustainability Practices of Higher Education Institutions in Hong Kong: A Case Study of a Sustainable Campus Consortium
Sustainability 2020, 12(2), 452; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12020452 - 07 Jan 2020
Cited by 23 | Viewed by 2831
Abstract
Eight University Grant Committee (UGC)-funded public universities in Hong Kong positively and successfully responded to the global call for sustainability efforts in higher education institutions (HEIs). Various initiatives are transpiring within these eight campuses. The Hong Kong Sustainable Campus Consortium (HKSCC) was co-established [...] Read more.
Eight University Grant Committee (UGC)-funded public universities in Hong Kong positively and successfully responded to the global call for sustainability efforts in higher education institutions (HEIs). Various initiatives are transpiring within these eight campuses. The Hong Kong Sustainable Campus Consortium (HKSCC) was co-established by eight UGC-funded universities, which is an excellent example of integrating resources and efforts to achieve sustainable development goals and exert positive social impacts. Through interviews with HKSCC administrators and members and reviewing relevant documents, this study aims to examine the roles and challenges of HKSCC toward Hong Kong HEIs’ sustainability efforts, and present the good practices and achievements of HKSCC. Findings of this study reveal that although HKSCC and each UGC-funded university contribute in reaching the sustainability goals, they should pay considerable attention to the external impact of sustainability practices on communities and society. Moreover, we propose that the sustainable development of public universities in Hong Kong should look beyond the narrowed definition of sustainable development and broaden their roles to exert a social impact by addressing the negative consequences of the massification, privatization, and internationalization of higher education. Full article
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Article
Assessing Sustainability and Its Performance Implications: An Empirical Analysis in Spanish Public Universities
Sustainability 2019, 11(19), 5302; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11195302 - 26 Sep 2019
Cited by 12 | Viewed by 1892
Abstract
This paper contributes to the literature about sustainability assessment and goes a step further by studying the effect on university performance. The aim is to analyze, from an external perspective, the relationships between the three dimensions of sustainability in universities (environmental, economic, and [...] Read more.
This paper contributes to the literature about sustainability assessment and goes a step further by studying the effect on university performance. The aim is to analyze, from an external perspective, the relationships between the three dimensions of sustainability in universities (environmental, economic, and social), the similarities between universities, and the impact that it can have on performance. In order to carry out an empirical assessment for Spanish public universities, an index is proposed to measure sustainability through indicators for the three dimensions. The results show that there is a positive correlation among the three dimensions, but only the association between the environmental and the economic dimension is statistically significant, which evidences that there is not an integrated perspective of sustainability. Although there are no common patterns among universities, some similarities among them were found. Finally, the paper shows that the entities that integrate sustainability in their plans and activities have a positive impact on performance. Full article
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