Wednesday, 30 October 2013

University of Planetshire approach to integrating sustainability across the curriculum (Part 3 of EDUCATION pathway to a Sustainable University)

Note: Online satellites are in yellow.



As the key education provider and trainer of future leaders, decision-makers, educators and professionals in general, universities are increasingly expected to produce sustainability oriented and competent graduates to drive and contribute to society’s endeavours for a sustainable future. Therefore, integrating sustainability across the curriculum has become a key agenda in higher education.


However, as the contemporary literature indicates, for a typical university, integrating sustainability across its curriculum remains a challenge due to a number of reasons. For example, universities are organised around discipline-based structures, so cutting across discipline-boundaries as well as changes to curricula tends to face resistance. Moreover, discipline-oriented students and particularly academics tend to be uncomfortable in the context of sustainability, which is an emerging inter/trans-disciplinary area of study without much agreement on its parameters or definition.


This University of Planetshire (UoP) approach aims to address these issues in two ways. Firstly, it would adopt a range of indirect routes to complement the formal curriculum in terms of sustainability, turning to two other forms of curriculum opportunities in universities. Secondly, it would provide students and staff with a choice of three comfortable and interesting pathways to the world of sustainability: (1) Disciplines/subjects, (2) Interests (e.g. Energy) (3) Global regions (i.e. cultural).


The key stakeholders are of two types:

§  Internal: students and UoP professionals (i.e. academics, researchers, Sustainability/Estates team, management, Communications/Marketing team)

§  External: alumni, the local community, future students and other providers of higher and further education worldwide


The proposal is relevant to all universities in general, especially in the UK. For convenience, a fictitious UK university has been created, namely The University of Planetshire (UoP).


Vision, Mission and Aims


Vision: A community of UoP graduates leading the global endeavour for a sustainable future


Mission: For UoP to be recognised worldwide as a leading Sustainable University that produces sustainability-oriented and competent graduates needed for building a sustainable future



§  To help students to gain the necessary knowledge, skills and values to become sustainability-oriented and competent graduates in the future

§  To provide students with an opportunity to experience sustainable ways of living while on campus

§  To provide support in multiple ways (education, communication, research, networking, motivation) to the programme of embedding sustainability across the UoP curriculum

§  To provide stakeholders with networking opportunities to link with sustainability-oriented individuals, groups and bodies worldwide

§  To use the success of the UoP sustainability-in-the-curriculum efforts to support other HE agendas such as student recruitment, internationalisation and e-learning




The strategy adopted by this programme is of two-fold:

§  Core strategy

§  Supplementary strategy


Core strategy

Perceiving campus as a living laboratory for sustainability (Beringer and Adomssent, 2008), synthesise the three curricula opportunities – formal, informal and campus (Hopkinson et al., 2008) – in the context of an adapted version of the 4-C model comprising campus, curriculum, culture and community (e.g. Blake and Sterling 2011), bringing together students, staff and others in a positive relationship for developing sustainability oriented and competent graduates and also assisting them in their sustainability efforts after graduation.


Note: This approach would not propose any changes to the formal curriculum but would instead innovatively use informal and campus curricula opportunities to complement the formal curriculum with respect to sustainability.


Supplementary strategy

The principles of the supplementary strategy are as follows:

§  Integrate education, communication, research, networking and motivation to unlock the synergies of the three curricula opportunities (as experimented on the UNEP-recognised Sustainable University One-stop Shop

§  Address curriculum issues related to both content and pedagogy

§  Use multiple pathways for stakeholder engagement:

o   Disciplines (e.g. Sociology, Engineering, History, Business)

o   Interests (e.g. Energy, Carbon, Water)

o   Global regions (e.g. Europe, Asia)

§  Create among stakeholders discipline-based awareness of the dynamics of wider world’s sustainability issues, debate, developments and perspectives

§  Build on the existing strengths at UoP (e.g. expertise, centres, policies, practice, networks, student diversity, partnerships, alumni)

§  Cost-effectiveness, mainly through the use of free online resources (e.g. free website builders and social networking) and MS Word/ PDF combination for publications production (a more environment-friendly option)

§  Create a rewarding experience for the stakeholders (e.g. a global platform for celebrating achievements, networking opportunities)

§  For engagement, use both hard and soft means (e.g. research and poetry, respectively)

§  A host of outputs with simple, attractive and user-friendly content and structure

§  Open access to the online outputs to anyone (free of charge), but through UoP branded windows




The outputs of this proposed programme are as follows:

§  Planetshire Curriculum for a Sustainable Future: online one-stop shop, central platform, education, informal curriculum, disciplines, ESD

o   Social networking (including blog): networking, informal curriculum, education, communication, engagement

o   PDFs:

§  Flier: communication, marketing

§  Knowledge sheets: education, informal curriculum, campus curriculum, disciplines, interests (e.g. Water), global regions

§  Newsletter: communication, networking, marketing

§  Annual review: communication, networking, marketing

§  Research for a Sustainable Future website: research, ‘hard’ approach, informal curriculum, community (local to global)

§  Sustainable Campus website: operations, campus curriculum, interests pathway, good practice at campus, marketing

o   Green Ideas bank website (students to submit ideas on making the university more sustainable): operations, campus curriculum, motivation, engagement, participation

§  Sustainability in the Wider World website: community (local to global), informal curriculum, disciplines, ESD

§  Light Sustainability website: ‘soft’ approach, education, ESD, informal curriculum, quotes, stories, arts (e.g., poetry), motivation, engagement, cultural knowledge

§  Publications:

o   Academic papers: Research, ESD, campus curriculum

o   Press articles (with UoP professionals as resource persons): (mainly public) education, disciplines, UoP professionals’ expertise

o   Book: research, ESD

§  Help desk: One-to-one help for UoP stakeholders, guidance, information, networking, motivation

§  Notice boards network:

o   Subjects boards: disciplines, education, ESD, informal curriculum, discipline-based knowledge

o   Interests boards: interests (e.g. Energy), education, campus curriculum, scientific knowledge

o   Global regions boards: global regions, ESD, education, informal curriculum, cultural knowledge

§  Exhibitions:

o   World days (e.g. Water): education, informal curriculum, networking, motivation, engagement

o   Annual exhibition: education, communication, networking, motivation, marketing

§  A UoP-led Regional Centre of Expertise (RCE) on ESD (as part of UN University’s global RCE network, e.g. The RCE London education, informal curriculum, community (local to global), networking, motivation


Concluding remarks



§  Support for integrating sustainability across the curriculum of UoP without an interference on its formal curriculum (education)

§  Support for the UoP Sustainable Campus programme (operations)

§  Enhancement of reputation of UoP (communications/marketing):

o   as a producer of sustainability oriented and competent graduates (education)

o   as an innovative researcher on university sustainability (research)

o   as a provider of sustainability services to wider community free of charge, in terms of (public) education, communication, networking and motivation (outreach)

§  A cost-effective approach, comprising innovative use of free resources (free website builders, social networking and MS Word-PDF combination), implemented as an research (and development) project



This project proposal has been developed around a successful live model, branded as The Sustainable University One-stop Shop, which has been recognised in the recently published UNEP Greening Universities Toolkit (page 61). This approach has taken a relatively less complicated route as a research project under a supervisor with an interest in sustainability in general (or with a wide scope). Firstly, internal stakeholders are more likely to engage favourably with a research study. Secondly, a research project of limited period would lower the financial and administration burden on the university.




The next post will consider the tools and resources of the Planetshire approach in more detail.


You might be interested in the two previous blog posts on the EDUCATION pathway to a Sustainable University, which establish the landscape for the Planetshire approach to integrating sustainability across the curriculum:





Beringer, A. and Adomssent, M. (2008) Sustainable university research and development: inspecting sustainability in higher education research. Environmental Education Research, 14(6), pp.607-623.


Blake, J. and Sterling, S. (2011) Tensions and transitions: effecting change towards sustainability at a mainstream university through staff living and learning at an alternative, civil society college. Environmental Education Research, 17(1), pp.125-144.


Hopkinson, P., Hughes, P. and Layer, G. (2008) Sustainable graduates: linking formal, informal and campus curricula to embed education for sustainable development in the student learning experience. Environmental Education Research, 14(4), pp.435-454.

The Sustainable University One-stop Shop:
Satellite websites: News and Information | Research | Good Practice | Quotes | Blog | Diary | Micro-blog (Twitter)

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