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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Sustainability in higher education : a case study of policy and practice at Vancouver Island University Hunter, Glenda Maria


This work focuses on implementation of sustainability policy and practice within a post-secondary environment at Vancouver Island University in British Columbia, Canada. It adopts a case study approach that is qualitative and exploratory in nature, and relies on data collected from policy documents, declarations and reports, and interviews with different groups on campus, including administrators, faculty and students. Research findings indicate sustainability initiatives are developed within a context of environmental, educational and leadership concerns on campus. Dominant and collaborative leadership strategies are apparent in transformation of policy into practice through an exercise of power “over” and power “with and to” relationships among members of the university community. Environmental and educational concerns lie at the heart of policy initiatives like the Energy Management Policy and Recycling Policy, and practices like composting, green building design, and instruction in marine based ecosystems and global studies programs. A number of factors have influenced sustainability initiatives on campus. These include the effect of international declarations and reports, government funding and policy decisions including carbon neutral legislation, the influence of community partners and the media, volunteer activities on campus, internal budget decisions, and research pursuits of faculty. The interplay of such factors has led to positive outcomes like creation of a formal Sustainability Policy, adoption of an energy management plan, and inclusion of sustainability curricula in academic and technology programs. Research indicates, however, that challenges remain in attracting support for sustainability across campus, and adopting important initiatives like alternative transportation strategies and disposal of e-waste. To address this, the work of sociologist Pierre Bourdieu is examined, including the concepts of habitus, field and capital. Bourdieu’s work helps explain why certain policies and practices are more successful than others, and why some initiatives remain unrealized on campus. Recommendations for dealing with this are put forward including enhancing communication strategies, encouraging greater involvement with community partners, increasing interdisciplinary activity, and creating incentives for sustainability behavior. Implementing these can help achieve what Bourdieu has referred to as a “transformation” of habitus to strengthen the social, cultural and symbolic capital of sustainability at Vancouver Island University.

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