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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Recreating the university from within : sustainability and transformation in higher education Moore, Janet Lynne


Universities around the globe have signed international declarations and agreements that recognize the importance of higher education in creating a more sustainable future. These agreements oblige universities to integrate sustainability programs into the teaching, research and community frameworks of higher education. In 1997, the University of British Columbia (UBC) adopted a Sustainable Development Policy that states the campus will adhere to sustainable practices in ALL of its actions and mandates. It also states that all students who attend UBC will be educated about sustainability. This dissertation reports on an in-depth case study of the University of British Columbia to examine how the educational component of the Sustainable Development Policy is being addressed. I investigated the role of sustainability in current undergraduate programs and the barriers to move sustainability education forward at the university level. Using an integration of activist oriented research (participatory action research and collaborative inquiry) I investigated current practices and identified possible pathways for institutional transformation. The study includes voices from a range of decision-makers, faculty, staff and students who contemplate sustainability education. I utilized a range of techniques to engage the university community in a dialogue about sustainability education by engaging myself in a series of projects including a collaborative writing project, faculty and student workshops and in-depth interviews. The results are presented as a series of seven articles that have either been published or submitted to journals. I identified a number of barriers to creating sustainability education programs, which included the competitive and disciplinary environment of the institution, unclear priorities and decision-making structures and misdirected criteria for evaluating progress. Recommendations included promoting collaborative models for teaching and research, promoting transdisciplinarity, integrating research, teaching and service, and coordinating planning, decision-making and evaluation. Other recommendations included infusing sustainability into university plans and priorities, focusing on personal and social sustainability and creating space for pedagogical transformation.

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