The Role of Various Actors in Sustainability Uptake in Canadian Higher Education Policy and Practice: A Comparative Case Study
Higher education institutions (HEIs) are increasingly recognized for their role in contributing towards a sustainable future, and understanding how various stakeholders are influencing uptake in sustainability is crucial to realizing this goal. This study examined the role of actors, including that of networks and organizations, and the extent to which historically marginalized groups are influencing sustainability uptake in Canadian higher education policy and practice. Informed by critical education policy, organizational change, intersectionality, and a whole-institutional approach, data were collected from a sample of six HEIs using interviews, focus groups, document collection, and observations. Study participants included Board of Governors members, administrators, faculty, staff, students, and community members. Findings showed significant ways that various actors champion and collaborate within and across institutions and sectors to enact bottom-up and top-down sustainability initiatives. Student activism was found to be a key sustainability domain in which students champion sustainability uptake, including holding their administrators accountable, a group that was often found to resist meaningful sustainability action. Diversity of actors was described in terms of race and gender and there were a few considerations of intersecting social and environmental issues, including Indigenous land practices in sustainability uptake. This study has implications for how HEIs can move towards more transformative change for sustainability through supporting champions and strengthening collaboration within and across sectors. An intersectionality framework offers a new approach to researching sustainability in higher education; this approach provided insights on how HEIs can embody and center the values of social justice and equity in policy and practice, such as creating safe spaces for historically marginalized groups to be involved and using language that frames sustainability to include social justice and Indigenous perspectives. Future research is needed to examine how HEIs can better support administrators to navigate the neoliberal demands and contexts of their institutions and how to meaningfully build connections with Indigenous communities to inform sustainability initiatives in higher education.
Sustainability in higher education, actors, intersectionality, comparative case study, education policy and practice
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
School of Environment and Sustainability
Environment and Sustainability