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Thesis title: UK university sustainability reports: an exploratory analysis of an emerging practice
Start year: 2016
Sustainability Reporting in Higher Education (SHE) is a growing agenda for many higher education institutions (HEIs). At the Paris COP21 agreement 195 signatory countries agreed on implementing sustainability reporting processes for the monitoring of progress while achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will necessitate coordinated global monitoring (Lu et al. 2015). Consequently, the profile of sustainability assessment and reporting is rising.
In 2013, following government request, all UK universities make sustainability disclosures publicly available on their websites. These cover eco-efficiency as well as curriculum and research provision (Lidstone et al. 2015; Vaughter et al. 2016). Reporting on an institution’s sustainability activity is seen as enhancing and systematising universities’ sustainability performance (Beveridge et al. 2015; Ceulemans et al. 2015a).
University sustainability reporting has recently become of interest to various stakeholders: first of all students, the vast majority of whom (80%) believe that ‘sustainable development is something which universities should actively incorporate and promote’ according to the NUS and HEA survey on student attitudes to sustainability (Drayson and Taylor 2015: 632). Moreover, the People and Planet, a student run NGO which is considered a major driver for sustainability in the UK HE sector (Wyness and Sterling 2015) scrutinises universities’ sustainability disclosures to collect evidence for the construction of the University League, which ranks universities on their sustainability performance.
Apart from students, sometimes it is the government that requires universities to report on their sustainability performance as is the case in Wales, where education for sustainable development is written in the constitution (Glover at el. 2011). In England, the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) for Higher Education has complemented its audit criteria with an education for sustainable development (ESD) component and its quality audits now include the screening of HEIs sustainability credentials (QAA, 2014). It thus appears that various parties, like students, the government and auditing organisations widely scrutinize universities’ reported sustainability performance.
This increasing interest in reported sustainability performance is reflected in the Green Gown Awards, which recognize sustainability excellence in the tertiary education sector. In 2016, a separate, new category was introduced which awards excellent Sustainability Reporting practices among HEIs. While the significance of sustainability reporting in higher education is rising, there seems to be lack of research on the sustainability reporting practices of universities (Lidstone et al. 2015; Ceulemans et al. 2015b). The current study aims to address this gap by exploring how UK universities report on their sustainability performance.
Sustainability in Higher Education (SHE), Higher Education Sustainability Reporting (HESR), Sustainability Assessment
Education for Sustainable Development ESD, Social Responsibility and Sustainability (SRS), Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)