New article explores the contribution of sustainability assessment to policy development in higher education.
Universities worldwide are paying considerable attention towards integrating sustainability in their education, research, societal outreach and campus operations. However, a constant returning question within these attempts is: “how to measure the results of these integration efforts?”. Sustainability assessment is seen as an important aspect in light of this question. It provides information about the current state of sustainability integration, and guidance for future steps and initiatives. A lot of debate is going on about “what” needs to be assessed, and the way “how” things need to be assessed.
Different sustainability assessment tools are already available, showing a diversity in approaches. In the USA, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) developed the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS), offering a practical self-reporting tool for universities. In Europe, a new version of the Assessment Instrument for Sustainability in Higher Education (AISHE 2.0) has been developed by a team of university representatives from The Netherlands, Sweden, Austria and Spain. Other tools and instruments have been developed, based on national and regional needs. Since 2012, different initiatives are gathered online in The Platform for Sustainability Performance in Education, an initiative to provide follow up to the RIO+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.
Several sustainability assessment tools have been described and evaluated in the literature (e.g. in this publication and this blogpost), stating that sustainability assessment has a positive influence and contribution towards policy development. However, few argumentation is given for these statements. In a new article published in Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, the contribution of sustainability assessment to policy development in higher education is explored, providing empirical insights in the topic. The results show that a lot of possibilities are available when universities prepare and apply sustainability assessments, especially in guiding sustainability integration processes, developing policy and action plans, and supporting bottom-up sustainability initiatives. Despite many efforts to ensure systemic integration of sustainability, these possibilities are not explored to its full potential yet.
Full reference of the article:
Lambrechts, W. (2015). “The contribution of sustainability assessment to policy development in higher education”. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 40 (6), 801-816. DOI:10.1080/02602938.2015.1040719
Abstract of the article:
This article builds upon the experiences and results of the application of sustainability assessment instruments in higher education. First, a short overview of existing sustainability assessment tools will be provided, as well as their contribution towards the integration of sustainability in higher education. Second, a reflective case focuses on the use of sustainability assessment for policy development in higher education. This case is based upon the application of the Auditing Instrument for Sustainability in Higher Education in a Belgian higher education institution, focusing on four consecutive assessments in the department of Business Studies (2003, 2004, 2009, 2010). Based on the assessment reports and an evaluation of the assessments, the contribution of sustainability assessment to policy development is reflected upon. The article provides a research-based, reflective study, and focuses on the consecutive application of sustainability assessment tools, the contribution of sustainability assessment to policy development and the contribution of sustainability assessment to connecting a bottom-up approach to a top-down approach. The article results in specific recommendations on the use of sustainability assessment for policy development in higher education.