Sustainability Strategies in Universities: Developing a Conceptual Framework

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2010 Oxford Business & Economics Conference Program
ISBN : 978-0-9742114-1-9
Sustainability Strategies in Universities: Developing a Conceptual Framework
Alison Wall
Louisiana Tech University
Department of Management and Information Systems
Ruston, Louisiana
(318) 348-2110
[email protected]
Laura Birou
Louisiana Tech University
Department of Management and Information Systems
Ruston, Louisiana
(239) 405-2800
[email protected]
Jerry L. Wall
Northwestern State University of Louisiana
College of Business
Natchitoches, Louisiana
(318) 357-5163
[email protected]
June 28-29, 2010
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2010 Oxford Business & Economics Conference Program
ISBN : 978-0-9742114-1-9
ABSTRACT
A 2009 corporate sustainability study involving 1,607 executives, from 36 countries,
revealed that 84% of respondents planned to initiate company-wide sustainability strategies and
71% intend to maintain or increase their existing dedicated sustainability budget (Aberdeen
2009). This increased importance placed on sustainability strategies is reflected in the growth
rate of clean energy jobs which has been more than double that of the rate for jobs in general
between the years of 1998 and 2007 (The Pew Charitables Trust, 2009) and this trend is expected
to continue. In spite of this business trend, institutions of higher education have not adopted
sustainability strategies at the same rate, creating an increasing disparity between market needs
and academic deliverables in the area of sustainability including adopting sustainability
strategies, producing intellectual capital, and knowledge workers. The purpose of this paper is to
provide a roadmap to close this gap by developing a framework for institutions of higher
education (HE) to adopt sustainable strategies successfully. The barriers and the key success
factors for execution will be identified through aggregating the results of individual case studies.
This data will also be used to construct a framework for the adoption of sustainability strategies
in university settings.
INTRODUCTION
The current concern around the development of sustainability strategies and their
integration into mainstream intent in any organizational operations is very important and
pertinent to the arena of higher education. Sustainability can be defined as “development that
meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet
their own needs” (Bruntland, 1987). In higher education, the term describes initiatives that are
aimed at increasing environmental accountability and social and environmental responsibility
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(Nicolaides, 2006). There has been growing concern and adoption of sustainable strategies in
Eastern universities for many years, evidenced by the number of published case studies (e.g.
Nicolaides, 2006; Price, 2005; Wright T. S., 2004; Carpenter & Meehan, 2002; Dahle &
Neumayer, 2001). In spite of this phenomenon, Western universities have been slow to adopt
sustainability initiatives (Krucken, 2003), which is contrary to the idea that universities need to
greatly reduce costs and benefit from an enhanced public image by being an initiator of
sustainable development (Meyer & Konisky, 2007).
Part of the reason that so few universities have adopted such strategies (Carpenter &
Meehan, 2002) is due to the fact that much of the research on university and general
organizational environmental policy is anecdotal, consisting of single university case studies
with few attempts to combine the knowledge gained from these studies to present a cohesive
framework for successful implementation. Further, there is no framework targeted specifically
to universities in executing sustainability strategies. Given the inherent differences in the
environments of the commercial sector, marked by market forces, government regulation, and
industry activists and that of higher education driven by budgets, grants, tuition, and prestige,
there is a need for such a model. In order to develop this framework, an overview of the
organizational strategies that have been identified for societal and environmental initiatives will
be presented. Then, those strategies executed in the university environment, will be presented.
Finally, the model developed through a synthesis of case studies and other relevant research will
be presented. This will be followed by ideas for future research, conclusions, and
recommendations. The next section will be devoted to an exploration of the research addressing
organizational change with respect to social responsibility. This will be followed by a narrower
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band of research devoted to stakeholders in higher education specifically dealing with
sustainability strategies.
HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT/LITERATURE REVIEW
Stakeholder Theory
Prior research has addressed the need for a greater concentration and acknowledgment of
the impact organizations have on the natural environment and have used a variety of theories to
support the organization’s obligation or incentive to engage in sustainable environmental
practices (Driscoll & Starik, 2004).
However, researchers must demonstrate the presence of
both intrinsic and extrinsic benefits (Tzschentke, Kirk, & Lynch, 2004). Intrinsic benefits and
the personal motivations of managers alone are insufficient to create a drive for such practices
and external factors such as cost reductions, subjective norms and negative consequences have
proven to be more influential motivating factors (Flannery & May, 2000). Often the external
factors come in the form of pressure from organizational stakeholders. Which forces the
consideration of the natural environment a consideration in the organizational decision making
process. Sensitizing organizational managers to the interconnectedness of their decisions and
organizational outcomes and how they affect the natural environment and organizational
performance (Flannery & May, 2000). Typically, when organizations attempt to address societal
issues, they adopt the stakeholder theory approach and address the most urgent stakeholders’
needs first (Freeman, 1984).
Stakeholder theory has been a cornerstone in the development of organizational policies
and practices for almost thirty years because of the influence stakeholder groups possess which
allows them to question prevalent institutional practices (Freeman, 1984; LaPlume, Sonpar, &
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Litz, 2008). It often paves the way for organizations to have a purpose beyond that which is
purely economic. Stakeholder theory is based on the theory of resource dependence that posits,
in order to survive, organizations must recognize those who contribute (either voluntarily or
involuntarily) to the achievement of goals and appropriately address their needs (LaPlume,
Sonpar, & Litz, 2008). It was originally intended for use in strategic management but has been
expanded into the realm of organization theory, business ethics, social issues, and, most recently,
sustainable development (LaPlume, Sonpar, & Litz, 2008). Organizational stakeholders include
any group or individual who can affect, or is affected by, the achievement of the organization's
objectives" (Freeman, 1984).
One important aspect of stakeholder theory is that it must include
both voluntary stakeholders, those who have invested some form of capital in the organization,
and involuntary stakeholders, those who are involved through placement into a potentially
hazardous position by the firm’s actions (Mitchell, Alge, & Wood, 1997). Prior to 1995 nonhuman forms, other than corporations or representative organizations, were not considered as
stakeholders because they did not have a recognizable will or desire and/or did not have the
power to politically punish the organization for failing to address their needs (Starik, 1995).
In
addition, stakeholders can be either beneficiaries or risk-bearers of organizational practices (Post,
Preston, & Sachs, 2002), which expands the pool of organizational stakeholders to include
boundary-less groups, such as the natural environment.
However, exclusion of the natural environment can lead to serious consequences in light
of the magnitude of vital resources derived from it that are essential for the performance of
organizations (Starik, 1995). Previous arguments have put forth the notion that the natural
environment is only able to impact organizational performance indirectly through governmental
regulations or representative groups’ influence (Orts & Strudler, 2002). Given the conflicting
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views of these groups concerning best practices for addressing environmental issues and the
increased cost associated with governmental regulations and compliance failures (Russo &
Fouts, 1997), this lack of direction and legal authority results in organizational compliance to
minimal requirements (Chen, 2001).
If organizations expand their priorities to include the
natural environment in their strategic planning of both their political initiatives and
organizational decisions, they can better address potential problems that can affect their longterm survival. The benefit of using stakeholder theory to make what appears to be intangible
issues appear tangible, and therefore, actionable allows organizational decision makers to
include the natural environment in strategic planning (Clarkson, 1995). In addition, recent
research shows that when an organization has poor environmental performance, the relationship
of the organization with many of their stakeholder groups becomes strained (Buysse & Verbelke,
2003). This relationship has become increasingly important, as more organizational stakeholders
perceive that companies that do not undertake some discretionary societal initiatives are
unethical (Williams, 2009). The job of stakeholder theorists is to identify and support the
inclusion of any given entity, as a stakeholder in terms of the general characteristics a
stakeholder possesses (Phillips & Reichart, 2000).
Many theorists implement a narrow definition of a stakeholder as an individual or group
that has the ability to affect firm economic performance directly, while others implement a broad
definition. The broad definition, which is typically used by theorists attempting to include moral
and social issues such as human rights and the natural environment, awards stakeholder status
based on moral and ethical obligation and includes any that have an indirect ability to affect firm
performance (LaPlume, Sonpar, & Litz, 2008). However, the broad definition do not provide any
insight into how organizations can go about balancing the interests between various stakeholders
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(Orts & Strudler, 2002) and is considered by many to be the cause of criticisms of stakeholder
theory as a whole due to the treatment of a stakeholder as both the means and the ends of
organizational decisions (LaPlume, Sonpar, & Litz, 2008). This treatment may lead to increased
misappropriations and misallocations of funds and other organizational resources (Margolis &
Walsh, 2003) and create confusion by expanding decision-making beyond the formal legal and
economic boundaries of organizations. In addition, a narrow definition of a stakeholder that
focuses strictly on economic and financial interests has greater appeal and is more easily
incorporated into the long-term goal attainment of a firm (Orts & Strudler, 2002).
Regardless of the definition used, the inclusion of the natural environment as an
organizational stakeholder is still controversial; however, there remains widespread adoption of
stakeholder identification theory by organizational managers when determining which trade-offs
to make among various goals and objectives (Mitchell, Alge, & Wood, 1997). This adoption
may be due in part to societal pressure for organizations to make positive contributions to the
material well-being of society as a whole rather than simply addressing the needs of shareholders
(Margolis & Walsh, 2003). Further, the stakeholder issues that organizations consider affect the
type environmental policies that they adopt (Sharma & Henriques, 2005). The increased interest
of all stakeholders and the quantity of governmental regulations encourages organizational
decision maker’s to find a way to integrate sustainable practices into organizational processes.
Stakeholder theory is recognized as a viable option through which organizations can address
sustainability strategies. Its use in developing sustainable strategies facilitates organizational
decision makers understanding of the contextual circumstances in which sustainable strategies
will be successful.
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There exist two main theoretical approaches for stakeholder research and identification.
The first, which is used in this paper, is a normative theory of stakeholder identification, in
which researchers identify and logically explain the reasons for inclusion of certain groups as
stakeholders (Mitchell, Alge, & Wood, 1997). The second is a descriptive theory of stakeholder
salience, in which researchers identify the conditions surrounding the inclusion/exclusion of
stakeholder groups in management’s thinking (Mitchell, Alge, & Wood, 1997). The
instrumental approach focuses on how firm behaviors affect performance is a third less common
approach (LaPlume, Sonpar, & Litz, 2008). Stakeholder theory allows organizational decision
makers to consider factors that are common regardless of the methods through which they
choose to incorporate societal and environmental initiatives into their overall strategies, an
overview of which will be presented next.
Organizational Strategies for Societal and Environmental Initiatives
Societal initiatives are those that are beyond the scope of the typical economic, legal, and
ethical responsibilities that are required by stakeholder groups and have been traditionally been
considered discretionary. There are four basic approaches: reactive, defensive, accommodative,
and proactive that organizations implement when adopting societal initiatives (e.g. Carroll, 1979;
Clarkson, 1995; Jawahar & McLaughlin, 2001). Organizations can use one of the four strategies,
or a combination thereof, to address the interests of different stakeholder groups (Jawahar &
McLaughlin, 2001). The four strategies each offer distinct advantages and a brief overview is
provided next.
A reactive strategy is on in which an organization attempts to fight against societal
expectations and typically denies any culpability while refusing to address the needs of the
stakeholder adequately. An example of this type of strategy is evident in cosmetics companies
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continued use of lead in their lipsticks. In spite of stakeholder concerns, most companies
continue to use lead in the lipstick formulas, as there are no governmental regulations against its
use (Hepp, Mindak, & Cheng, 2009. Other examples would be the use of child labor and animal
testing in the production of goods.
A defensive strategy involves doing the minimum that is legally required, such as
following government standards like ISO 14000 and Environmental Protection Agency
regulations. While the organization does more than in the previous strategy by admitting fault,
they only do what is legally mandated. Defensive strategies are considered a more
legalistic/public-relations oriented approach. Defensive strategies are considered a form of
damage control, or a copycat strategy and offer no distinctive competitive advantage, merely
nullifying any disadvantage. Examples of defensive posturing include the recent incident with
Toyota in which, at first, they denied a problem only to admit the severity and prior knowledge
they had of the situation under immense public pressure (Toyoda, 2010). Another recent
example of defensive strategies is evident in the issues on Wall Street. Organizational decision
makers knew they had taken extreme levels of risk and the potential collapse; however, they only
adjusted their behaviors after governmental entities intervened.
An accommodative strategy involves the use of progressive actions to address
stakeholder concerns when they arise. This is also known as a quick response in this strategy;
the company does all that can be expected to address the concerns, but does not take any future
preventative steps. An example of an accommodative strategy is in SIGG’s recent recall of their
water bottles after discovering the bottles contained bysphenol-A. Although there is no
governmental regulation requiring companies to remove the chemical from their products, SIGG
issued a voluntary recall of all of their products for free replacement (Northrup, 2009).
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Proactive strategies are those in which the organizational decision makers attempt to
recognize stakeholder issues before they occur and prevent them from occurring. Those with a
proactive strategy are typically the industry leaders who are selected for benchmarking by other
organizations and are consulted when governmental regulations are being developed (Buysse &
Verbelke, 2003). Many companies have adopted a proactive sustainability strategy by creating
green zones around their office buildings and industrial parks. A specific example of this type of
strategy is evident in Subaru’s achievement of creating zero landfill waste and becoming a
dedicated wildlife refuge. These initiatives have yet to be adopted by competitors, creating a
position for Subaru to lead the industry in environmental policies (Subaru Environmental Policy,
2010). The most thorough proactive strategies begin at the product design stage and commonly
referred to as a "cradle to cradle" approach whereby an organization attempts to transform
products through the incorporation of ecologically intelligent design (McDonough & Braungart,
2002). Disney incorporated a proactive approach by reformulating all of the foods sold in their
theme parks to remove all transaturated fat below the global limits of 2-5 percent (Department
of Health and Human Services: Food and Drug Administration, 2003) and further removed all of
their characters from any junk food promotions. As CEO Robert Iger stated, “A company such
as ours, with the reach we have, has a responsibility because of how much we can influence
people’s opinions and behavior. There’s also a business opportunity here.” (Marr & Adamy,
2006).
Although there is no conclusive evidence that sustainability leads to increased
performance, there has been evidence of reduced costs, and most organizations have adopted or
plan to adopt sustainability initiatives (The Pew Charitables Trust, 2009). Regardless of which
of the approaches organizational decision makers adopt, or which sustainability strategies they
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incorporate, there are likely to be similar factors surrounding the success and/or failure of the
strategies. Examples of common factors include making investments in sustainable
competencies related to production and manufacturing of goods and services, employee training
and skills, research and development, accounting, organizational policy, and strategic planning
(Buysse & Verbelke, 2003). Given this phenomena, the development of a framework through
which organizational decision makers can successfully identify and adopt sustainability
strategies is necessary. By focusing this paper on a specific industry, i.e. higher education, the
scope and potential factors of adoption of sustainable strategies is narrowed to provide a
foundation that can be used to address their role for other organizations and industries.
SUSTAINABILITY IN UNIVERSITIES
Universities are a unique environment in that they are driven by market share and
reputation, not by profits. In addition, their main contributions to society are through their
research and their ability to educate students not through a tangible product. While there exist
several opportunities for universities to pursue external funds through grants and contracts,
universities typically do not have a plethora of internal discretionary funds with which to make
investments in new technologies and developments on their campuses, further creating a unique
situation in which universities may operate. In spite of limited funds, many expect universities
to be at the forefront of movements such as sustainability and serve as the main source of change
in corporate strategies through the provision of knowledge workers who can create, develop and
implement new strategies (Krucken, 2003). In spite of a general recognition that sustainable
policies are needed and increased adoption among organizations, universities have been slow to
adopt such policies within their own organizational structure. Developing an understanding of
the differences behind adoption and success of sustainable policies in universities and
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corporations can help to clarify which sustainability strategies are most likely to succeed in a
given university environment, e.g. recycling, waste reduction, etc.
Even though the need for sustainable policies in universities has been recognized since
the early 1970s, much has centered around the need for education rather than the impact that
universities have on the environment (Clarke, 2006) and many United States institutions are only
now beginning to adopt these policies. While the external business environment has continued
to adapt and adopt new environmental technologies creating a demand for knowledge workers
that understand these issues, universities have been slow to adjust by adopting additional classes
and experiential opportunities (Krucken, 2003). This disconnect creates a problem for
universities in that no firm can maintain a sustainable competitive advantage without the support
of firm level competencies (Barney, 1991), in this case, the ability to prepare students for a
position in a firm that has adopted environmental strategies or technologies would be considered
a firm level competency. Additionally, many organizations that adopt sustainability initiatives
use inaccurate, uneven, or ill-communicated measures of success that has resulted in a negative
impact on the efficiency, quality and resilience of their programs (Aberdeen Group, 2009). As
long as universities remain a main source of knowledge workers, it is reasonable to suggest that
the universities that provide sustainability education and allow practical application stand to
benefit greatly and will have more competitive graduates who can fill this unmet demand
(Christensen, Thrane, Jorgensen, & Lehmann, 2009).
In spite of these opportunities, most universities have adopted reactive or defensive
strategies and only implemented sustainable initiatives when government policy mandates it
(Krucken, 2003). While this strategy is largely attributable to funding issues that are prevalent at
most universities (Carpenter & Meehan, 2002) it may place a university at a distinct
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disadvantage when attempting to attract new students and place its graduates at leading
organizations. Attempts at actively pursuing sustainability strategies are evident in a variety of
declarations adopted by many universities that will be briefly discussed next.
Declarations of Sustainability
The following provides a brief overview of the main declarations of sustainability, for a
more in depth review, see Wright, 2002, and Nicolaides, 2006. The first university directed
sustainability declarations was the Stockholm Declaration, followed by the more formal Tbilisi
Declaration in the 1970s (Wright, 2002). Each of these declarations made incremental advances
towards the recognition and implementation of sustainability strategies. Several other
declarations were also drafted during the 1970s and 80s, but the Talloires Declaration of 1990 is
considered the most significant with over 280 universities signatures (Nicolaides, 2006). The
significance of the Talloires Declaration is that it was the first to involve university
administrators in the developmental process, however, Wright (2002) and Nicolaides (2006)
report that many of the signatories have not actually adopted the policies and practices put forth
in the declaration. Therefore, this voluntary signing of declarations may be construed as an
agreement in principal, but not a proactive strategy. In fact, the signing of declarations may not
facilitate efforts as it allows universities to promote their status as a signatory while not adopting
sustainability and still benefiting from enhanced public image, i.e. “greenwashing” (Nicolaides,
2006). Paradoxically, many universities that have not taken the step to sign such declarations
have adopted environmental policies more readily than signatory universities (Wright, 2002). In
fact, over 60% of universities that have adopted environmental policies do not publicize them
(Price, 2005).
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Researchers have also found that universities do not have to adopt full environmental
management systems as called for in many of the declarations in order to be successful; however,
they do need to adopt formal environmental policies (Spellerberg, Buchan, & Englefield, 2004).
Given these findings, it becomes even more important to develop an understanding of which
university strategies were successful and the factors, such as stakeholder interests, surrounding
successful adoption of environmental policies. In fact, this research is that addresses the current
gap in knowledge and information is called for in Wright (2002). The current research is an
attempt to fill this gap by developing a framework. The next section, is dedicated to the
development of the through the utilization of stakeholder theory.
UNIVERSITY STAKEHOLDERS
Several factors may affect the success of sustainability strategies in universities. In order
to adopt appropriate sustainability strategies and potentially fill the demand for skilled
knowledge workers, universities must recognize and identify their stakeholders. For universities
these stakeholders include students, faculty, staff, administration, local communities, potential
employers, alumni, grants, funding institutions, contract entities, and others. Stakeholder
relationships are increasingly important for universities as two of their main sources of income
are from alumni, student tuition, taxes, and the employers of graduates through endowed
professorships and classroom buildings.
Research conducted by the Bridgespan Group indicates that there was a 79% increase in
sustainability courses between 2005 and 2007 in United States MBA programs (Stone,
Ciccarone, & Deshpande, 2009). Students were identified as the major contributing force for
this growth due an increasingly service-oriented culture. The service-learning pedagogy is based
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upon the idea that students gain meaningful experiences through volunteer work and community
service, beginning early in the educational years and are increasingly prolific in high school and
undergraduate programs. Students coming from these backgrounds expect the opportunity to
continue these experiences in their upper-level educational activities, which explains the increase
in presence and demand for sustainability courses in MBA programs.
Several studies have found that greater levels of similarities between student’s values,
goals, and attitudes and the university mission and policies will result in a lower propensity for
the student to drop out (Jevons, 2006) and increased loyalties to the university. These interests
and the service-orientation of students creates an opportunity for universities, especially business
schools, to provide hands on experience that is relevant to practical application by adopting
sustainability strategies. As students become more interested and active in sustainability
initiatives they will seek universities that adopt those same attitudes and environments to
encourage the development of knowledgeable employees that can provide cross-sector
experience (Stone, Ciccarone, & Deshpande, 2009). In addition, universities can generate
further adoption through the attainment of grants and publicity, and likely, attract more students
and higher quality faculty. Therefore based on this prior research, student interest will be
included as a variable in the framework (Stone, Ciccarone, & Deshpande, 2009; Jevons, 2006).
Through student and faculty involvement the University of Maine Farmington will be
able to save more than $17,000 per year in energy costs, 125 tons of carbon, and 164,000
kilowatt-hours of energy due to faculty and students pledged commitment to turn off their
computers and purchase ones that are energy-star compliant (Schaffhauser, 2009). In fact,
faculty members and their interests have been found to be the second most significant driver of
the adoption of sustainability curriculum is faculty interest (Stone, Ciccarone, & Deshpande,
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2009). At Harvard University’s Social Enterprise Initiative, over 95 faculty members have
agreed to participate through research and teaching, creating over 400 social enterprise cases
(The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, 2009). The results of the
previously mentioned study and the experience at Harvard attribute reasons for the failure of
sustainable policies to a lack of commitment and acceptance from faculty and staff and a lack of
understanding regarding the effects of university activities on the environment (Christensen,
Thrane, Jorgensen, & Lehmann, 2009). Other research indicates a need to expand the initiatives
beyond just faculty members and consider cross-discipline interactions, as well as the
involvement of upper administration, which may be especially difficult at larger universities.
Organizational research suggests that when employees are not convinced of the need for
sustainable initiatives or the organizations commitment, they must be convinced in order for the
initiatives to succeed (Newton, 2002). A lack of administrative involvement has been credited
by several researchers as the main cause for failing sustainable initiatives (Krucken, 2003), in
fact, over 50% of colleges within universities that have implemented these policies have failed to
involve senior administration (Carpenter & Meehan, 2002). Given that senior administrators
frequently interact with local communities and provide universities with publicity, it seems
logical that their involvement would be crucial to the success any initiative. Based on previous
research, this dynamic will be captured in the concept of organizational commitment
(Schaffhauser, 2009 Stone, Ciccarone, & Deshpande, 2009; The Association to Advance
Collegiate Schools of Business, 2009; Christensen, Thrane, Jorgensen, & Lehmann, 2009;
Newton, 2002; Krucken, 2003; Carpenter & Meehan, 2002).
Local communities provide a variety of support for universities by supplying staff and
other support and it is necessary that for universities to maintain a working and functional
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relationship with them. Therefore, it is important for universities to consider their impact on
their local community through the waste that is produced by students and their consumption of
resources. An opportunity to interact with the local community was adopted by the University of
Vermont in Burlington in which they collect food waste from various locations around campus
and take it to a composting site run by a local nonprofit business (FM Staff, 2004). Another
example of universities interacting with local communities is a George Washington University
where students created a community garden to provide food for homeless shelters, aesthetic
landscaping, and educational opportunities (George Washington University). Assessment of this
consideration will be captured in the concept of community interest (FM Staff, 2004; George
Washington University).
In spite of the opportunities to cut costs significantly, environmental initiatives are often
the first to go during budget cuts, especially when those cuts occur soon after adoption (Leal
Filho & Wright, 2002). This creates a unique opportunity for universities to pursue additional
funding through their other stakeholder groups, such as grant provider, businesses, or research
contracts. Syracuse University took advantage of a collaborative relationship in this manner and
was able to join with IBM and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority
to build a $12-million green computer center that will use half the energy of a typical computing
center (Nagel, 2009). The University of Minnesota-Morris also took advantage of a
collaborative relationship by partnering with McKinstry, a construction engineering, energy
services, and facility management firm which will help the university reach its goal of becoming
the first carbon-neutral university in the Midwest by 2010 (Schaffhauser, U Minnesota Morris
Pursues Carbon Neutrality by 2010, 2009). Therefore, collaborative partnerships will be
included (Leal Filho & Wright, 2002; Nagel, 2009; Schaffhauser, U Minnesota Morris Pursues
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Carbon Neutrality by 2010, 2009). These are just a couple of the examples of successful
sustainability strategies that have been implemented by universities, a better understanding of the
contextual factors and outcomes of sustainability strategies will provide insight into the best
practices for individual universities to adopt.
CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK
The model presented in this paper is exploratory and integrates stakeholder interests to
help universities move from adopting discrete strategic initiatives to adopting holistic and
successful sustainability strategies. The framework developed considers the impact of student
interest, organizational commitment, community involvement, and collaborative partnerships in
the creation of sustainability strategies. Student interest involves both the interest in taking
classes in sustainability education and practices, but also their interest in developing and
initiating sustainability practices at their university and in the community. The organizational
commitment construct involves the level of interest faculty, staff, and administration have in
teaching sustainability programs, serving as academic advisors for student initiatives, researching
sustainability programs and potential developments and serving on university sustainability
committees. The collaborative partnership construct includes perceptions of university adoption
of sustainability strategies and the business’s interest in participating in cooperative endeavors
with the university through joint development and financial commitments. The community
interest construct will involve a measure of local community need for and perceived impact of
the adoption of sustainability strategies at universities. Potential moderators include funding and
budget constraints, cross-disciplinary approaches, and upper administration involvement.
Outcomes include improved stakeholder perceptions, increased placement of graduates,
increased levels of student recruitment and retention, and increased alumni donations.
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Figure 1: Conceptual Framework
Student
Interesta
Community
Perceptions
+
Organizational
Commitmentb
+
Sustainable Strategies
+
Collaborative
Partnershipsc
+
Community
Interestd
+
Graduate
Placement
Student
Recruitment
and
Retention
Alumni
Donations
Construct Development Note:
a (Stone, Ciccarone, & Deshpande, 2009; Jevons, 2006)
b (Schaffhauser, 2009 Stone, Ciccarone, & Deshpande, 2009; The Association to Advance
Collegiate Schools of Business, 2009; Christensen, Thrane, Jorgensen, & Lehmann, 2009;
Newton, 2002; Krucken, 2003; Carpenter & Meehan, 2002).
c (Leal Filho & Wright, 2002; Nagel, 2009; Schaffhauser, U Minnesota Morris Pursues Carbon
Neutrality by 2010, 2009)
d (FM Staff, 2004; George Washington University)
FUTURE RESEARCH
Future research should involve collecting data from universities in order to assess the
proposed relationships identified by research and delineated in the conceptual framework. Given
that the majority of research on university adoption of sustainable strategies is on single case
studies, a potential direction for future research would be to combine the results of the current
strategies in order to better develop a list of successful factors. While Wright (2004) created a
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St. Hugh’s College, Oxford University, Oxford, UK
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2010 Oxford Business & Economics Conference Program
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guideline for the adoption of sustainable policies, her recommendations were based on the results
of a single university in Canada. In addition, very little academic research has been conducted in
the United States on this topic as it pertains to universities and a comparison needs to be made
between Eastern and Western universities. Several universities have begun to adopt energy
efficiency plans and waste reduction plans which indicate a potential interest in this topic and a
potential for data collection. As these initiatives take effect and universities begin to see results,
there could be even greater opportunity to identify key sustainability strategies that universities
can implement and perhaps carry over into the external business environment.
CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS
The reason that a university setting is the focus of this paper is that universities, act as an
incubator of ideas, are in a unique position to affect future business leaders and practices. This
paper develops a conceptual model based on prior research, which identifies the independent
variables necessary to execute a sustainable strategy at a university level effectively. While so
universities have begun to adopt sustainability strategies, the majority have only taken the bare
minimum approach neither preparing their students to lead in the green economy nor fulfilling
their obligation to stakeholders in the employment sector for clean energy jobs.
The lack of sustainability adoption also creates a problem for the development of future
initiatives (Wright, 2002). This problem is created because research professors may not feel
encouraged to participate in sustainable research activities (Christensen, Thrane, Jorgensen, &
Lehmann, 2009) due to decreased rewards and recognitions than are associated with research that
is more in line with the goals and orientation of the university or their disciplines. As universities
begin to examine the potential towards the development of sustainability strategies, they should
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St. Hugh’s College, Oxford University, Oxford, UK
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consider the perspectives of their stakeholders as well as their ability to continue providing a
quality product, i.e. educated students and advances in education. In addition, universities
should identify their basic values and contributions and create their strategies in a bottom-up
approach in order to ensure they are appropriate. This puts universities in a unique position to
affect the legitimacy and adoption of desirable and innovative organizational strategies, such as
sustainability, through developing an interest and skill level in their graduates that prepares them
to confront these issues and strategies in an organizational setting.
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