Pathways of universities’ transformation for sustainability

Leuphana University

Universities worldwide have a clear mandate to participate in the endeavour for sustainable development through institutional transformation. Moreover, it is recognised that universities are well-positioned to identify and navigate pathways of transformation towards sustainability given their propensity for consideration of the extended time horizon for sustainability outcomes . Yet, despite their being organisations of learning, they struggle to set up structures to promote their own organisational learning. This is a problematic paradox as researchers repeatedly place universities at the centre of the ‘fundamental transformation’ that sustainable development demands of social actors, organisations, institutions and societies. Therefore, universities must also work on their own transformations if they are to operationalise their aspirations to implement sustainable development in their surroundings. This is an especially urgent imperative given the wicked problems they are tasked with providing solutions for, such as relieving anthropogenic pressures on the global environment and attaining population wellbeing in the face of growing inequality.

Leuphana Universität Lüneburg, Arizona State University, and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

We analyzed three case studies of universities that have transformed themselves as organisations towards sustainability with signature pathway approaches: Leuphana Universität Lüneburg, Arizona State University, and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. These universities first invested significant time, energy, and human resources in learning about and researching themselves, before embarking along differentiated pathways of transformation. They also showed that any blueprint of organisational transformation for sustainability should be rooted in the intrinsic logic of the organisations in question. This may prove meaningful for leaders (youth, academic or otherwise) elsewhere to prioritise specific asset development within their organisations, as they show how to shape competencies conducive to organisational transformation for sustainability. They also provide stepping-stones for knowledge actors in universities to navigate organisational and societal transformation towards sustainability, in light of the radical and regenerative adaptation that must now take place.

Alex Baker-Shelley, Annemarie Van Zeijl-Rozema & Pim Martens (2020) Pathways of organisational transformation for sustainability: a university case-study synthesis presenting competencies for systemic change & rubrics of transformation, International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology.

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