Maturation of sustainability in engineering faculties –: From emerging issue to strategy?

J.J.A. Hugé*, Claudia Mac-Lean, Luis Vargas

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Although higher Education Institutions (HEIs) have seen a blossoming of sustainability initiatives of various kinds in recent years, the variety of institutional and socio-economic contexts brings about an equally plural interpretation and implementation of these sustainability change processes. This study focuses on the organizational change processes in six different universities across five countries (Belgium, Chile, Finland, Sweden & the United States of America), by way of a qualitative analysis of in-depth expert interviews. We apply the social issue maturation framework to identify, describe and assess patterns of change across HEIs, with a focus on engineering schools as the inherent inter-disciplinarity of engineering provides a promising entry point for sustainability reflection and action. Our findings indicate that sustainability processes often begin as ad hoc processes which grow and mature over time as a range of different actors join in. The commitment of a small team of ‘sustainability champions’ is a key factor for success, as is at least a tacit support from the institution’s hierarchy. Sustainability in HEIs is increasingly connected with sustainability in the private sector and with other public actors. Moreover there is a growing acknowledgement of the interactions between society, industry and academic engineering programs and projects. Ideally, sustainability change processes are gradually up-scaled from isolated efforts to coordinated actions, involving both academic and non-academic actors within and outside the institution.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4277-4285
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • engineering education
  • sustainability
  • sustainable development
  • sustainable higher education
  • universities


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