A framework to enable sustainability-oriented transition activities in HEIs: Learnings from two case studies in Germany and Switzerland

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Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) can significantly contribute to sustainability transitions, as they facilitate research, education and knowledge transfer. The integration of sustainability in research touches many scientific disciplines and beyond this affects developments in the entire institution. Enabling a transition towards sustainability requires intense examinations and decisive activities. Even while the literature deals with potential activities and examples of best practice, the initiation phase of such activities has been poorly explored. This article attempts to address this gap by contributing to an enhanced understanding of the initiation of activities towards sustainability-related research by i) presenting a procedure which gives practical guidance in identifying opportunities of action for sustainability-related research in a the unique situation of a university and to launch implementation of them and ii) by proposing a framework to describe critical factors of the initiation phase of activities which bridges three perspectives: a) the consideration of stakeholder attributes of potentially involved persons; b) several types of boundary objects; and c) organizational features of involved institutions. With the two case studies of Leuphana University Lüneburg and University of Applied Science and Arts Northwestern Switzerland we indicate interested and motivated stakeholders as drivers for action. Further, the demand for exchange and networking within HEIs gave ground for activities of sustainability-related research in both cases. The boundary object served as useful concept to link stakeholder and organizational perspective in the action-oriented setting. In a critical discussion we explore the need for refinement of the conceptual components of the framework. Finally, we draw conclusions regarding the potential of transition towards sustainability in HEIs by further applying the procedure and refining the framework.
Original languageEnglish
Article number134605
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Publication statusPublished - 15.12.2022

Bibliographical note

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    Research areas

  • Higher education institution, Sustainability transition, Enabling approach, Sustainability-oriented research, Boundary object, Stakeholder attributes
  • Transdisciplinary studies