Many roads lead to sustainability: A process-oriented analysis of change in higher education

Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesTransfer


– The purpose of this paper is to comparatively analyse activities to integrate sustainability in teaching, research and operational practice in different higher education institutions, which differ both in the degree of how far implementation goes and in regards to the most active stakeholders. Against that background, the paper explores, in a process‐oriented focus, which drivers and barriers are experienced as most important and how they relate to each other.

– A comparative multi‐case study has been conducted, with two main steps to structure the research process: first, desktop research was used to select appropriate cases in a theoretical sampling. Second, data from interviews with relevant stakeholders in each case were analysed according to the constant comparison method.

– Across all cases, three distinctive patterns of implementation processes emerged, each of them with a unique set of influencing factors. For each pattern, drivers and barriers, as well as their relevance, are experienced differently and specific key constructs can be found to explain the implementation process.

Research limitations/implications
– The research focused on German institutions of higher educations and all cases are drawn from that population, which might limit the generalizability.

Practical implications
– It is hoped to provide valuable insights for future implementation processes and for various ways to support a sustainable transition in higher education.

– This is one of the first papers to consider the process of implementation and the interaction between drivers and barriers. The value of the paper lies in its potential to help in understanding what role different drivers and barriers play in different patterns of implementation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)160-175
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 04.2013

Bibliographical note

The writing of the article was supported by a fellowship in the PostdocProgramme of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

    Research areas

  • Sustainability education
  • Comparative case study, Germany, Higher education, Higher education for sustainability, Organizational change, Sustainability, Universities