Strategic Planning for Sustainability

Tags: sustainability | strategic planning

This case study will relay the importance of including strong sustainability goals in higher education institutions’ strategic plans and point to ways in which strategic plans can be strengthened.

Strategic plans help higher education institutions (HEIs) envision and communicate organizational goals and the actions needed to achieve those goals. To date, there has been little empirical research on the connections between strategic planning and sustainability in higher education.

To address this gap, the Sustainability and Education Policy Network (SEPN) examined the connections between strategic planning and sustainability uptake in the strategic plans of a sample of 50 Canadian HEIs. Each HEI’s strategic plan was classified according to type of institutional sustainability response, using an adapted version of Sterling’s 2013 framework, including nil, accommodative, reformative, and transformative approaches.

SEPN’s key findings point to the need for stronger engagement with sustainability at the strategic planning level in the Canadian higher education sector. In particular:

  • A total of nine strategic plans (21%) did not include any discussion of sustainability and most strategic plan engaged with sustainability in shallow ways (e.g., weak language related to sustainability, a lack of specific sustainability goals)
  • Institutions who had undertaken sustainability assessments or were otherwise affiliated with a sustainability in higher education professional association were more likely to have stronger sustainability responses in their strategic plans

The case study will outline barriers to adopting integrative sustainability innovations and argue that integrative, holistic, and concrete institutional sustainability goals should be part of institutional strategic planning. Clearly articulated sustainability targets are more easily monitored by accountability mechanisms, which may ultimately improve sustainability uptake.