Beyond Operations: Improving the Assessment of Universities' Sustainability Efforts

School Psychology
Advisors: Christie-Joy Hartman, Ph.D. and Jeffrey Tang Ph.D.

Globally, at least two dozen sustainability assessment tools (SATs) have been used by higher education institutions to measure, benchmark, and communicate efforts to incorporate sustainability. However, SATs are in their infancy, and most focus primarily on campus operations and governance. The assessment of higher education institutions’ core elements, including Education, Research, and Engagement is currently insufficient. Further, many SATs tend to focus on internal performance (e.g., number of sustainability courses offered) rather than impacts on sustainable development (e.g., effect of student participation in environmental restoration). The goals of this applied research project are to identify SATs indicators that best capture sustainability progress and create a robust collection of assessment items that in combination would allow JMU, and perhaps other institutions, to better assess their non-operational activities’ internal sustainability performance and external impact on sustainable development. This poster presents preliminary results from the initial coding of the five tools revealed that more indicators focused on higher education’s core element of Education (86) than on the core elements of Research (66) or Engagement (50). For these three core elements of higher education, most indicators were performance indicators (177), and few (25) focused on the institution's impact on sustainable development or a proxy. For the STARS tool that JMU currently uses, only 8 indicators focused on impact or proxy, so the analysis yielded 17 impact or proxy indicators that could potentially be used for more robust sustainability assessment at JMU. A second independent coding is planned, and discrepancies will be reconciled. Also, very similar items will need to be combined. Then, the JMU Institute for Stewardship of the Natural World Committees will select the most relevant and valid combination of items (or combination of tools and items) for JMU.


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