Transformational Change and 3rd-Way People

Guest post written by Wendy M. Purcell, PhD FRSA, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

The ISCN Conference 2022 opened with the session ‘Sustainability: A Manifesto for Change and ‘Third-way’ People’ that brought together authors from the forthcoming Bloomsbury Handbook of Sustainability in Higher Education (Editors: Wendy M. Purcell & Janet Haddock-Fraser; due out early 2023). Julie Newman (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA) and Shana Weber (Princeton University, USA), authors of Chapter 13 ‘Accelerating Response to a Changing Climate: Solutions Across Scales’, Julio Lumbreras (Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Spain) author of Chapter 15 ‘University-City Partnerships for Sustainable Urban Transformations’ (co-authored with Jaime Moreno-Serna, Guillermo Palau, Jordi Peris, Valentia Oquendo, Teresa Sánchez-Chaparro, and Carlos Mataix), and Dave Gorman (The University of Edinburgh, UK), author of Chapter 16 ‘Transformational Change: Lessons from the University of Edinburgh (co-authored with Michelle Brown) and I (author of Chapter 14 ‘University Leadership and Governance Enabling Sustainability and the SDGs’) each shared highlights from our chapters. The book concludes with a ten-point manifesto for change in higher education fueled by sustainability and engagement with the SDGs.

The session then launched a dialogue with attendees around the topic of ‘third-way’ people, i.e., those able to traverse the academic and professional domains of a university or college to advance pan-institutional sustainability projects. It is worth noting that Julie, Shana, and Dave are each based in a university ‘green office’, while Julio works closely as a member of a cross-university interdisciplinary institute charged with addressing the SDGs. They each shared examples of ‘boundary spanning’ projects, revealing how they navigated the inherent tensions of discipline-based scholarly communities, professional domain groupings, and student subject communities. In this way they are able to advance sustainability projects that are multi-faceted, unbounded, and emergent.

As the work of sustainability in higher education extends beyond a focus on energy and estates into institutional strategy and academic mission, so too then university green offices are assuming new responsibilities. They are working horizontally across functions of the institution, vertically within the hierarchy of institutional leaders and subject leaders, engaging with stakeholder groups internally and externally, and extending their reach locally and globally. They are networked leaders, collaborating across these different boundaries to advance sustainability. To address the complexities inherent in the pursuit of sustainability within higher education and through the academy into society at large, demands leaders able to connect people to practice, translate strategy to action, and create value through delivery of the mission and brand.

The ISCN wants to keep this conversation going, and is furthering the webinar series featuring authors from the Bloomsbury Handbook of Sustainability in Higher Education.

Webinar 2:
Webinar 3:
Fourth webinar details to come

Photo by Possessed Photography on Unsplash