Critical attributes of sustainability in Higher Education: a categorisation from literature review

Claudia V. Viegas, Alan J. Bond, Caroline R. Vaz, Miriam Borchardt, Giancarlo Medeiros Pereira, Paulo M. Selig, Gregório Varvakis

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66 Citations (Scopus)
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Sustainability in Higher Education has been investigated mainly through examining institutional approaches, curricula content, or students’ and teachers’ perceptions of sustainability in practice. However, a deep characterisation of the foundations of this phenomenon is lacking. This article aims to address the existing lack of depth and comprehensiveness by identifying and categorising the critical attributes of Sustainability in Higher Education. Categories are the basic levels for knowledge classification, and critical attributes relate to the main perceived characteristics within categories. Both were structured through a literature review and a systematic analysis using the Proknow-C method. A set of 2,513 studies on sustainability in education and related fields, published between 2000 to 2015, enabled the identification of 259 as appropriate for devising four categories: foundations, knowledge, personal, and integrative assets with 4, 4, 4, and 3 attributes respectively. From these, 129 papers presented at least four relationships among attributes of all categories. An assessment between the attributes identified for the selected studies delivered 85 analyses, with the following findings: (i) epistemologies of Sustainability in Higher Education develop in learning context; (ii) creativity should better link foundational and personal assets; (iii) transdisciplinarity is an epistemic transgression; (iv) resilience of active learners emerges in knowledge and personal assets relationships; (v) knowledge deconstruction and affectiveness form active learning; (vi) personal assets need to fit to complex dynamics of reality. Our analysis provides a means of benchmarking existing practice for Sustainability in Higher Education, and can be used as the basis for building capacity in a systematic way.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)260-276
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Early online date17 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jul 2016


  • Sustainability in Higher Education
  • philosophy
  • epistemology
  • Interdisciplinarity
  • transdisciplinarity
  • knowledge

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