Environmental management systems – a way towards sustainable development in universities : ”It was difficult at first … then we started talking with our colleagues and we saw it in a longer perspective”

Abstract: The economic development in the world today makes increased consumption of goods and travelling available for more people around the world than ever before. This results, however, also in increased production and spreading of substances that are hazardous both to human health and to the ecosystem globally. Therefore, education to increase knowledge, awareness, motivation, and action competence on all levels is important in the strategy for a sustainable development, which satisfies the basic human needs for all people without damaging the life support system of our planet. The challenge for universities is how to assure that their students are exposed to the questions that are relevant for sustainable development from the various disciplinary perspectives so that they will be able to make professional and private “sustainability-promoting” decisions in the future. The overall purpose of this thesis is to contribute to the knowledge and understanding of the implementation of environmental management systems in universities and how the systems can be a tool in integrating sustainable development in higher education. The research is motivated by the fact that many Swedish universities have implemented environmental management systems and although there are many studies of environmental management systems in industry and some in public organisations, many features of their use in the university context are still poorly understood. The thesis presents an in-depth evaluation study of the implementation of environmental management systems (EMS) in Swedish universities with comparisons to industry. Based on the evidence from the studies the main argument of the thesis is that the environmental management systems can indeed function as an effective means to integrate sustainable development in all university activities, including education. The regular audits required by a certified environmental management system keep the activities on the university agenda and provide opportunities for follow-up, for feedback and for further development. The emerging research on sustainable development can contribute to lifting sustainable development the on the academic agenda from different disciplinary perspectives. The study suggests also that, although internal factors are essential in the EMS implementation, without external follow-up and feedback, sustainable development risks remaining a policy among others without a real change in universities.

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