We identified that both collaboration and competition (inherent in university ‘cultures’ and within sustainability initiatives) are important for Sustainability in Higher Education (SHE) and can be used to initiate and sustain change processes. However, this simultaneous emphasis can create challenges: for instance, sustainability initiatives often involve working across existing boundaries which can lead to increasing territoriality as people become protective over their own ‘turf’, or competition for who ‘does sustainability best’.
The study revealed the complexity that lies ‘beneath the surface’, with key findings as follows:
- Contradictions and tensions seem to characterise change processes for SHE – and these can undermine the very sustainability of change programs.
- Power (and how it is perceived) shapes individual agency and contributes to contradictions, ultimately influencing processes of organisational change. In this context, dialogue, relationships and networks act as mediators with the ability to include and exclude individuals and groups from sustainability initiatives.
If we want to move towards real transformation for sustainability and practicing what we preach, then we have to bring such challenges to light and address them more openly. Being more transparent also helps us to be less politically naïve about change processes, which are imbued with power and politics. First, we need for more individual and collective reflexivity in our institutions and research – through genuine dialogue – reflecting on who is engaged with change processes and why, and acknowledging the multiple sustainability ‘cultures’ within a university. In addition to supporting individuals, it would be useful to start to address hidden contradictions and tensions that impact on individual and collective involvement. The ‘human’ dimensions of organisational change processes must also be accompanied by flexible and human-centred structures and management approaches, and a move towards ‘double loop’ organisational learning.