September 30, 2022

ICSD Spotlight: Universities Are On a Path to Sustainability, but None Have Arrived, Yet

Dr. Wendy Purcell has been working to change the course of higher education. Speaking at the International Conference on Sustainable Development 2022 in September, she argued it is time to develop a model for university education that goes beyond the walls of the institutions.

University institutions are on a journey toward sustainability. Some have taken the first steps and others are more advanced, but none have reached their goal, yet, Dr. Purcell says.

Dr. Purcell is a Research Scholar at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (USA), due to publish her manifesto for change in 2023 in The Bloomsbury Handbook of Sustainability in Higher Education.

Acknowledging that she does not know what an institution with an optimal model for higher education would look like, Dr. Purcell and her collaborators nevertheless have envisioned points that universities could take into account if they want to aspire to a profound internal transformation.

True, profound change must be nurtured by “new models of leadership and governance and ‘third-way’ professionals, capable of crossing both the academic and the professional spheres,” Dr. Purcell says.

Through these postulates, it is possible to appreciate “how a university working with and for sustainability can influence, effect and amplify change beyond the institution, working with and through others,” Dr. Purcell says.

The researcher is convinced that “sustainability-led transformation can take place at the level of the institution, the organization, the culture, the place (anchor) and the students,” she says.

In other words, sustainability will be adopted as a driver of change within institutions of higher education as they react and respond to influencing factors external to the academy.

Dr. Purcell’s vision aligns with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as part of its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The goals are intended to enable the international community to build a more sustainable global economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

For more, please see the International Conference on Sustainable Development’s website:

About the Author

Claudia Alemañy Castilla is the 2022 Engineering for Change Editorial Fellow and an award-winning journalist who splits her time between homes in Cuba and Spain. Among her accomplishments, Ms. Alemañy Castilla has developed the COVID-19 Cuba Data Project for Juventud Técnica Magazine in Havana, Cuba, where she was a staff reporter specialized in science, technology and environmental journalism. She has also reported for Women in Science (a publication of País Vasco University), the Cuban Institute of Cultural Research ‘Juan Marinello,’ and others.

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