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Ecological regional analysis applied to campus sustainability performance
Zeitschriftenausgabe (-> Ref.Nr):
International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education
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Sustainability performance in higher education is often evaluated at a generalized large scale. It remains unknown to what extent campus efforts address regional sustainability needs. This study begins to address this gap by evaluating trends in performance through the lens of regional environmental characteristics.

Four sustainability metrics across 300 North American institutions are analyzed between 2005 and 2014. The study applies two established regional frameworks to group and assess the institutions: Commission on Environmental Cooperation Ecoregions and WaterStat (water scarcity status). Standard t-tests were used to assess significant differences between the groupings of institutions as compared to the North American study population as a whole.

Results indicate that all institutions perform statistically uniformly for most variables when grouped at the broadest (Level I) ecoregional scale. One exception is the Marine West Coast Forest ecoregion where institutions outperformed the North American average for several variables. Only when institutions are grouped at a smaller scale of (Level III) ecoregions do the majority of significant performance patterns emerge.

Research limitations/implications
This paper demonstrates an ecoregions-based analytical approach to evaluating sustainability performance that contrasts with common evaluation methods in the implementation field. This research also identifies a gap in the literature explicitly linking ecological sub-regions with their associated environmental challenges and identifies next research steps in developing defensible regional targets for applied sustainability

Practical implications
The practical implications of this research include the following: substantive changes to methodologies for rating sustainability leadership and performance, a framework that incentivizes institutions to frame sustainability efforts in terms of collaborative or collective impact, a framework within which institutions can meaningfully prioritize efforts, and a potential shift toward regional impact metrics rather than those focused solely on campus-based or generalized targets.

The authors believe this to be the first effort to analyze North American higher education sustainability performance using regional frameworks.
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