Sustainable deployment of environmental management systems for higher education institutions: challenges and limitations

Juliette O'Keefe, Eddie Simpson, Ehsan Jorat (Lead / Corresponding author), Margi Vilnay

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Higher education institutions (HEIs) face unique barriers to implementation of environmental management systems (EMSs) compared to the private sector, where formal EMS approaches such as ISO 14001 are widely used. HEIs across the world have tended to adopt structured EMSs through less formal methods or apply bespoke approaches based on institutional drivers for implementation. This chapter explores organizational factors specific to HEIs that impact on their ability to implement and sustain formal EMS approaches. An in-depth review was undertaken examining key organization barriers to EMS adoption, and organizational factors specific to HEIs that can affect the successful implementation and sustainability of EMS approaches. The study finds that considerations of the key actors, existing organizational structures, governance and leadership, and resistance to change are important areas to consider in the implementation of an EMS within an HEI. UK HEIs are used as a case study to examine the relationship between EMS uptake and performance, and identify trends toward the adoption of various types of systems. We find that a trend toward the adoption of more formalized EMS approaches among UK HEIs contradicts the suggestion from the literature that less-formal approaches may be more suitable. The study challenges the assumption that formal approaches to environmental management such as ISO 14001 and Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) provide the gold standard EMS, suggesting that alternative standards may be more suitable in the context of the unique organizational structures and key barriers to EMS implementation faced by HEIs.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUniversity Partnerships for Sustainable Development
EditorsEnakshi Sengupta, Patrick Blessinger, Taisir Subhi Yamin
Place of PublicationBingley
PublisherEmerald Group Publishing Limited
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781789736434, 9781789736458
ISBN (Print)9781789736441
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jun 2020

Publication series

NameInnovations in higher education teaching and learning
ISSN (Print)2055-3641


  • Higher education institutions
  • Environmental management systems
  • Key actors
  • Organizational structures
  • Sustainability
  • University


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