Date of Award

Spring 2004

Project Type


Program or Major

Natural Resources and Environmental Studies

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Eleanor Abrams


There are emerging opportunities for institutions of higher education to respond to current environmental and public health crises. By setting institutional examples and modeling for others how to prioritize sustainability as a grounding framework for decision-making, institutions of higher education have an opportunity to facilitate society's transition to a more sustainable future. Sustainability principles stem from an international consensus that the pursuit of economic viability as an end in itself, conditioned by a neo-classical model of economics, does not maintain or enhance ecological health and human well-being. There are a number of universities worldwide who are making an effort to evaluate current policies and embrace sustainability however, there are no universities that could be characterized as 'sustainable'.

This study examines two interrelated points of debate with respect to the obstacles to integrating sustainability into the decision-making process in an institution of higher education. These are: (a) What parameters characterize the current decision-making process? What within the process obstructs the integration of sustainability principles? (b) What influences a decision-makers construction of a rationale for embracing or rejecting sustainability in everyday decisions? As entry points into the university decision-making process, this study focuses on operational policy with a comparative analysis of food services, purchasing and waste management. The data was collected and analyzed with the application of a grounded theory methodology.

The study illustrates how the conventional decision-making process integrates three dominant parameters, which shape decision outcomes: fiscal constraint, academic and operational divisions, and institutional values. These three factors are further influenced by the system of communication within the university. The study extends the analysis through a constructivist framework to examine the factors that influence an individual's understanding of the concept of sustainability and how that understanding is reflected in ones rationale as a decision-maker. The results of this study point to areas of future research that include the development of systems of knowledge-distribution for sustainability and the pursuit of institutional capacity to meet the needs of a sustainable society.