Sustainability Assessment Questionnaire

The Sustainability Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) for Colleges and Universities is a qualitative questionnaire designed to help you assess the extent to which your college or university is sustainable in seven critical areas of higher education:
1. Curriculum
2. Research and Scholarship
3. Operations
4. Faculty and Staff Development and Rewards
5. Outreach and Service
6. Student Opportunities
7. Institutional Mission, Structure and Planning

The SAQ aims to:
– Raise consciousness and encourage debate about what sustainability means for higher education practically and philosophically;
– Give a snapshot of the state of sustainability on your campus; and
– Promote discussion on next steps for your institution.

Click here to download the SAQ

History, Purpose and Design of the SAQ

With input from many colleagues and partners, the Sustainability Assessment Questionnaire was developed between 1999 and 2001. In creating the questionnaire, we envisioned both an assessment instrument and a teaching tool. In other words, by its very design and content we wanted the SAQ to instruct its users on the meaning of sustainability in higher education. We also intended the SAQ process to stimulate conversation and debate within institutions on the path to sustainability. “Sustainability” implies that the critical activities of a college or university are ecologically sound, socially just and economically viable, and that they will continue to be so for future generations. We sought to encompass a definition of sustainability that included social and economic, as well as environmental dimensions.

In determining the basic characteristics of colleges and universities fully committed to sustainability, certain essential dimensions kept recurring as we tested various draft questionnaires with campus representatives and sustainability advocates. Although approaches to “greening” higher education vary considerably, we feel that an institution must be implementing meaningful practices in the following seven areas to be demonstrating significant progress toward achieving sustainability:

1. The college or university would appropriately incorporate the concepts of sustainability into all academic disciplines and in liberal arts and professional education requirements. Likewise, a firm grounding in basic disciplines and critical thinking skills is essential to pursuing a sustainable future. Institutions committed to sustainability often prominently feature certain topics in their course offerings, e.g., Globalization and Sustainable Development; Environmental Philosophy; Nature Writing; Land Ethics and Sustainable Agriculture; Urban Ecology and Social Justice; Population, Women and Development; Sustainable Production and Consumption; and many others.

2. Sustainability would be integrated into faculty and student research on topics such as renewable energy, sustainable building design, ecological economics, indigenous wisdom and technologies, population and development, total environmental quality management, etc.

3. The institution would be continually engaged in reducing its “ecological footprint.” In its production and consumption the institution follows sustainable policies and practices: for example, CO2 reduction practices and the use of emission control devices; sustainable building construction and renovation; energy conservation practices; local food purchasing program; purchasing and investment in environmentally and socially responsible products; regularly conducted environmental audits; and many others. Furthermore, these operational practices would be integrated into the educational and scholarly activities of the school.

4. Since research and teaching are the fundamental purposes of academic institutions, knowledge of sustainability would be a critical concern in the hiring, tenure and promotion systems. We would expect the institution to:

a. Reward faculty members’ contributions to sustainability in scholarship, teaching, or campus and community activities.

b. Provide significant staff and faculty development opportunities to enhance understanding, teaching and research in sustainability.

5. The institution would engage in outreach and forming partnerships both locally and globally to enhance sustainability. The college or university would support sustainable communities in the surrounding region and develop relationships with local businesses that foster sustainable practices. The institution would also seek international cooperation in solving global environmental justice and sustainability problems through conferences, student/faculty exchanges, etc.

6. Student opportunities would reflect the institution’s commitment to sustainability in the form of:

a. New student orientation, scholarships, internships and job placement counseling related to community service, sustainability and/or justice issues;

b. An Environmental or Sustainability Council or Task Force with strong student representation;

c. Student groups actively engaged in promoting sustainability on campus and in the local community.

7. The written statements of the mission and purpose of the institution and its various units would express a commitment to environmental responsibility and sustainability.

The institution would have institutionalized this commitment with paid positions (such as Energy Officer or Director of Sustainability Programs). The institutional concern for sustainability would be further reflected by public events on campus (such as lectures, conferences, Earth Day celebrations, etc).

Through our consultation and design process, we explored short and long versions of the instrument with different blends of quantitative and qualitative measures. In order to keep the SAQ primarily qualitative and impressionistic, we decided not to include a rating/scoring system. The goal of the assessment exercise is to provide a comprehensive definition of sustainability and a snapshot of a college or university on the path to sustainability. We determined that a rating/scoring system would make the instrument prematurely quantitative and difficult for most to complete without extensive research. It might also discourage prospective users.

We recognize that the task of developing a comprehensive, reliable, and valid instrument is formidable. While we’ve made considerable progress toward our goal, we know that any such work rests firmly on the principle that indicators need to be constantly monitored, evaluated and improved. Thus we are hopeful that the SAQ will be used as a foundation for continued research and collaboration.

Please send us feedback and let us know how you use the Sustainability Assessment Questionnaire for Colleges and Universities.

Click here to download the SAQ

National University of Tainan, Taiwan, Tallories signatory
National University of Tainan, Taiwan, Tallories signatory