Date of Award

Winter 12-9-2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences

Committee Chair

David M Cochran Jr

Committee Chair School

Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences

Committee Member 2

Dr. Bridget Hayden

Committee Member 2 School

Social Science and Global Studies

Committee Member 3

Dr. Mark M. Miller

Committee Member 3 School

Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences

Committee Member 4

Dr. Thomas Patterson

Committee Member 4 School

Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences

Committee Member 5

Dr. Thomas O’Brien

Committee Member 5 School



This dissertation investigates the factors that contribute to the cultural characteristics of sustainability among higher education institutions (HEIs) in the United States to shed light on how they represent themselves as sustainable. It documents four-year HEIs in the United States that self-identify as sustainable; evaluates how these institutions portray themselves to society as sustainable; and documents who is leading sustainability on U.S. college campuses. This dissertation fills an important gap in the literature on sustainable development in higher education that Holm and others (2016) have identified. Although education for sustainable development (ESD) has been recognized as an important topic, and many higher education institutions have integrated sustainability components into their policies and procedures, there is a profound need to analyze the integration of sustainability into HEIs in a more holistic fashion (Holm et al. 2016). While scholars have published studies of HEIs and their commitment to sustainability, most of this literature is limited in scope and focuses on a single university or university sector. Other data sets, such as STARS Assessment Reports is based on self-reported information by universities willing to participate. My goal is to understand sustainability in higher education more broadly through a systematic study of all four-year HEIs in the United States. By doing so, college and university administrators can better understand how to integrate sustainability on their campuses and communicate these efforts on their websites. Readers will also learn about some of the benefits of HEIs implementing sustainability and the growing importance of sustainability leaders in college and university communities