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A process for transition to sustainability: implementation.


This paper reports the outcomes of the second of three action cycles of an action research project undertaken at the South West campus of Edith Cowan Edith Dircksey Cowan (née Brown), OBE (August 2 1861–June 9 1932) was an Australian politician, social campaigner and the first woman elected as a representative in an Australian parliament.  University (ECU ECU

See: European Currency Unit


See European Currency Unit (ECU).
); a small, single faculty, regional campus located in Bunbury, Western Australia This article is about the city of Bunbury. For the local government area, see City of Bunbury.

The port of Bunbury is the third largest city in Western Australia after Perth, the state capital, and Mandurah.
. The first action cycle comprised the planning phase In amphibious operations, the phase normally denoted by the period extending from the issuance of the order initiating the amphibious operation up to the embarkation phase. The planning phase may occur during movement or at any other time upon receipt of a new mission or change in the , whereas this second cycle was the first implementation phase of the research. An earlier paper (Wooltorton, Palmer, Goodwin, & Paine, 2010) contextualised the project in the literature, described the background of the project and presented the findings of the first action cycle. That phase of the project identified the importance of building a community of practice and the significance of developing a learning stance for sustainability transition. It highlighted the need to work to develop a local understanding of the term sustainability; the necessity to engage with the local community and the desire to relate more deeply with the local and built environment. The significance of working in ways which incorporate crossdiscipline perspectives was also identified. Whilst the outcome of the first action cycle was the identification of the process and design for the project, this current paper reports on the initial implementation cycle.

The main intention of the project has been to reorient Re`o´ri`ent   

a. 1. Rising again.
The life reorient out of dust.
- Tennyson.

Verb 1.
 the curriculum to sustainability across the seven program groups which make up the faculty: Business, Computer Science, Creative Industries, Education, Nursing, Social Work and Coastal Environmental Science/Surf Science. Specifically, the goals of the research described here have been to:

* Plan the reorientation Noun 1. reorientation - a fresh orientation; a changed set of attitudes and beliefs
orientation - an integrated set of attitudes and beliefs

2. reorientation - the act of changing the direction in which something is oriented
 of the faculty to sustainability in terms of the content (curriculum) and processes of teaching and learning;

* Use Action Research as a methodology to achieve the necessary ongoing learning and to frame the reports on the project findings; and

* Begin building the social sustainability framework.

Teaching, learning and research in the field of sustainability education (1) have a history of more than a decade at the campus, which has hosted a number of sustainability education research and development projects. The campus is located in a region of Western Australia Western Australia, state (1991 pop. 1,409,965), 975,920 sq mi (2,527,633 sq km), Australia, comprising the entire western part of the continent. It is bounded on the N, W, and S by the Indian Ocean. Perth is the capital.  known as Australia's only biodiversity hotspot A biodiversity hotspot is a biogeographic region with a significant reservoir of biodiversity that is threatened with destruction.

The concept of biodiversity hotspots was originated by Dr.
 and the university is the custodian bailee (custodian) n. a person with whom some article is left, usually pursuant to a contract (called a "contract of bailment"), who is responsible for the safe return of the article to the owner when the contract is fulfilled.  of 80 hectares of natural bushland. For these reasons, the Faculty of Regional Professional Studies has been well placed to undertake this research into transition to sustainability.

The key aims of this ongoing project are distinctively Australian in that they are part of a nascent nascent /nas·cent/ (nas´ent) (na´sent)
1. being born; just coming into existence.

2. just liberated from a chemical combination, and hence more reactive because uncombined.
 movement in Australia to create social frameworks to anchor sustainability education programs. The project is innovative in that our transformative approach is underpinned by community development knowledge and principles (Ife & Tesoriero, 2006). Given the nature and location of our faculty we have had an opportunity to trial sustainability reorientation using a community resilience/community linking approach and in doing so build community among the staff and students. The project has also been based on a learning approach linked to sustainability initiatives in nongovernment organisations, schools, community networks and government departments in the town, region and nationwide (Wooltorton et al., 2010).

Australian Universities and Sustainability Education

Substantial research in the field of sustainability education has been implemented in universities in international contexts (for example Corcoran & Wals, 2004). There have been regular calls over the years to radically transform higher education in particular universities (for example Reason, 2002) and more generally in international contexts (for example Fadeeva & Mochizuki, 2010) in order to more competently address the sustainability education agenda. In relation to a double learning challenge which he calls "paradigm" and "provision" in higher education, three areas of concern for each university are identified by Sterling (2004). These are firstly that which already exists in relation to paradigm and provision; secondly that which is implied by sustainability in relation to paradigm and provision; and thirdly that which is required to shift both paradigm and provision for sustainability outcomes (Sterling, 2004). This paper addresses the third of Sterling's areas of concern. In the remainder of this section, aspects of the contemporary Australian university context for sustainability education are outlined, and some other sustainability initiatives in the higher education setting are introduced. Some of the issues pertinent to the current study are highlighted.

In 2009, Living sustainably: The Australian Government's National Action Plan for Education for Sustainability (NAP) (Department of the Environment Water Heritage and the Arts, 2009) was released. The NAP proposes a transformative approach to education, with the stated aim of "achieving a culture of sustainability in which teaching and learning for sustainability are reinforced by continuous improvement in the sustainability of campus management" (Department of the Environment Water Heritage and the Arts, 2009, p. 5). The NAP is part of Australia's contribution to the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development Sustainable Development
The concept of sustainable development was popularised in 1987 with the publication of the “Brundtland Report” – the Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development.
 2005--2014. UNESCO UNESCO: see United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.
 in full United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
 takes the view that: "We have to learn our way out of current social and environmental problems and learn to live sustainably" (UNESCO, nd) (our emphasis). The intention of the NAP is to reorient all education systems, at all levels, to sustainability through learning, which in most cases will require transformation of practices and structures. The NAP bases education for sustainability on a number of defined principles:

* Transformation and change;

* Education for all and lifelong learning Lifelong learning is the concept that "It's never too soon or too late for learning", a philosophy that has taken root in a whole host of different organisations. Lifelong learning is attitudinal; that one can and should be open to new ideas, decisions, skills or behaviors. ;

* Systems thinking;

* Envisioning a better future;

* Critical thinking and reflection;

* Participation; and

* Partnerships for change (Department of the Environment Water Heritage and the Arts, 2009, p. 9).

These principles were adopted by the Australian Research Institute for Environment and Sustainability The Institute for Environment and Sustainability (IES) is a specialised institute of the Joint Research Centre directorate of the European Commission, based at Ispra, Italy.  (ARIES Aries (âr`ēz) [Lat.,=the ram], constellation lying on the ecliptic (the sun's apparent path through the heavens) between Taurus and Pisces; it is one of the constellations of the zodiac. It contains the bright star Hamal (Alpha Arietis). ) and incorporated into "mainstreaming" which uses a complex systems approach to holistic change within the university setting. Projects to mainstream sustainability into pre-service teacher education, accountancy and MBA programs have so far been conducted (Ferreira, Ryan, Davis, Cavanagh, & Thomas, 2009; Steele, 2010; Thomas & Benn, 2009).

A whole-of-university approach to sustainability links research, education and operational activities together and engages students in these activities (Mcmillin & Dyball, 2009). For example, management and operations staff might engage all staff and students in a process to create a shared vision for the faculty (including the use of facilities and grounds) that encourages critical reflection and an opportunity for participation and dialogue. To support this and to overcome disciplines operating as silos, it is suggested that an interdisciplinary approach to planning and teaching the curriculum is needed (Paige, Lloyd, & Chartres, 2008; Sherren, 2006). Further, it is advocated that graduate attributes be developed that address the skills and competencies required for partnership, participation and action as well as those that enable graduates to critically enquire en·quire  
Variant of inquire.


[-quiring, -quired] same as inquire

enquiry n

Verb 1.
 and think about problems and the associated complexities for a more sustainable way of living (Barth, Godemann, Rieckmann, & Stoltenberg, 2007; Fien, 2002; Sibbel, 2009). It is also vital that students acquire the ability to work with people from different cultures and backgrounds (Martins, Mata, & Costa, 2006).

A number of universities have implemented successful projects to incorporate sustainability education. Five universities in Queensland and four in NSW NSW New South Wales

Noun 1. NSW - the agency that provides units to conduct unconventional and counter-guerilla warfare
Naval Special Warfare
 were involved in a project to mainstream education for sustainability into pre-service teacher education (Ferreira et al., 2009; Steele, 2010). A whole-of-university initiative at the Australian National University (ANU Anu (ā`n), ancient sky god of Sumerian origin, worshiped in Babylonian religion. ) resulted in significant change on that campus (Mcmillin & Dyball, 2009). Similarly, the Royal Melbourne Royal Melbourne, a high class neighborhood in Chicago's North Shore, is both a residential community and Greg Norman designed golf course. The neighborhood houses some of Chicago's elite professionals, including world-renowned lawyers, doctors, and athletes.  Institute of Technology (RMIT RMIT Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology ) undertook a project that sought to achieve lasting change in organisational structure/operations and curriculum content. The main aim of that project, Beyond Leather Patches (BELP) (Holdsworth, Bekessy, Peliwe, Hayles, & Thomas, 2006) was to provide practical guidelines for integrating the broad concepts of sustainability into a wide range of university courses while also gaining a deeper understanding of the methods needed to achieve curriculum and institutional change. To achieve this, the project coordinators ran a series of workshops that encouraged academics to take ownership of their respective practices, undertook a course audit and surveyed staff about their attitudes towards teaching sustainability (Holdsworth et al., 2006; Lang, Thomas, & Wilson, 2006). Initial outcomes from the project resulted in 16 courses being revised.

Another initiative, this time undertaken at the University of South Australia South Australia, state (1991 pop. 1,236,623), 380,070 sq mi (984,381 sq km), S central Australia. It is bounded on the S by the Indian Ocean. Kangaroo Island and many smaller islands off the south coast are included in the state.  (Paige et al., 2008), was the development of a transdisciplinary unit incorporating science, mathematics and ecological literacy for pre-service teacher education. Transdisciplinary was defined as "interdisciplinary + participation" and required going beyond the current content of each unit (Paige et al, 2008, p. 24). The authors note that it would have been much easier to do the three units as separate subjects, but argue that delivering in this way is important for the long term reorientation of teaching towards a sustainable future. However reaching this level of integration of content and theory was found to be stressful and time consuming. This is not surprising; lack of time was also the most commonly cited reason for non-participation in sustainability actions in the pre-service teacher education study conducted by ARIES (Steele, 2010).

A number of issues confront many Australian universities and directly impact on their sustainability education capacity. One is that academic communities are expected to confront a shortage of academics within the next decade (Hammond & Churchman, 2008). This is because academic salaries fail to compete favourably with those in the private sector, therefore many universities are failing to attract highly qualified and suitable staff (Murray & Drollery droll·er·y  
n. pl. droll·er·ies
1. A comical or whimsical quality.

2. A comical or whimsical way of acting, talking, or behaving.

a. The act of joking; clowning.

, 2005). It is also because of increased casualisation Casualisation is an economics term to describe the process by which employment shifts from a preponderance of full-time and permanent or contract positions to higher levels of casual positions.  (Hammond, 2011, p. 11). Additionally, high student-staff ratios (a result of increased student intakes in times of declining permanent staff appointments) compound this problem Australia-wide. Another issue is a perceived loss of opportunities for creativity and autonomy for research (Hammond & Churchman, 2008). This is explicated by Cooper & Poletti (2011) who argue that the process of journal ranking Static Journal Ranking
Journal ranking is widely used in academic circles in the evaluation of a journal's impact. Although there are several websites that release rankings of journals in specific areas of research, their audiences have only static access to ranking reports.
 stifles collegiality col·le·gi·al·i·ty  
1. Shared power and authority vested among colleagues.

2. Roman Catholic Church The doctrine that bishops collectively share collegiate power.
, threatens international research networks and potentially erodes the socio-cultural role of academic journals. The overall audit and quality context is a factor in the decreasing capacity of academics to sustain academic life or nurture a social dimension of sustainability (Hammond, 2011).

Another constraint to building sustainability is establishing a shared meaning for the term so that mutual comprehension is possible when it is in common use among people working together. The problem of the meaning of the term sustainability has been alluded to earlier in this paper and will only be briefly outlined here. Internationally much work has been completed around pillars of sustainability to frame the transdimensional nature of the concept. Whilst they have been variously named by different authors for a variety of reasons, the biophysical, economic, social and political systems in conjunction with the inter-related principles of conservation, peace and equity, appropriate development and democracy (UNESCO, 2002, p. 8) provide an outline for beginning learners.

In terms of the Australian literature, Sherren (2007) found some agreement about a knowledge base for sustainability but more in the area of ecology than in the political, social and economic aspects of sustainability. Reid and Petocz (2006) found that university lecturers had varying and often narrow understandings of the term. Many held naive views such as "keeping something going" or recycling paper (Reid & Petocz, 2006, p. 120). Fuller (2010) argues that the word has become cliched cli·chéd also cliched  
Having become stale or commonplace through overuse; hackneyed: "In the States, it might seem a little clichéd; in Paris, it seems fresh and original" 
 and urgently needs sharpening for students to understand that major changes to the ways we live and design buildings are needed. Accordingly he uses principles originally devised by Palmer, Cooper & van der Vorst (1997) comprising environment, participation, equity and futurity. Wals and Jickling (2002) suggest that talk around the meaning of sustainability can bring together disparate groups, creating dissonance and generating learning. It is this approach which has informed the current study.


Action research, a strategy to link theory and practice using a cyclical cyclical

Of or relating to a variable, such as housing starts, car sales, or the price of a certain stock, that is subject to regular or irregular up-and-down movements.
 process of planning, implementation, description and evaluation (Carr & Kemmis, 1986), has diverse applications (for example Grundy, 1995; Reason, 1988; Tripp, 2005). Action research is a way of researching collaboratively. For Grundy (1995), action research is about involvement (participation and collaboration) and the improvement of practices. Such improvement targets three areas: "improvement in practices; improvement in the situation in which practice is occurring; improvement in understanding both the practice and situation" (p. 9).

At the end of the first action cycle for this project, the researchers planned to establish a series of nested projects within a paradigm of transformative human inquiry (Heron, 1996) to progress the goal of finding out what works in transitioning the curriculum towards sustainability. The projects that were introduced, or continued from the first action cycle, were an art project; a student sustainability group; linkage to an emerging Transition Town (Hopkins, 2008) project ; a series of program-based focus groups and one faculty-wide reflective meeting. These projects aimed to build relationships amongst, and between, students and staff and between the campus and the local township.

The aim of the focus groups with staff from each of the seven programs was to collect data about their understanding of sustainability for their discipline area, and their thoughts on what might bring about a reorientation toward sustainability in their curriculum. As anticipated, each program had different understandings about the meaning and application of the concept of sustainability; meanings attributed to sustainability are influenced by the ways of working within that knowledge field. Thus debate continued as to whether multiple meanings of sustainability could be held at the same time, or whether the priority of the project should be to define the meaning more precisely.

Despite time limitations brought about by workload demands, 27 academic staff (68% of the program based academic staff) participated in the focus groups. Two meetings were held with each of the larger programs to allow more time for discussion and one meeting was held with each of the smaller programs. At each meeting a presentation was given to the groups detailing the aims and background of the project and illustrating sustainability through the four interconnected dimensions (or pillars of sustainability education): the biophysical, economic, social and political (UNESCO, 2002 p. 8). The presenters juxtaposed jux·ta·pose  
tr.v. jux·ta·posed, jux·ta·pos·ing, jux·ta·pos·es
To place side by side, especially for comparison or contrast.
 sustainability as an organising principle with economic growth (Trainer, 1989). Sustainability constructs acceptable to each program emerged from the group discussions, such as preventative health (nursing) and social justice (social work). By leaving the definition of sustainability open, staff could be creative when translating sustainability as an organising principle into their curriculum.

In terms of analysis of the primary data, notes from all meetings were coded and uploaded into QSR QSR Quick Service Restaurant
QSR QoS (Quality of Service) Satisfaction Rate
QSR Quality System Regulations
QSR Quality Status Report
QSR Quality System Review
QSR Quarterly Status Report
QSR Quality System Requirement
 NVivo 8. Further analysis generated key categories and themes (Miles & Huberman, 1994). Once the initial categories were developed, all academic and senior staff were invited to reflect on the emerging themes. In brief, the function of the methodology was to facilitate the process, and as the next section shows, this eventuated.


From the outset, the researchers intended to use processes conducive to sustainability transition, and as far as possible, to work inside the paradigm that they wished to bring into fruition. Themes that emerged from the data were:

* Teaching between and across disciplines (transdisciplinary practice);

* Discourse;

* Communication strategies;

* Networking; and

* Shared and disparate meanings of sustainability.

It was apparent from the data that the ways the programs are linked have shaped the faculty's transition to sustainability. Within an overarching o·ver·arch·ing  
1. Forming an arch overhead or above: overarching branches.

2. Extending over or throughout: "I am not sure whether the missing ingredient . . .
 construct of transdisciplinary practice as defined by Paige et al. (2008) above, the other themes are outlined below, illustrated with extracts from the notes made at the program focus groups.


A number of groups spoke about the importance of discourse in creating interdisciplinary ways of working. However, two meanings of discourse were evident and these reflect the way this term is used in different fields:

* Authentic dialogue (Habermasian); or

* "Permission to speak" (Foucaultian).

Participants highlighted the fundamental importance of authentic dialogue in order to bring about the desired outcome of sharing teaching and research.

The problem of discourse was discussed in depth, including the problem of interpretations of meanings by disciplinary groups and therefore often contradictory assumptions by conversants with different backgrounds. Conversations underpinned by this problem have happened on campus in recent times, causing a rapid cessation of the conversation without the opportunity to explore and carefully investigate the construction of shared understandings. In other words Adv. 1. in other words - otherwise stated; "in other words, we are broke"
put differently
, cross-program engagement can immediately halt without recognising the importance of clarifying these assumptions. (Researcher notes, focus group 1)

Increased opportunities for discourse (as authentic dialogue) involving clarification of meaning were called for. There was considerable discussion about the form this discourse should take:

Take an approach to inter-program collaboration that focuses on mutual respect, critical inquiry and respectful argument. (Participant, reflective meeting)

It was regarded as necessary to increase the dialogue between groups regarding the transition to sustainability project and one participant queried the rationale for conducting the focus groups within, rather than across, program teams.

There has been an ongoing question about whether the dialogue in meetings has been fully authentic, with one participant noting "elephants in the room" during the conversations. This comment related to an issue of staff reorganisation Noun 1. reorganisation - the imposition of a new organization; organizing differently (often involving extensive and drastic changes); "a committee was appointed to oversee the reorganization of the curriculum"; "top officials were forced out in the cabinet  which took place during the action cycle and resulted in several redundancies. The idea that sustainability is linked to decision-making had been made prior to the staff reorganisation:

Things would be more sustainable if the people involved in a work area make the decisions around it. The concept of subsidiarity subsidiarity

the principle of taking political decisions at the lowest practical level

Noun 1. subsidiarity - secondary importance
 relates to the idea that the people who do the work make decisions around it. Taking this idea to education institutions, the biggest groups involved, the teachers and students, have the least say in what they do. So--in our system the bigger the group, the less say they have about their workplace! (Participant, focus group 2)

Another participant suggested another way of looking at the notion of discourse:

There was discussion about warrants for participation, and the issue of representation. For whom are we speaking? The importance of all materials being public was raised. (Name) spoke about the work by Charles Fox and Hugh Miller Hugh Miller (1802 – 1856) was a self-taught Scottish geologist and writer and an evangelical Christian.

Born in Cromarty, he had an ordinary parish school education, but soon showed a remarkable love of reading and power of story-telling.
 on warrants for participation. (Researcher notes, reflective meeting)

The idea to work with Fox and Miller's (1995) ideas about warrants for participation in discourse has been taken on board by the project team, and has been considered more fully in action cycle three.

During the reflective meeting open to all staff, one participant commented that she felt uncomfortable with the term "power", but was able to accept it when it was reframed as the capacity to bring about change through cooperative relationships. In that context, power related to having the capacity to control the content of units taught on the campus. The current situation in this faculty is that many units are owned by the larger faculties in Perth, and staff members are required to negotiate any changes to the unit outlines. Some staff felt this to be an impediment A disability or obstruction that prevents an individual from entering into a contract.

Infancy, for example, is an impediment in making certain contracts. Impediments to marriage include such factors as consanguinity between the parties or an earlier marriage that is still valid.
 to change toward sustainability. Others felt that change could be made if dialogue was maintained with the parent campus and any formal policies and procedures Policies and Procedures are a set of documents that describe an organization's policies for operation and the procedures necessary to fulfill the policies. They are often initiated because of some external requirement, such as environmental compliance or other governmental  about changing content adhered to. This view seems to suggest some faith in the idea of discourse as "authentic dialogue", which Hammond (2011) finds is an integral quality of social sustainability.


Although discourse is closely related to the theme of communication, here communication refers to the means by which interconnectedness can be achieved; the technologies of communication. Generally on the campus where this study took place there are few whole-of-staff meetings, conferences or retreats, yet people want to see real things happen:

Staff wish to improve campus-wide communication, for example consultation with staff about vital decisions impacting upon resource allocation resource allocation Managed care The constellation of activities and decisions which form the basis for prioritizing health care needs , cultural fixtures and staff working conditions. It is important for wellbeing that people feel valued and included. (Researcher notes, focus group 1)

One focus group also highlighted the importance of culturally sensitive communication for both staff and students. Another sub-theme to emerge was that of the importance of celebrating successes; for example, to provide a regular newsletter or an event at the end of semester se·mes·ter  
One of two divisions of 15 to 18 weeks each of an academic year.

[German, from Latin (cursus) s
 that would showcase what had been achieved.


Related to the theme of communication are the concepts of networks and networking. As networks become bigger and more complex, communication can become a problem. Inter-group networks, community networks, and wider academic networks were all identified as important. In response to a question about what makes sustainability education, one focus group participant responded:

We maintain and sustain relationships with schools. We maintain the work environment. We focus on relationships with each other, with schools and students, with other campuses of ECU. That is, as education is about relationships, so is our program. (Participant, focus group 4)


(Name) also spoke about Cooper Ramos' (2009) work on being adaptive. In a nutshell nut·shell  
The shell enclosing the meat of a nut.

in a nutshell
In a few words; concisely: Just give me the facts in a nutshell.

Adv. 1.
, this work claims that in day to day work we pay attention to the fast variables that change, instead of the slow variables that are strategic and long term. It seems that this is the place that this sustainability project needs to aim for. Fast variables are such things as curriculum framework, Operational Excellence and workloads formula. Slow variables are the community-based variables where we spend our time and care. (Researcher notes, reflective meeting)

In short, resilient community relationships manifesting themselves as functioning networks, are seen as one significant aspect of sustainability, in particular the need to maintain these over the longer term despite short term problems with workloads, restructuring and contestation around decision making. As well as documenting the need for such networks, the process of undertaking the research project actually contributed to the creation of networks. For example the art project was seen as providing an opportunity for staff to chat together in informal settings and discuss their individual meanings of sustainability. Similarly community networks were being developed through collaboration with a community-based sustainability education project which is modelled on the international transition town movement (Hopkins, 2008). Likewise, wider academic networks were being developed through sustainability education conference attendance by staff who would not normally attend these events.

Shared Meanings of Sustainability

Developing a shared meaning of sustainability for pragmatic conversational purposes appears to be a critical component of transitioning the curriculum towards it. This section highlights the meanings of sustainability that were shared, and their potential to aid authentic dialogue in the future.

Traditionally work-life balance has not been seen as a major component of sustainability practice, as it has belonged in the realm of management and productivity negotiations. However, data from this project suggest that it should be part of our sustainability agenda, as this is seen as a survival issue for staff. A major study in an Australian university by Hammond (2011, pp. 116, 172) makes this link very clearly. Several of the focus groups defined sustainability in terms of their day-to-day survival as academics. For example, one participant noted that "burnout Burnout

Depletion of a tax shelter's benefits. In the context of mortgage backed securities it refers to the percentage of the pool that has prepaid their mortgage.
 is palpably pal·pa·ble  
1. Capable of being handled, touched, or felt; tangible: "Anger rushed out in a palpable wave through his arms and legs" Herman Wouk.

 not a sustainable practice". This aspect of sustainability elicited the greatest passion. Conversely it was also the motivator of ingenuity.

Real flexibility is required; for example this program has survived due to continual changing of the course and creating new units whilst redistributing key concepts and content. This is quite evolutionary, the need to move in response to different forces/motivations for change. (Participant, focus group 3)

Tight funding was also a motivator for recycling and reusing practice teaching materials in one program which had the added benefit of reducing waste. However, the loss of students because of online provision of units taught centrally from Perth was a threat to the survival of some programs. Thus funding restrictions can simultaneously encourage sustainability (by promoting thrift) and discourage sustainability by promoting disillusionment Disillusionment
Adams, Nick

loses innocence through WWI experience. [Am. Lit.: “The Killers”]

Angry Young Men

disillusioned postwar writers of Britain, such as Osborne and Amis. [Br. Lit.
 and burnout when work is centralised Adj. 1. centralised - drawn toward a center or brought under the control of a central authority; "centralized control of emergency relief efforts"; "centralized government"
 as a cost saving initiative. The latter is also referred to in Hammond (2011).

Importantly in this study, the process used to discuss the meaning of the term sustainability not only enabled the articulation of a local understanding, but importantly, it was an integral part of the transformative learning process. Simply providing definitions and moving on would not have allowed the meaning making which is now shared. Even so, the discussions with various groups highlighted the distinct emphasis given by diverse disciplines represented by the different programs on the campus.

While this variety of meanings can easily be accommodated within definitions such as the four pillars Four Pillars may refer to:
  • Four Pillars of the Green Party
  • Four Pillars of Destiny, a Chinese component used in fortune telling.
  • Four Pillars of Transnistria are the basis of the declaration of independence of Transnistria, a separatist region in Moldova in Eastern
 UNESCO (2002) it can present a difficulty when transdisciplinary activities are the goal. In fact, there was disagreement about whether we needed to find a shared definition, with science and business related programs favouring a decisive outcome, and those in humanities being more comfortable with a diffuse outcome. The interpretations appear to reflect the underlying epistemological e·pis·te·mol·o·gy  
The branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge, its presuppositions and foundations, and its extent and validity.

[Greek epist
 differences between programs. These epistemologies may be tacit rather than explicit and are not addressed in the dialogues, making authentic conversations more difficult. That is, to reach shared meanings may require a very far ranging discussion. However the point of this work is the discussion itself as a process for sustainability transition rather than the outcome.

Such disparity is illustrated in the table of meanings derived from the program focus groups and categorised Adj. 1. categorised - arranged into categories

classified - arranged into classes
 according to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.

2. In keeping with: according to instructions.

 their relationship to the four pillars (Table 1). It is envisaged that in the next action cycle, this table will act as a tool to encourage dialogue about the meanings of sustainability within and across programs. In particular it is envisaged that the table will assist teaching staff to think through how they can reorient their curriculum towards sustainability.

Conclusion and Future Directions

This paper describes the methodology and findings for the second action cycle of a project that has been designed to research the process used for the transition of curriculum, teaching and learning to sustainability at a small, regional university campus. The process has the potential to produce a robust social sustainability focus. Our project is distinctively Australian in that it is part of an emerging trend in Australia to create social frameworks which act as pillars for sustainability education action projects. This movement is already quite marked in teacher education (Ferreira, Ryan, Davis, Cavanagh, & Thomas, 2009; Hammond, 2011; Hammond & Churchman, 2008) and is becoming evident in other university contexts

(Holdsworth et al., 2006; Wooltorton et al., 2010).

In our project sustainability has been used as an explicit organising principle, and the action research activities have formed the transition process. In this way, learning and change has been facilitated through reflection on practice with learning as the main intention. The original approach was to leave the definition of sustainability open and this was effective in allowing important aspects of sustainability to be included or emerge. In relation to development of a shared meaning, our study affirms that broadly defining sustainability is a strength if used carefully to foster involvement in dialogue, as contended by Wals and Jickling (2002). While not all participants approved of the original approach--to not foreclose fore·close  
v. fore·closed, fore·clos·ing, fore·clos·es
a. To deprive (a mortgagor) of the right to redeem mortgaged property, as when payments have not been made.

 on meaning--particularly as ideas continually shifted, the ongoing discussions around sustainability and the notion of a sustainable future have formed the heart of the project. Conversations were rich and deep, and revealed the first views of an emergent emergent /emer·gent/ (e-mer´jent)
1. coming out from a cavity or other part.

2. pertaining to an emergency.


1. coming out from a cavity or other part.

2. coming on suddenly.
 transdisciplinary way of working, together with creative ways that would lead us into action cycle three. High levels of "systemicity" characterise more sustainable educational institutions, which feature qualities such as "internal connection, relatedness and coherence" and less tightly defined programs and courses (Sterling, 2004, p. 62). This compares to systematic management and organisation typical of non-sustainable institutions which emphasise hierarchical control, firm rules, clearly defined structures and a degree of inflexibility (Sterling, 2004, p. 62). Thus referring to Sterling's (2004) work, a creative, more sustainable culture of learning was produced by the action research. Within this structure, transdisciplinary research approaches were explored and utilised as the normal disciplinary structures and boundaries did not apply.

Other findings to emerge were the constraints associated with the issue of authentic dialogue; issues around power and authorisation; and problems of site communication and maintaining effective networks. We found that each of these can work together in ways that enhance and/or hinder sustainability transition. Our findings also support those already found in the literature which reveal a poor work-life balance as a key constraint to participation in sustainability transition projects and this is certainly a barrier in social sustainability acquisition (Hammond, 2011). Specifically a lack of time limits authentic dialogue that would enable collaborative ways of working within the university work environment (Steele, 2010; Hammond & Churchman, 2008). Data in our study suggested that issues around lack of time and inappropriate life-work balance constrained the potential of staff to work in transdisciplinary ways. Reason (2002, p. 3) writes:

In very simple terms I want to articulate a dreadful warning: we cannot go on the way we have been doing based on the way we have been thinking. And I want to offer a challenge, an expression of hope for a way forward based on a participatory ethos. I want to explore how a worldview world·view  
n. In both senses also called Weltanschauung.
1. The overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world.

2. A collection of beliefs about life and the universe held by an individual or a group.
 based on the experience of ourselves as participants in the processes of life on earth might provide a more fruitful perspective.

The challenge put forward by Reason (2002) also motivates the authors of this paper. Sterling (2004) comments that the usual way of thinking about sustainability in higher education is to integrate it into the education schema of the university, that is, to add to an already overcrowded o·ver·crowd  
v. o·ver·crowd·ed, o·ver·crowd·ing, o·ver·crowds
To cause to be excessively crowded: a system of consolidation that only overcrowded the classrooms.
 curriculum. He argues that instead, sustainability education implies an epistemological shift in higher education and in society which is what he means when he calls for systemic transformation. Within Australia, the realm of social sustainability--where we position this current study--is a newly emerging field. The journey of change is just beginning, however the metaphoric terrain to be traversed is clear and encouraging outcomes are already visible.

Afterword af·ter·word  
See epilogue.

At the time of writing, the researchers had just completed the project's third action cycle which had focused on connecting the university with the local community, particularly schools and environmental organisations. Accordingly, a number of interconnected sustainability education projects along the lines of the international transition movement (Hopkins, 2008) now link the university with its wider community. A focus on process for transition is being maintained.


The authors wish to sincerely thank the referees and in particular, Dr Amy Cutter-McKenzie for their very thoughtful comments on an earlier draft of this paper. We also wish to thank Richard Swan of HotRock ( for his ongoing support of this project.


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Endnote See footnote.  

(1.) In the literature the terms environmental education (EE), education for sustainability (EfS) and sustainability education--and a mixture of these terms such as environmental education for sustainability--are often used interchangeably for a similar range of meanings (Cutter-McKenzie, 2011, p. 350). In this paper the term we use for all of these purposes is sustainability education. By this we refer to the array of knowledge, skills, understandings, activities and practices used to learn, demonstrate or acquire qualities and attributes of sustainability. The word sustainability itself is deeply contested from a range of perspectives. However suffice to say that in sustainability education contexts it tends to be based on a critique of contemporary western capitalism and is generally understood as a process for transitioning toward practices consistent with an overarching philosophy of ecological and social justice (for example see Cutter-McKenzie, 2011, p. 351-353).

Sandra Wooltorton ([dagger]), Marilyn Palmer & Fran Steele

Edith Cowan University

([dagger]) Address for correspondence: A/Professor Sandra Wooltorton, Edith Cowan University, PO Box 1712, Bunbury, WA 6231, Australia. Email:

Author Biographies

Sandra Wooltorton is an Associate Professor of Education at Edith Cowan University's Bunbury Campus. She completed her doctorate in 2004 in sustainability education, and has maintained a strong interest and research focus on sustainability studies since then, with a particular emphasis on sustainability transition.

Marilyn Palmer is a social worker who teaches in the social work program at Edith Cowan University on the Bunbury Campus. She completed her doctorate in 2005, researching informal, community-based responses to domestic violence. Her doctoral research was premised on the idea that contemporary state supported responses to domestic violence are unsustainable given the precarious nature of Western economies. Thus, if the state abrogates its responsibilities to respond to domestic violence, what informal responses are possible and effective? Marilyn teaches in the areas of sociology, gender and community development. Her other research interests are education for sustainability and disaster response and recovery.

Fran Steele trained in biochemistry, working with CSIRO CSIRO Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organization (Australia)  for ten years before becoming a science teacher in NSW schools. She then moved into research in science education and science teacher education, investigating the teaching of genetic technologies, boys education and constructivist con·struc·tiv·ism  
A movement in modern art originating in Moscow in 1920 and characterized by the use of industrial materials such as glass, sheet metal, and plastic to create nonrepresentational, often geometric objects.
 approaches to learning. Her PhD research examined the creation of knowledge networks in secondary schools. Recently she has authored a report for the Australian Research Institute for Education for Sustainability relating to relating to relate prepconcernant

relating to relate prepbezüglich +gen, mit Bezug auf +acc 
 mainstreaming Education for Sustainability in pre-service teacher education.
Table 1: Faculty context: Linking the pillars of sustainability to
meanings discussed within the Faculty program workshops

Program          Biophysical systems--life   Economic systems--
                 support systems for all     continuing means of
                 life                        livelihood for people

Business         Minimise the impact on      Development and growth to
                 the environment for         meet people's needs
                 business continuity         without comprising the
                                             needs of future

Computing        E-waste; power use in       Analyse systems of data;
                 computing                   workloads

Creative         Writing and the             We embed the concept of
Industries       environment                 industry into study of
                                             the creative arts through
                                             workplace integrated
                                             learning and community

Education        Incorporates easily into    Sustainability is
                 most subject areas;         integrated; unsustainable
                 ecological literacy and     workloads limit
                 science literacy            opportunities; natural,
                                             social and economic
                                             systems interrelate

Nursing          Preventative health;        Sustainability of a rural
                 management of medical       health workforce;
                 waste; recycling            sustainability of work

Social Work      Human rights--access to     Equitable distribution of
                 necessities of life;        wealth
                 impact of climate change;
                 disaster response.

Coastal          Coastal care;               Ongoing viability of the
Environmental    overfishing; global         program; tourism; surfing
Science          warming; coral bleaching    population; the surfing
(Surf Science)                               industry

Program          Social-Cultural--ways for   Political systems--
                 people to live together     through which power is
                 peacefully, equitably &     exercised fairly &
                 with respect for human      democratically to make
                 rights & dignity            decisions about all

Business         Increasing recognition of   Sustainability includes
                 the dimensions of           leadership for the
                 corporate social            greater good
                 responsibility and the
                 need to serve all

Computing        Potential in technology
                 for social change;
                 equality of access to

Creative         Creative Industries units   The course fosters
Industries       assume "poly-ethnic         critical thinking skills
                 thinking" regarding         in students which enable
                 culture & community.        them to understand the
                 Local artists & culture     world through
                                             perspectives other than
                                             their own

Education        Cooperative learning        Active and informed
                 strategies; creative,       citizenship is the
                 critical and reflexive      overarching goal;
                 thinking strategies;        democracy is a core
                 systems thinking            value; we create our
                                             future collaboratively
                                             and individually

Nursing          Teaching within ethics
                 unit, ie. respect for

Social Work      Professional ethics         Improving understanding
                 around human rights and     of participatory
                 social justice. Online      democracy
                 delivery to improve

Coastal          Breaking down silos at      Surfing for the future;
Environmental    ECU; improving              marine science education;
Science          opportunities for           knowledge is power
(Surf Science)   networking on campus;
                 surf harmony--tolerance
                 and respect in the
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Author:Wooltorton, Sandra; Palmer, Marilyn; Steele, Fran
Publication:Australian Journal of Environmental Education
Article Type:Report
Date:Jun 1, 2011
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