Sustainability assessment and benchmarking in higher education institutions-a critical reflection

Sandra Caeiro, Leyla Angélica Sandoval Hamón, Rute Martins, Cecilia Elizabeth Bayas Aldaz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)
11 Downloads (Pure)


Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) play a crucial role in implementing practices for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). This implementation should be done in different dimensions according to a holistic and whole-school approach. Different tools have been adapted and developed to assess this integrated approach. The aim of this research is to critically reflect the existing tools to assess and benchmark ESD implementation and to discuss their applicability in two case studies. Two public Universities in Southern Europe, with headquarters in the capitals of Portugal and Spain were selected to assess and compare the integration of ESD according to a whole-school approach-Universidade Aberta in Portugal and Universidad Autonoma de Madrid in Spain. After a critical analysis of the existing tools based on literature review and a list of criteria classified by experts, two tools were selected to be applied in the case studies. The online Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System Reporting Tool was used in Universidade Aberta and Green Metrics tool was used in Universidad Autonoma de Madrid. The tools were complemented with focus group with key-actors in both universities. The results obtained allowed to identify the need to define a common objective of the assessment tools and limitations they still have. The tools need improvements on their development namely to integrate the external impact of Higher Education Institutions on sustainability, to integrate participatory processes and to assess non-traditional aspects of sustainability. This research hopes to contribute to the continuous research about the usefulness of these assessment and benchmarking tools as drivers to HEIs improve their sustainability performance and their role as agents of changes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number543
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jan 2020


  • Assessment and rating systemTM
  • Education for sustainability
  • Green metrics
  • Higher education institutions
  • Sustainability benchmarking
  • Sustainability tracking


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