Transforming knowledge for sustainability: Towards adaptive academic institutions

Thaddeus Miller, Tischa Muñoz-Erickson, Charles Redman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Scopus citations


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to argue that the types of and ways in which academic institutions produce knowledge are insufficient to contribute to a transition to sustainability. Design/methodology/approach: Reflecting on experiences at the School of Sustainability, the authors contend that a different kind of knowledge is needed, what we call sustainability knowledge. A conceptual approach is taken wherein the authors propose several characteristics of sustainability knowledge and offer some proposals on how academic institutions must be structured to produce it. Findings: Sustainability knowledge has several characteristics including social robustness, recognition of system complexity and uncertainty, acknowledgement of multiple ways of knowing and the incorporation of normative and ethical premises. In order to produce sustainability knowledge, the knowledge production process itself must be changed to be more adaptive and engaged with society. Two organizing characteristics for institutions seeking to produce such knowledge are proposed - epistemological pluralism and reflexivity. The adaptive cycle from resilience theory is then used as a heuristic to illustrate how these design characteristics play out in making the institution (and individual) more adaptive. Practical implications: As more academic institutions move to address sustainability, this paper does not offer a roadmap; rather, it raises important issues that must be addressed in performing research and education for sustainability. Originality/value: The paper shows that type of knowledge that academia must produce and how it might produce it are redefined for sustainability problems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)177-192
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2011


  • Adaptability
  • Knowledge creation
  • Sustainable development
  • Universities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Education


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