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A strategic communication model for sustainable initiatives in higher education institutions

Faculty Advisor




strategic communication model, sustainability, higher education

Abstract (summary)

Communicating sustainable initiatives in higher education institutions presents a challenge, given that few to no universities possess or maintain a strategic communication plan that addresses the need to share this information effectively to stakeholders (students, faculty, staff, administrators, and community advocates). Drawing on secondary and primary research across universities in three countries, each representing distinct regional and national orientations – Canada, Ecuador, and Ukraine – the authors explain a sustainability/environmental communication model designed to be flexible enough for universal application, while providing strategic guidelines tailored to higher education institutions in each of its four described steps. The strategic communication model is informed by the critical synthesis of secondary research into two main areas of literature: (1) strategic communication theory and best practice; and (2) the organizational dissemination of sustainability initiatives, particularly within post-secondary institutions. Such secondary literature informs, and is in turn contributed to by, the authors’ primary research that was conducted, which consists of three parts: (1) discourse analysis of relevant institutional documents and promotional materials; (2) interviews about current practices in sustainability-related communication, conducted with higher education sustainability administrators; and, (3) focus groups with students, examining participant awareness and assessment of their institution’s sustainability communications. Based on such study, the authors advance a strategic communication model for sustainable initiatives, which comprises a four-step process based on a series of eight questions, with the first step providing comprehensive explication of a seven-component strategic planning framework that scales downward from the most abstract considerations to concrete tactics. In summary, the primary- and secondary-research data suggests that most universities, even if they implement sustainability initiatives or officially incorporate environmentalism into their institutional identity statements (mission, vision, etc.), fail to communicate these actions informatively and persuasively, thereby establishing widespread need for this paper’s offered strategic guidance.

Publication Information

Macpherson, I., & Mazo, L. (2017). A strategic communication model for sustainable initiatives in higher education institutions. Athens Journal of Mass Media and Communications, 3(4), 321-342.


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