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Sustainable communities and HE: the 3Cs approach

This case study is published to accompany the 2023 handbook chapter on Embedding Sustainability in the Economics Curriculum.

One of the guiding principles to climate education (Department for Education, 2021) is to encourage partnership and collaboration with stakeholders across the sectors to share expertise and ideas and extend and amplify existing good practices and initiatives. The following projects provide examples of a whole-higher-education approach to sustainability (see e.g., McMillin and Dyball, 2009; Hart et al., 2021), linking the teaching and learning provision (curriculum), to values and ways of working and studying on campus, and the local community by engaging with local people and partners — the "3Cs approach" to co-creation and sustainable education.

Sustainability challenge

In June 2022, the University of Warwick, with the support of Warwick International Higher Education Academy (WIHEA) launched the first institutional sustainability challenge, the Warwick Sustainability Challenge (WSUsC). The project engaged around 70 members of staff (academic and PSS) and students to work together in teams of 3-5 participants to solve a sustainability challenge, related to transport. With the support of Coventry City Council, the project team identified the scope of the challenge, and collaborated with student project officers to deliver two 3-hour workshops. Two optional drop-in sessions with experts in the area were also organised to support teams throughout the challenge.

Using a design thinking approach to problem solving, the workshops were designed to facilitate a collaborative approach to reframing a challenge, and coached participants to help explore it in an innovative way. After the workshops, the challenge lasted for an additional 10 days (two weeks in total), where participants continued collaborating asynchronously. At the end of the two weeks, teams submitted their ideas either in the form of an e-poster or a presentation, and a video. Formalised as an approach for co-creation and sustainability education, the outcomes of the challenge were then disseminated and shared in a final showcase and awards ceremony.

More than 70% of participants stated that the challenge changed their ability to (associated competences in brackets):

  1. evaluate a complex problem like sustainability with a diverse and global mindset (system thinking and anticipatory/exploratory competency);
  2. reflect on their own actions and how they relate to the world around them (problem framing and self-awareness competency);
  3. work with and learn from others (collaborative competency);
  4. develop innovative ideas which could be implemented at the local level and further afield (system thinking and strategic competency); and
  5. reflect on their personal values and how they align with a complex problem like sustainability (valuing sustainability competency).

The challenge is now adopted by the University to engage incoming first year students with sustainability issues, and a new iteration of the challenge (on waste) has been delivered in September 2022.

Behavioural hackathon

The second example is a behavioural hackathon organised in February 2022 by the Economics Department at the University of Warwick, in partnership with the Behavioural Environmental Economics Team (BEET) from UCL, and Hubbub. The hackathon involved MSc students from Warwick and UCL getting together to design behavioural interventions in three different challenges introduced by Hubbub. The challenges focused on incentivising more plant-based food consumption, mitigating the impact of raising energy costs, and promoting sustainable fashion. Students expressing interest were invited to attend a virtual event where Hubbub introduced the challenges. The competing teams had to select one of the challenges and suggest a solution incorporating theories and suggestions from behaviour change and behavioural economics, developing an 8-minute presentation to describe their proposed solutions.

The hackathon lasted for a week. As for the WSUsC, at the end of the week participants had a chance to present their ideas at a final showcase event. Selected winners presented their work also at the Advance HE Sustainability Symposium 2022, and at Somerset House in London. BEET has a long-standing tradition of organising this type of event, and is currently planning to extend the hackathon nationally.


Both projects showcase examples of collaborative ventures between staff and students as a way to embed sustainability in the university curriculum and encourage thinking around the kind of extracurricular activities that can support learning in this area.

For students, both projects not only provided great opportunities to apply theoretical models learnt at university to real life problems. They also helped them to acquire and develop future-proof skills (such as global thinking and decision-making skills), nowadays highly demanded by employers, as well as to enhanced a sense of community and lateral thinking (which requires a mix of innovative and critical reasoning capacity).

Students said…

From the Warwick Sustainability Challenge:

"I was able to bring my personal point of view, and because of that, I learned a lot in the whole project, not only the awareness of environmental protection, but also the ability of teamwork and independent innovation has been improved.”

From the Behavioural Marathon:

"Currently studying Behavioural and Economic Science and coming from an Economics undergraduate degree, I have long been interested in applying behavioural science/economics to real world problems. The Hubbub Behavioural Marathon gave me and fellow students a first taste in such application. My teammates had been enthusiastic and supportive throughout the preparation, as we often pleasantly found, despite only studying Behavioural Science for a few months, we had all been equipped with an arsenal of tools to solve the challenge proposed. It was also refreshing to watch presentations from UCL students, as we could all learn from each other's approaches. I would highly recommend to any students who had been interested in sustainability and behavioural science application to join in future Behavioural Marathons."


Department for Education (2021). "Sustainability & Climate Change. A draft strategy for the education & children’s services systems." Available at:​system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1031454/SCC_DRAFT_Strategy.pdf

Hart, C.; Weir, J. and B. Stone (2021). "A Five-Step Framework for a whole-institution approach to embedding ESD." Available at:

McMillin, J., and Dyball, R. (2009). "Developing a whole-of-university approach to educating for sustainability: Linking curriculum, research and sustainable campus operations." Journal of education for sustainable development, 3(1), 55-64.

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