Die Unwahrscheinlichkeit des Umweltmanagements

Übersetzung gesellschaftlicher Erwartungen in Hochschulstrukturen: Eine organisationsethnographische Fallstudie

Lukas Daubner|2021

Bielefeld University


Transformation processes, university, institute of higher education, environmental protection, environmental measures, climate protection, EMAS, environmental management, environmental management programme, university administration, university structures, systems theory, ethnography, social expectations


The urgency within society to act to protect the environment and the climate does not translate perfectly into the same kind of urgency for organizations. Nonetheless, universities as organizations are also expected to transform their research and teaching activities and their operations to ensure greater environmental sustainability. Based on the assumption that such changes are unlikely, this study examines how an EMAS-certified environmental management programme is established and operates at two universities of applied sciences. The research draws on systems theory and takes an ethnographic approach to the case studies to reveal how university administrations prepare and take decisions and, furthermore, what effects these decisions have on the other university structures. Key actors in this process are administrative departments. Field observations uncover the challenges such departments face in translating abstract programmes into university structures and making them compatible, at least in part. Decisions have to be prepared and guided through the university’s many decision-making bottlenecks, where measures are either adjusted and polished or rejected. Communication among those present (interaction) is a key form of communication in the efforts to cumulate and prepare environmental protection measures; this form of communication fulfils functions that an administration’s usual written communication does not. In addition to the challenges of establishing environmental protection on the administrative level, the study also demonstrates how the expectations of an administration regularly run up against the institutional boundaries of teaching and research. Academics and scientists can largely only be presented with voluntary measures. As a result, the collaboration of administrative departments with academic staff turns out to be complicated and piecemeal. These observations illustrate that changes resulting from environmental expectations are often primarily symbolic in nature. Changes to the deep structure occur only through self-adjustments. Despite the efforts of management, such adjustments are not linear, often unintended, and thus remain unlikely.