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Common language of sustainability for built environment professionals — the quintuple helix model for higher education.

Crilly, Michael and Vemury, Chandra Mouli and Humphrey, Richard and Rodriguez, Sergio and Crosbie, Tracey and Johnson, Karen and Wilson, Alexander and Heidrich, Oliver (2020) 'Common language of sustainability for built environment professionals — the quintuple helix model for higher education.', Energies., 13 (22). p. 5860.


One of the repeating themes around the provision of the knowledge and skills needed for delivering sustainable communities is the idea of a “common language” for all built environment professionals. This suggestion has been repeated regularly with each new political and professional review within and between different sectors responsible for the delivery of sustainable communities. There have been multiple efforts to address academic limitations, industry fragmentation and promote more interdisciplinary working and sector collaboration. This research explored the role of skills for sustainable communities, particularly within the higher education (HE) sector, and the responses to support the development of a “common language of sustainability” that can be shared between different sectors, professional disciplines and stakeholders. As an interdisciplinary group of academics and practitioners working with the HE sector in the North East of England, we evaluate the progression of sector collaboration to develop a quintuple helix model for HE. We use this as a suitable framework for systematically “mapping” out the mixed sector (academic, public, business, community and environmental organisations) inputs and influences into a representative sample of HE degree modules that are delivered from foundation and undergraduate to postgraduate levels, including examples of part-time and distance-learning modules. We developed a cascade of models which demonstrate increasing levels of collaboration and their potential positive impact on the effectiveness of education on sustainable communities. The methodological assessments of modules were followed by semi-structured group reflective analysis undertaken through a series of online workshops (recorded during the Covid19 lockdown) to set out a collective understanding of the generic skills needed for the delivery of sustainable communities. These generic skills for sustainable communities are presented as a pedagogical progression model of teaching activities and learning outcomes applied to the levels within HE. We propose sustainability education principles and progressions with the hope that they can have an impact on the design or review of current degree modules and programmes. The paper informs future sustainability research to be grounded in holism and systems thinking; better understanding of values, ethics, influencing and political impact; and procedural authenticity.

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Publisher statement:© 2020 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (
Date accepted:16 October 2020
Date deposited:17 November 2020
Date of first online publication:10 November 2020
Date first made open access:17 November 2020

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