As places where future citizens are educated, knowledge is (co-)produced and societal developments are critically reflected, higher education institutions (HEIs) can play a key role in addressing sustainability challenges. In order to accelerate mutual learning, shared problem understanding, and joint development of sustainable solutions, interinstitutional exchange and collaboration between HEIs is crucial. However, little research to date has focused on institutional HEI networks in the field of sustainability. More specifically, we still understand little about the concrete development, implementation, and adaptation of such networks. This article explores early-stage HEI networks for sustainability from a conceptual and empirical stance in order to develop a framework that facilitates structured descriptions of these networks, as well as to foster cross-HEI learning on their effective performance. It therefore combines insights from an explorative literature review, two case studies and an interactive workshop at the ISCN Conference 2018. As results, we first suggest an analytical framework to facilitate a systematic characterization of HEI networks. Second, by applying the framework to the two case studies, we present and discuss lessons learned on how a single HEI can contribute to establishing a network and how it can utilize its network membership effectively to strengthen its efforts for sustainability.