Organisational culture is frequently mentioned in the context of sustainability governance in higher education institutions, but its substance and role for organisational development remain largely unclear. This paper argues that, in fact, sustainability governance in higher education institutions is predicated on cultural orientations. These are explored empirically based on 61 expert interviews with stakeholders (management, sustainability commissioners, academic and technical staff, students) in eleven German higher education institutions. Qualitative (thematic, evaluative) content analysis was used to code and compare data across cases. The study identifies four cultural key dimensions and two overarching orientations: organisational learning orientation and holistic orientation. The analysis suggests that both orientations tend to reinforce each other. They also represent key areas which need to be addressed by higher education institutions seeking change towards sustainable development. The findings demonstrate the need for future research on organisational cultures of sustainability governance and their development over time.