With the head of UNESCO recently acknowledging that education plays a key role in preparing the 'world's youth' for a sustainable future, a great emphasis has been placed on institutions to become more green-minded and improve their own operations. For any sustainability programme to be successful, colleges and universities need to ensure their entire team is engaged, with management 'leading by example' and developing codes of practice staff, students and stakeholders can understand and engage with.
Anthony Day, a specialist in environmental and sustainability issues who regularly advises organisations on energy efficiency and carbon management, explains how colleges and universities can encourage both employees and students to adopt their own sustainable practices. He also outlines how effective employee engagement can have a significant impact on an institution's reputation, success, and even profitability.
With over two million individuals currently studying in further education across the UK, even reaching out and engaging a small proportion of this population could have huge impacts on channelling the message of sustainability. Targeting the sector provides both students and staff with the opportunity to develop the relevant values, skills and knowledge with which to incorporate sustainable practices not only in their future professional careers but in their personal lives too. With future leaders and decisions makers currently going through the education system, targeting the sector is crucial in instilling the importance of sustainability in young people.
As a result, greater pressure has been placed on the education system to inform and prepare young people to help create a sustainable future, not only with a view to including it in the curriculum but ensuring individual institutions develop their own green codes of practice. However, with a whole range of departments to engage and collaborate with, from finance and HR through to health and safety and procurement, joining together and connecting all members of staff in one streamlined channel of communication can often be a challenge, especially when the concept of sustainability is often considered a low priority.
Collaboration across all departments is vital in ensuring that all staff buy-in to an institution's sustainability plan, and encouraging students and stakeholders to engage with the strategy builds coherence across a range of initiatives and practices. It is vital that all individuals are presented with the bigger picture and are educated about the reasoning behind the strategy and its goals, not only to ensure they understand what they need to do but why they're doing it and what it will achieve. Ultimately, if there's no culture to the institution's sustainability and innovation plan, it will not be able to achieve its sustainable development goals.
Whilst introducing, or improving, sustainability strategies within an institution can essentially increase its environmental performance and lower its carbon footprint, it also offers a whole host of other benefits. With the introduction of a number of green incentives and tax reliefs, institutions can increase productivity and reduce costs through more sustainable business practices, and educating staff effectively can see operations streamlined, resulting in lower costs. Introducing carbon management plans doesn't necessarily need to have large capital investments either, and essentially the costs saved through reduced energy and electricity usage and water consumption can be huge, particularly for a college or a university that educates thousands of students.
A sustainability programme that is consistent with an institution's positioning will also create real commercial value. Reputation is the number one driver that puts colleges and universities ahead of their competition and with research suggesting stakeholders are far more likely to approach institutions that are environmentally conscious, the competitive edge that sustainable practices offer is hugely beneficial. On top of that, over the next few years increasing surcharges on carbon emissions will be introduced to ensure that the nation meets its greenhouse gas emission targets –there's no better time to make provisions for the future.
The concept of sustainability is rapidly growing in importance, with greater demands placed on institutions to reduce their impact on the environment. This in turn requires staff, students, and stakeholders to be educated and knowledgeable about the issues. Institutions already adopting green practices not only identify themselves as leading the way, but also reap the financial and reputational benefits of going green.
Anthony Day, a specialist in environmental and sustainability issues
Speaking throughout the UK and Europe since 1998, Anthony has specialised in environmental and sustainability issues for the past 10 years, working as a consultant to advise companies and organisations on energy efficiency and carbon management. He now channels his expertise as a keynote speaker and seminar leader within this field, and has spoken at events for organisations such as the Low Carbon Best Practice Exchange, Sustainability Live, 2degrees, the Clean Technologies Show, AMPS, the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA), and Business Green. To find out more about Anthony and his work, visit www.anthony-day.com, read the blog at www.anthonyday.blogspot.co.uk, or download the Sustainable Futures podcast from iTunes