Coordinating Sustainability Efforts
Across Campus

If your institution's leadership has already made a public commitment to sustainability, then it is important to educate the president, provost, and chief financial officer about the whole picture of the sustainability efforts already under way on campus, and what opportunities there may be for building further. It will be important to define, as quickly as possible, what sustainability means at your institution. Is it limited to energy efficiency? Is it broader in scope? What does your college or university want to achieve? This definition should be arrived at collaboratively, with input from students, institutional leaders, and sustainability champions at your institution.

If sustainability efforts at your institution are operating at a grassroots level, then auditing and building coordination between current efforts, developing a full cost accounting tool, and marketing your successes can be key efforts in cultivating investment by both institutional leadership and the campus community.

Whether you are starting with an executive commitment or with a grassroots effort, the critical early step is to audit what is already happening on campus and what resources are already available to you. Then you will be better-equipped to coordinate across departments and scale up. To move from a series of ad hoc efforts toward a more integrated initiative, it's important to find out:

  • What programs you currently have (look across student and auxiliary services, facilities services, and across your curriculum)
  • Who your sustainability "champions" are

Once you have this information, you can:

  • Form a robust sustainability committee
  • Coordinate efforts across campus and build on what you already have
  • Plan ahead by mapping your institution's needs and opportunities, and performing a gap analysis
  • Move toward setting campus-wide sustainability goals

Forming Your Committee

If your campus does not currently have one, you will need to create a sustainability committee. Organize a temporary task force to identify who should be on your committee and what the nature of their work should be. As soon as you do know who your champions are, Matt St. Clair, sustainability manager for the University of California's Office of the President, advises establishing an ongoing steering committee that is charged with:

  • Managing the flow of information across silos and the sharing of best practices
  • Organizing people into discrete task forces or working groups that have short-term objectives centered on specific projects with specific outcomes

St. Clair suggests ensuring that your committee includes representatives from all parts of your institution's organizational structure. It will also be important to identify the right chair for your committee. This needs to be a professional that the other committee members (as well as the larger community of your institution) will respect and respond to, someone with credibility and a track record of facilitating communication or work across multiple departments.

Building on What You Have: Coordinating Grassroots Efforts

Dave Newport suggests that a good initial step for the committee is to hold a charette to kick off the process of sharing resources and ideas across different stakeholders on campus. Invite your campus's current sustainability champions -- faculty, students, and staff -- into one room, have them showcase their current efforts, and then work in small groups to brainstorm next steps given the resources available.

This video offers a short documentary of a sustainability charette at Rennselaer Polytechnic University, demonstrating how the activity can work.

This type of activity achieves several aims:

  • Generates increased excitement and momentum among your champions
  • Educates your champions about one another's efforts and about the resources and expertise already present on campus
  • Inventories your current curricular and co-curricular programming
  • Gives champions a creative and collaborative space in which to set attainable next steps

To sustain momentum, Newport suggests scheduling regular brown-bag lunch discussions, holding workshops where one or more of your champions can educate and involve others on campus in their effort, and -- when possible -- organizing a colloquium on your campus or even a summit that will invite sustainability leaders from other campuses and organizations.

"If you are starting with a small handful of sustainability champions on your campus, you need to gather ideas. You don't have to reinvent the wheel; find every opportunity to invite others across the country to share their practices."
Angela Halfacre, Furman University

Identifying Your Best Future Opportunities

Once you have both coordination among your current efforts and leadership support for sustainability, the crucial step is to map the external conditions and the internal needs and opportunities that can drive smart and intentional investments in sustainability going forward. The AI Sustainability Road Map identifies two discrete sets of questions institutions need to address.

External Mapping

Dave Newport suggests that the traditional SWOT analysis is not enough to identify where an organization stands related to sustainability. To really identify both the right future opportunities for your institution and the steps you need to take today, you need to examine:

  • The influence of the availabilities and costs of various natural resources
  • Current and anticipated changes in the regulatory environment or in state and federal funding available for sustainability projects and programs
  • Whether your institution is currently "in step" with the expectations of your constituents (Are you perceived as a leader? Or is your institution not living up to the expectations of your students, prospective students, alumni, donors, and local community?)
  • Trends in student demand, demographics, and expectations that are likely to have an impact on both your institution's carbon footprint and your sustainability efforts

For example, consider the rising demand for online learning. If your institution has growth of online programming among its strategic objectives, you will want to consider:

  • What is the foreseeable impact on campus investments in facilities renovation and capital planning?
  • How are your student demographics expected to change with regard to transportation demand? (For example, if your institution is a commuter campus moving into online programming, does your institution anticipate fewer commuters five years from now?)
  • What are the implications for energy consumption? (Will the campus be relying on traditional servers drawing large quantities of energy, or is it time to plan a green data center?)

It's important to plan for sustainability initiatives that not only make sense for today's campus, but that also take into account where your institution will be five or 10 years from now.

Internal Mapping

Next, chart where sustainability efforts currently do -- or could in the future -- add value to key objectives for your institution (such as student recruitment and retention, faculty recruitment and retention, or donor cultivation and stewardship). This can empower you to perform a gap analysis to identify missed opportunities as well as determine where the institution most needs to build capacity for advancing sustainability efforts.

For example, beyond tracking the impact of your sustainability efforts on your utilities costs, have you considered the possible impact on alumni giving? "Often," Newport advises, "by not bringing a coherent and comprehensive story to the alumni community about the institution's commitment to and work toward sustainability, many institutions are leaving money on the table."

By charting where your efforts could have more impact, your institution will be in a better position to identify what efforts will add the most value. "Once you understand the value proposition of sustainability," Newport remarks, "and can identify where sustainability can contribute measurable value to your institution, it becomes easier to locate the highest-impact opportunities for growing your sustainability efforts."

Effective Goal-Setting

Once you have an external and internal map of sustainability-related needs and opportunities, you can set informed goals. To learn more about doing so effectively, we interviewed Matt St. Clair, who leads the University of California system's ongoing sustainability goal-setting and planning exercises, coordinating efforts across the system's campuses. St. Clair speaks to the necessity of having an inclusive planning process that allows you to collect input from the widest possible array of stakeholders.

"Make sure all the people who will be implementing the goals have buy-in and ownership of those goals. The most effective way to do this is to develop the goals in such a way as to involve everyone who has a stake in implementation. That's how you get a plan that doesn't just sit on the shelf."
Matt St. Clair, University of California

St. Clair has seen success with goal-setting exercises that follow this process:

  • Educate your stakeholders before the exercises begin; provide all participants with the results of the internal and external mapping
  • Open with an inspirational speaker or video that invites participants to think "big picture," focusing on what is possible rather than on the restraints under which they will have to work
  • Involve participants in a "visioning exercise" -- have breakout groups discuss what becoming a "green" institution will look like
  • Engage the group in "backcasting" -- start with the vision of what the sustainable campus looks like, then "backcast" to the present, identifying a series of key steps needed to get from where the campus is now to that future
  • Prioritize the steps and set phased goals with different, specific time horizons, from short-term goals that can be enacted in the next year, to three- to five-year goals, to longer-term goals