Going green

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National Leaders, Global Citizens

Many higher education institutions are, or aspire to be, national leaders and role models in the quality of their teaching and research. And of course, the best of our universities think beyond the city and beyond the border to the global audience, developing reputations that secure international attention. In an ever more interconnected world, our universities and their staff and students work, learn, think and collaborate globally. We’re all global citizens. And on no subject is this more true than on sustainability – an essential aspect of leadership thinking from the geopolitical level to the level of corporate governance and management planning. For more and more of us we want to work and act sustainably because it’s the right thing to do – we know the human outcomes of living beyond the planet’s means. Sustainability is in our heads, but it’s in our hearts too.

So, what’s the framework we’re thinking within when we talk about sustainability and choosing to operate sustainably as organisations in higher education? For many, the essential background framework to our individual and corporate efforts is the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals or SDGs, launched in 2015 and providing a system within which all countries, rich or poor, can work. The 17 goals cover the widest range, from ending hunger to ensuring the welfare of our seas and rivers, from ending inequalities to making our production and consumption as responsible as we can. As individuals or even as organisations some of them might seem remote, but as a whole-planet response the SDGs have the ability to inspire and guide us to where our efforts can make most difference. There’s no better place to start when thinking about sustainability in higher education.

AUDE launched its Green Scorecard in 2016 as a way to support member institutions think about sustainability at the corporate level, and within 12 months more than 100 UK HEIs were using the tool. In summer 2018, in collaboration with The EAUC and Arup, and with the support of the former HEFCE, AUDE has launched the Sustainability Leadership Scorecard (SLS), a significant expansion on our previous work, and a tool that aims to transform the way organisations think about, plan around, and communicate about their corporate sustainability work. As a whole issue sustainability can seem mind-boggling in its complexity. An individual, or a team, may hold responsibility for delivering against sustainable objectives. Or that responsibility may be spread between teams, with different reporting lines, and historical decisions on the management of aspects of the issue may add to the complexity, making a whole-organisation view difficult to achieve. The SLS acts to counter these difficulties. At the heart of the SLS as a tool sit the UN’s SDGs – users can map their activities against those goals, as a way of demonstrating to senior leaders, to student bodies and beyond that their work is credible, focused in its intent and measurable in its impact. And all of that is vital in energising the institution behind the chosen direction of travel. So how does the SLS work?

User inputs to the online system can include a variety of existing tools – the aim is not to replicate but to bring together existing work to give that “whole organisation view”. So, inputs might include the existing Green Scorecard, NUS Green Impact, BREEAM, Food for Life or ISO 50001 (on energy), for instance. Users are supported to think about every aspect of a planning cycle, from risk and staff engagement, to waste and biodiversity, and score their work against activity areas including policy, measurement and communication. The outputs are mapped onto a wheel diagram, easily shared and understood.

Intended in a collaborative spirit, the SLS allows users to benchmark against other institutions, record a narrative of progress, and establish their own priority areas – all with the focus on learning and improvement as an organisation. The top ten institutions within each priority area are highlighted as a way of suggesting potential routes for sharing of approaches and peer support. The focus throughout is on helping the user focus on priority areas that will have the most impact, support for goal-setting and learning, and on ease of communication around a complex subject.

The Sustainability Leadership Scorecard was developed with extensive support from HE institutions to make sure it is a practical working tool that is genuinely easy to use.

Different universities are inevitably at different stages of their progress and have chosen to focus their energies on the UN SDGs that are most meaningful to them. For instance, University A might have identified the “Sustainable Cities and Communities” SDG as a focus, stated the “Significant” level of impact as their aspiration, and seen their actual impact so far measured at “Medium”. Clear action plans can emerge from that. The tool rates their work on policy and strategy to be good, while highlighting that work is still to be done on implementation. For University B, the SLS shows the strength of their stakeholder engagement work but also the need to improve measurement and links to the curriculum. Again, actionable plans can emerge. The universities working with us developing the SLS found the discussions across teams themselves to be immensely useful in establishing the direction of future travel and in identifying performance gaps. The Scorecard provided the process for an objective review of each of the sustainability indicators with the visual representation of performance helping to crystallise current achievement and future planning.

Jane White, Executive Director of AUDE, thinks of the tool as the way to harness the energy of a university. “Sustainability is complex. And taking the right decisions can be complex – senior leaders have struggled to see all the relevant information in the same place before. The SLS co-ordinates across systems and standards and teams, so your decision makers can be confident they understand the complexity and can steer the ship towards the right goals – backed by the UN. Sustainability may often sit within the remit of our members, university Directors of Estates and their teams, but this tool cuts across narrow work boundaries to give the breadth of thinking across a whole institution that is needed. The SLS will transform the way universities deliver against our sustainability aspirations.”

Iain Patton, EAUC CEO, said: “By integrating into one powerful tool the sector’s key environmental and sustainability data-sets, standards and accreditations, the Sustainability Leadership Scorecard is making a huge difference to the way universities capture, improve and report their societal performance. And it is doing so in a way that Vice Chancellors, students and other stakeholders can easily see the positive impact that their institution is making on society.”

For more information on the SLS, visit the AUDE website at www.sustainabilityleadershipscorecard.org

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