Competition among higher education providers is fierce and universities are searching for new ways to attract students and to recruit and retain the most talented faculty and staff. Committing to and delivering a more sustainable environment on campus in increasingly becoming a significant means of remaining competitive in the higher education marketplace.
Sustainable solutions are more than a nice to have; they are business imperative and universities that want to secure student and faculty trust and loyalty must find ways to integrate it into an effective business strategy. 84% of global consumers say whenever possible they will try to purchase products or services from companies that are environmentally responsible and 9 in 10 would like to see more responsible products and services made available. (2015 Cone Ebiquity Global CSR Study ) Moreover, the coming of age of the millennial generation and the emergence of Generation Z, collectively represent the most environmentally aware consumer population we have ever seen, and these young people are actively making practical sustainable choices.
Higher education establishments need to develop and implement sustainability programs to respond to the changing expectations of today’s student body. A recent Princeton Review study showed the 61% of students will consider a college’s commitment to the environment when selecting where they plan to attend. In addition 81% of 13-25 year olds, say that protecting the environment is an important or top priority for them.
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Successful sustainability programs will also help universities operate more efficiently, save money and contribute to environmental and social good. Practical sustainability programs are based on the idea that sustainability has to be more than just a “nice to have”. It needs to deliver both sound financial value AND solid environmental outcomes. The best initiatives deliver social, communal and environmental value. By approaching sustainability in this manner, we ensure that it is deeply integrated with business objectives and is driving value for all of key stakeholders. Successful programs lead to improved efficiency and reduced costs. Universities may also experience increased innovation and an improvement in exceeding student and faculty needs while doing environmental good at the same time.
College and university campuses should use strategic actions to guide their sustainability programs. Strategic steps to successfully build and embed sustainability into a business include:
- Creating a sustainability strategy with tangible goals and objectives that are integrated into the companies mission and purpose
- Establishing well defined roles and responsibilities with identified leadership on sustainability matters
- Setting metrics and actively measuring performance
- Publicly sharing both successes and failures with key stakeholders
- Actively engaging employees, customers and stakeholders to help identify issues of importance and then including them in the your efforts to address them
- Taking a long term, societal view of issues rather than just the short term needs of the business.
Even small changes can drive positive environmental impact and there are many opportunities on campuses to make sustainable choices:
- Energy – Are you making an effort to reduce energy consumption? Are you buying renewable energy?
- Transportation – Can you reduce vehicle traffic on campus? Have you launched programs to introduce alternative transportation and ride sharing? Are you bike friendly?
- Food – Do you have a plan to reduce food waste? Are you providing more sustainably sourced ingredients to students?
- Procurement – Is there a strategy to ensure that the school is buying more sustainable products? Are you working with more sustainably minded vendors?
- Waste Reduction – Are you making an effort to increase recycling and reduce waste in landfills
- Building Design – Have you considered a certification like LEED or Green Globes for your existing building or your new buildings? Are you seeking out ways to design and operate your facilities with environmental impact in mind?
- Water conservation- Have you introduced more efficient landscaping? Are you seeking out ways to reduce water consumption?
A practical sustainability strategy has a positive impact helping schools to reduce costs, increase efficiency and enhance their reputation. All while increasing recruitment and driving innovation. These changes will also ensure that universities are continuing to advance their purpose, by developing tomorrow’s leaders in an environment designed to do good for both students and faculty and the world.