By Hunter Lovins
The diverse crises that the planet faces will only be solved when companies and communities implement authentic and innovative sustainability practices. It is therefore encouraging that there are an increasing number of colleges and universities now including sustainability as part of their campus management programs and curriculum.
Are these programs effective enough to create the next generation of thought leaders our world needs? The answer is, “No. Not yet.”
A good start is underway, however. Pressure from companies, students, and ranking organizations is forcing colleges and universities to embrace sustainability.
The business community is demanding candidates with sustainability training. Accenture found that over 93 percent of CEO’s see sustainability as crucial to business success, with 88 percent stating it needs to be fully embedded into their strategy and operations.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) reporting is increasing annually, creating job openings for graduates familiar with integrated reporting. Given that about 20 percent of CSR reports each year are submitted by companies reporting for the first time, recruiting candidates who are familiar with sustainability, or training existing employees is a top priority for these companies. Job candidates who have a strong knowledge of sustainability are better positioned not only to fill current job openings, but help lead their companies into the future.
A 2010 study by McKinsey found, however, that many companies need education on how to go forward. Most executives surveyed considered sustainability important to their future, agreeing that the management of environmental, social, and governance issues was “very” or “extremely” important in a wide range of areas, including new product development, reputation building, and overall corporate strategy. However, only 30 percent said that their companies actively sought opportunities to invest in sustainability or embed it in their business practices. Respondents admitted to a pervasive lack of understanding of what sustainability is and how to implement it. This educational gap, they stated, was inhibiting action.
In part in recognition of this opportunity, and in part because this is what they care about – MonsterTRAK reports that 92 percent of recent college graduates want to work for a company that cares about the environment – students have been a major driver for campus sustainability. At the University of Colorado, Boulder (CU), students demanded that all new buildings be LEED-certified. Now CU has 14 LEED-certified buildings. This is not unique to CU. According to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) in 2011 more green building efforts were underway on campuses than ever before. Additionally, 677 colleges and universities, representing all 50 states and more than 6 million students, one third of the national student body, have signed the American College and University President’s Climate Challenge (ACUPCC). Signatories commit to create a plan to achieve carbon neutrality on campus and to integrate sustainability throughout their curriculum.
As the interest in sustainability and “green collar” jobs has grown, colleges and universities have incorporated sustainability across their operations and into degree programs. Of the roughly 4,000 colleges and universities within the U.S., 65 percent have instituted an Office of Sustainabilityor at least a centralized program management office to oversee the diverse number of sustainability programs on campus.
The National Wildlife Federation found that 64 percent of campus leaders believe that environmental stewardship and sustainability fits with the culture and values of their campus, and 17 percent stated that it helps with student recruitment. Colleges that invest in sustainability are saving money and gaining a competitive advantage.
Students are looking for schools that make living and teaching sustainability a priority in their coursework and in campus life. Two thirds of the more than 15,000 respondents to The Princeton Review’s “College Hopes & Worries Survey,” said that “they would favor having information about a college’s commitment to the environment and that it may impact their decision to apply to or attend the school.” Almost 25 percent said it would “Strongly” or “Very Much” contribute to their assessment of a school.
To help students choose, campuses are reporting their initiatives to external outlets that rank or track their sustainability efforts. The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), partnered with Princeton Review and Sierra Magazine, provides the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Reporting System (STARS). The 2011 Green Report Card issued by the Sustainable Endowments Institute showed dramatic increases in implementation of their 52 green indicators over results from 2007. More than 60 percent of schools surveyed have made a commitment to cut carbon emissions compared to 23 percent in 2006. Seventy percent have a campus farm or garden, up from 9 percent in 2006. Almost 80 percent have implemented a green building policy, compared to 22 percent in 2006, and almost all (95 percent) have a formal sustainability committee. In 2006 only 40 percent did.
Proquest’s list of "Academic Programs in Sustainability" counts 180 total programs in the U.S., 134 degree programs and 46 certificate programs. This is up from zero a few years ago. Universities such as Arizona State even offer a PhD in Sustainability.
Despite all this, efforts are falling short. When both the International Energy Agency and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Developmentwarn that unless global leaders implement more sustainable practices immediately the world faces a grim future, universities have a duty to see that graduates are trained in sustainability.
Three main problems exist today:
Bard integrates sustainability completely into curricula, offering classes such as Finance for Sustainable Business, Accounting & The Integrated Bottom Line, and Political Economy of Sustainability. All students engage in the Living Laboratory of New York City, a mentored program that matches students with companies, NGOs and governments to deliver real world experience in implementing sustainability.
image: beanbag amerika via Flickr cc (some rights reserved)
This article was reprinted with permission from Sustainable Industries.