Sustainability as a Way of Life
This issue marks our sixth annual "green guide," looking at sustainability trends and technologies at campuses around the country. Some students even base enrollment decisions on an institution's commitment to the environment. "Green" and "sustainability" seem to have become ingrained in the collective higher education consciousness--which, of course, was the idea all along. This was brought home to me in a conversation I had with Karli Grant, a product manager for Campus Management. Grant recently participated in a University Business web seminar on sustainability for an audience of several hundred viewers around the country. It focused on a number of steps that colleges and universities could implement that would have a significant impact on energy efficiency, cost savings, and carbon reduction.
At one point in the webinar, Grant asked the audience a simple question: "How formalized is a green strategic plan at your institution?" Nearly 11 percent said they had a published "green" strategic plan that spans the institution and actively involves all departments. About a quarter of those surveyed (24.7) said a "green" strategic plan had not yet been fully rolled out, while 15.4 percent said their strategy is "somewhat formalized but efforts fall mostly to IT or other singular departments."
"I think I was most surprised that 49.2 percent said their strategy was not formalized," Grant says. "I suspect there were a couple reasons for this. At some institutions, I think it may be reflective of the changing priorities regarding the economy over the last few years. In the early and mid-2000s, there was a lot of emphasis around going green. The technologies being developed were known to be costly, but were determined to be valuable. Then, with the downturn in the economy, some institutions had to make difficult decisions regarding their spending, and long-term gains of energy efficiency may not have stood up to short-terms gains on campus."
The other reason, she surmised, is that not all institutions may feel the need to have a formalized plan, but still recognize the value of being "green." In other words, sustainability might already be a way of life at these schools, whether it is spelled out in a formal document or not.
Mercer University (Ga.) is a good example. The institution doesn't have a formalized green IT program, yet President William Underwood has a longstanding commitment to conserving energy, buying energy-efficient computers, and recycling electronic and other waste. The school has even created an environmental support fund to award grants for various environmental improvement initiatives on campus. It's not carved in stone; it's just what they do.
So, while some schools may have backed off their aggressiveness in formalized programs, they approach sustainability in other ways. "They still strive for LEED certification when they are building new facilities," Grant notes. "Things like energy efficiency and water conservation are part of the planning from the earliest design stage."
Let me now pose the question to University Business readers. Has your commitment to sustainability changed in recent years? If so, then how? Have you had to scale back any green initiatives? Or, like Mercer, is sustainability just part of the fabric of your institution? Let me know, and we'll publish your thoughts in an upcoming issue.