Climate crisis. Ecological catastrophe. Environmental injustice.
However you parse it, climate change is a threat to our survival. Yet addressing it requires a monumental level of change—from individuals and institutions. Sustainability planning organizes these efforts so that your college or university can become part of the solution, not the problem.
Sustainability planning in higher education is planning that outlines a college’s or university’s overall sustainability goals and how those goals will be met.
“Sustainability” is a broad concept. While sustainability planning nearly always addresses environmental and ecological health, it can also include human health and wellbeing, equity and social justice, and economic integrity.1 Each institution must determine what it means by “sustainability.”
A sustainability plan is broad, covering all aspects of a college’s or university’s “operations, education, administration, and stakeholders,” including:
More detailed, technical plans that focus on reducing greenhouse gasses, such as climate action plans, can be a component of a sustainability plan or are informed by a sustainability plan.
The Higher Education Associations Sustainability Consortium (HEASC) offers information and resources that can be helpful during sustainability planning.
Our very survival hinges on our ability to address climate change and mitigate its impacts. Assembling and implementing a campus-wide sustainability plan ensures that a college or university takes operational, financial, and environmental steps to prevent an environmental catastrophe. Further, sustainability planning in higher education trains students in the ways of sustainability and provides examples and best practices for other organizations.
Achieving sustainability requires change across the institution: from how and where resources are allocated to what is taught, researched, and learned, and how people get their day-to-day work completed. Sustainability planning must align and interact with other plans—strategic, academic, budget, campus—in order to achieve this scope of change.
Planning that focuses only on “traditional” sustainability areas (like energy use and waste management) misses opportunities to incorporate initiatives into campus functions and departments that are not traditionally associated with sustainability.
Sustainability planning is often led by a cross-functional committee with representatives from faculty, administration, staff, students, and the community.
The committee should include representatives from:
As with any type of planning, stakeholder involvement and input in the plan’s development is crucial for successful implementation.
Because sustainability planning often includes initiatives that can be completed in a relatively short time (like updating procurement policies to include sustainability as a criteria used to vet potential suppliers) and projects that require years to finish (like retrofitting buildings to be more energy efficient), it can be helpful to have an overarching plan with a longer time horizon—5–10 years—that’s supplemented by yearly action plans and updates. This also allows your plan to adapt to technological changes and innovations.
Many institutions use rating systems, like the AASHE STARS program, as a framework to determine how they should approach sustainability planning, including what their plan should address and who should be involved.
Generally, the steps you take for sustainability planning are:
SCUP is proud to be an organizational sponsor of the Climate Action Pursuit – being hosted by Second Nature and the Intentional Endowments Network (IEN) throughout 2021. Knowledge-to-action teams will work together to accomplish goals in six topic areas that are central to the higher education sector and our nation’s climate priorities. A series of milestone check-in points throughout 2021 will focus on learning, planning, acting, and leading on equity and climate on our campuses, in our communities, and across our society and economy. The event is 100% virtual. Join the third milestone: October 7-8. Learn more and register.
You’re invited to join the SCUP community toward learning and practicing integrated sustainability planning in higher education. Check out our related learning resources and upcoming events and courses below.
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