Let me get this out there at the very beginning. This is a blog about sustainability. What this is not, is a blog about being green. Sustainability is MORE THAN GREEN!
This is the message I delivered to a room full of university Governors, at a recent Governor Development Day, hosted by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education.
A fantastic opportunity and yet also, quite a challenge. How was I to sell ‘the business case’ for sustainability, without preaching about this ‘green’ stuff? Everybody knows the environmental benefits of acting sustainably but what about the economic and social value of it? I needed to convince my audience that there is an awful lot more to sustainability than just ‘being green’; I want to turn my passion, into a top team, top table issue.
Given that sustainability means meeting our needs today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs, perhaps we need to start by looking forwards; what do we think Higher Education might look like in 30 years’ time? Do we think there will be more or fewer institutions, will we have more or less funding, will we be more local in our operations or even more global? How will we be regulated, and by who? Sadly, there is no crystal ball in the Vice-Chancellor’s office but really, we don’t need one. The future is here, it is happening and the decisions we make and the actions we take right now, will determine what that future looks like.
What we do here matters and increasingly, how we do what we do, matters to our students. Consider young people today, they are more empowered than they have ever been, better informed about their options and with more choice than ever when it comes to Higher Education. With the lift of the student numbers cap, this will only intensify. So the decision for students today is no longer just about what subject they want to study or even about which city they would like to live in; their decision today is about the whole brand offer of an institution.
We know, through research conducted by the NUS in conjunction with the HEA, that students care about sustainability. 80% of students believed that sustainability should be incorporated and promoted by universities and over a third, considered the environmental and ethical performance when considering where to study. All of which makes sense, when we consider that employers too are looking for forward thinking graduates, with the skills needed to ensure the long-term survival of their organisation.
And when our graduates progress into the world of work, they will increasingly seek to work for an employer with a reputation for good governance and with whose values they can identify. By 2020, 50% of the workforce will be made up of ‘Generation Y’ employees, a generation that care about sustainability, who want to work for an employer that is innovative in its culture, style and approach.
It may be a cliché, but the truth is that our people are our biggest asset; we can only have a sustainable organisation when we have a sustainable workforce. This is why staff were at heart of our rebranding process, choosing the values that they felt were most reflective of their University. At Plymouth, innovation comes naturally to us and our culture is one where people feel empowered to explore, dream and discover. In our most recent staff survey, 93% of staff that responded felt trusted to do their job and overall, we performed 5th highest out of 49 HEI’s surveyed by Capita.
Our reputation plays a key role in how we attract students and staff and our sustainability credentials speak for themselves. The top overall performer in the People and Planet Green League since its inception in 2007, Green Gown award winners in 2011, named greenest educational institution in the country in 2012, and, just last year, we gained silver accreditation in the LiFE index for our sustainability performance. Not too shabby!
But there is still a long way to go and a lot of work to be done – we are on a journey and I hope that you are too. Just remember, sustainability is MORE THAN GREEN!