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Business Officer Magazine

Next-Generation Environmental Stewards

As colleges and universities make significant strides in effective energy efforts, the CBO is joining other campus leaders in the related decision making. But who will carry the environmental leadership torch into the future? Here are some ideas for starting a conversation that might answer this question.

By Karla Hignite

Higher education has made significant progress on the sustainability front during the past decade. Coincidentally, the job responsibilities of chief business officers and other key institution leaders have evolved in ways that now require a deeper and integrated understanding of campus infrastructure and physical plant requirements, specifically in the context of energy supplies and costs, resource use and operational efficiencies, and carbon-related impacts and risks. (Read more on this topic in "Stewards by Nature" in the December issue of Business Officer.)

During this same time, institution sustainability commitments have become a growing point of attraction for more students. By helping their colleges and universities create learning laboratories where students can query, investigate, and practice sustainability through real-world projects and applications on campus, business officers have assumed a stronger partnership role in the institution's recruitment and education of students.

  • What is required with regard to developing the next generation of campus sustainability leaders so that individual colleges and universities and higher education as an industry continue their progress in this arena? Here are some questions to begin that conversation:
  • What critical knowledge and decision-making skills are increasingly required in your role? What skill set will be needed by future CBOs to deal with complex issues spanning renewable energy development, energy and water management, space management, greenhouse gas emission reductions, related data and reporting requirements, purchasing and supply chain management, and building occupant behavior? How are these skills and competencies being passed along to others within the institution who may someday fill your shoes?
  • What new language or new ways of talking about sustainability are needed to resonate with all campus constituents so that sustainability becomes embedded in the institution's culture—not only because it may be "the right thing to do," but because it is increasingly seen as the smart, practical, and necessary approach to business operations?
  • What can CBOs do to ensure that their institutions sustain strong environmental leadership on campus? What are the questions institution leaders should ask with regard to developing the next generation of leaders who understand the complexity of operating in a world of increasingly finite resources?
  • What is required for leaders to remain champions of sustainability for their institutions in what would seem a new era of austerity for colleges and universities? What arguments must be made for continuing to invest in and lead efforts toward further progress on carbon neutrality amid deep financial constraints?
  • How can the benefits of sustainability be discussed in ways to convince stakeholders of their impact on the long-term financial health and viability of the institution? Should conversations be framed in terms of potential regulatory, financial, and reputational risk to the institution?
  • How can institution leaders better connect sustainability efforts and decisions to the core mission of the institution?

   KARLA HIGNITE, Universal City, Texas, is contributing editor for Business Officer.

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