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Sustainability Squared

NACUBO’s Annual Meeting in Montréal showcased sessions and activities reflecting the range of campus facility and energy infrastructure efficiency projects that have become a hallmark of sustainability leadership in higher education during the past decade.

NACUBO's Annual Meeting in Montréal showcased sessions and activities reflecting the range of campus facility and energy infrastructure efficiency projects that have become a hallmark of sustainability leadership in higher education during the past decade. Concurrent session topics included ways to plan, fund, and execute campus energy and water conservation; employing energy efficiency as a means to tackle deferred maintenance; and better space use and master utility planning.

Impressive accomplishments in the realm of sustainability were likewise evident via the 43 "campus efficiencies" posters on display detailing transportation strategies, zero waste initiatives, renewable energy projects, comprehensive lighting retrofits, and behavioral change campaigns. NACUBO's Sustainability Advisory Panel first suggested these educational posters for the 2014 annual meeting, and they continue to expand in popularity as a means to visually share member campus success stories. (To view all the 2016 posters, go to www.nacubo.org/am2016posters.)

Leading for the Long Term

As noted by one session presenter Bryan Herrmann, vice chancellor for administration at University of Minnesota Morris, the role of the business officer in building a renewable, sustainable campus is to set ambitious goals for the institution and to think long term about efficiency and total cost of ownership. That focus is a requirement going forward, as colleges and universities explore the next realm of campus sustainability. As a sector, higher education has taken a leadership position making institutional commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This effort has also given rise over the years to working more closely in partnership with all campus stakeholders and with surrounding communities to improve livability and strengthen resilience to thrive amid common threats and disasters.

Shared Strategies

The need to actively engage and enlist the participation of students, alumni, and board members in an institution's sustainability mission was echoed in several informal group discussions at the annual meeting. At a peer discussion networking dinner hosted by First American Education Finance, the conversation among several dozen CBOs centered on building integrated strategies for affordability, diversity, and sustainability. Keynote speaker Anthony Cortese, principal of the Intentional Endowments Network, challenged business officers to think more broadly about sustainability and to help their institutions' boards and other stakeholders do the same. Sustainability is not solely about a healthy planet but about the health and well-being of the human population, noted Cortese. "It's about how we create a decent quality of life for all current and future generations on a planet whose capacity to support life is precarious." Cortese believes higher education institutions are especially suited to affirm this message, since colleges and universities embody the hope for perpetuity and the ongoing quest for expanding knowledge and capacity. For their part, CBOs are instrumental in helping trustees and institution leaders align sustainability priorities and funding commitments, adds Cortese.

Bolstering Board Support

NACUBO's Sustainability Advisory Panel held a separate roundtable discussion that picked up on similar themes, focusing on what members of higher education governing boards should know or do to advance campus sustainability/efficiency operations and the role of the CBO in assisting that process. Among the observations shared:

  • Get sustainability on the board's agenda and allocate time for its discussion. Develop an action plan with clear policies and for which efforts are accountable and progress is routinely reported to ensure that key financial, as well as environmental, benefits result.
  • Infuse sustainability into the overall mission and master plan of the institution and align priorities with specific goals. Create the business case for your initiatives by documenting cost savings and outcomes and sharing the results. Then identify resources to accommodate these priorities.
  • Leverage the interest of alumni and current students who embrace these ideals and want to see how these priorities are implemented.
  • Connect with entities outside of the institution, including corporations and businesses as well as nonprofits, to share best practices and identify opportunities to collaborate.   

KARLA HIGNITE, New York City, is a contributing editor for Business Officer


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