Institutions have the tools needed for sustainable change: the key is turning ideas into strategy

Cal Innes
Cal Innes

Environmental sustainability as a concept is not new. Colleges and universities have long considered how to minimise waste and make practices more efficient, not only for the good of the planet, but also to reduce costs.

Work colleagues in discussion during a workshop.

What is new, or at least becoming an increasing priority, is the development of strategic sustainability goals that exist as part of an organisation’s overall operational strategy; and this is where Jisc comes in.

Small things such as making sure tech is turned off and not left on standby, re-furbishing and re-modelling equipment rather than scrapping at the end of a warranty and encouraging collaboration across departments to find efficiencies in everyday tasks can go a long way towards making sustainable gains.

A sustainability strategy brings these practices together to provide a cohesive view of the workings of an organisation, and it also provides top-down buy-in and encouragement to be more carbon neutral.

Vision for sustainable change workshops

As a newly appointed sustainability subject specialist at Jisc, I was excited to host alongside the founder of well, that’s interesting tech!, Scott Stonham, a recent workshop with East Coast College to help them develop their vision for sustainable change.

The workshop, which supports the UN’s sustainable development goals, is part of a series open to all Jisc members that are keen to gain a better understanding of their carbon footprints and move towards net zero.

The session included a mix of attendees from different areas of the institution and at varying levels of seniority, all with an interest in sustainability and a knowledge of both current practices and future ambitions.

Having such a wealth of information in the room was invaluable in understanding opportunities for sustainable change, and it was encouraging to see that steps were already being taken across the board to reduce carbon emissions.

Attendees from areas such as career services, IT and facilities – who technically work ‘together’ but may not necessarily be in direct contact with each other – were all making efficiencies within their departments, but by operating in silos the college did not feel the full benefit.

Highlighting the strengths that already exist within the college when it comes to sustainable practice, provided an outline for future opportunities and this is where the development and implementation of a sustainability strategy is key.

Encouraging news from the sector

A recent report published by GuildHE (pdf) suggests that sustainability is rapidly becoming more embedded within both the further and higher education sectors (FE and HE) in the UK.

The report found that 45% of responding colleges and universities have an environmental sustainability strategy in place that is overseen by an institution-wide committee. Just two years ago, when the same study was conducted, this was only true of 27% of respondents.

This is really encouraging, and great news for the future of those sectors. Across tertiary education in the UK, and especially within FE where education providers were last year reclassified as public sector, the cost-of-living crisis has hit hard.

Cost and labour savings, as well as reductions in carbon emissions, can be made through prioritising sustainable practices.

We also know that today's learners actively seek out education providers that align with their own values, which often includes having a positive environmental impact.

At our session with East Coast College it was encouraging to see the vice-principal engaged in discussions around sustainability and keen to progress the outcomes of the workshop into a fully operational strategy.

It was also great to see staff at the college realise that the answers to many of their sustainability concerns were already at their fingertips, with engagement from staff across the board and efficiencies already being made; they just needed help to pull it all together.

As an organisation that prides itself on being a force for good, Jisc is working closely with our members to help them achieve their sustainability ambitions, and I look forward to engaging with more education leaders and staff to make this happen.

Find out more

Read our exploring digital carbon footprints report which provides advice and guidance around measuring and reducing digital carbon footprints, and find out how you can get involved in our vision for sustainable change workshops.

About the author

Cal Innes
Cal Innes
Sustainability subject specialist