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Sustainability Value: What Have You Done for It Lately?

This week our team encountered a sustainability win for a major consumer brand, and an ironic fail for a respected higher education icon. The resulting inspiration is too good not to share.

April 9, 2019
 
 

To one degree or another, every college and university across the nation has embraced sustainability. To put us all on the same page, I offer Wikipedia’s broad definition: “Sustainability is the process of maintaining change in a balanced environment, in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development and institutional change are all in harmony and enhance both current and future potential to meet human needs and aspirations.”

Be it delivering environmentally focused programs and activities designed to conserve and preserve natural resources, addressing global climate change in small and large ways, strengthening the school’s business model to bolster long-term institutional stability, or equipped and inspired developing leaders ready to tackle tomorrow’s challenges with visionary solutions, sustainability as both concept and practice is embedded in higher education. As it should be.

You’re probably familiar with one of our very good Minnesota neighbors, 3M. In a January Greenbiz article, contributor Sara E. Murphy reports on a Sustainability Value Commitment requirement for 3M’s product development teams to carefully consider how each of their new products (the company launches about 1,000 each year) “is serving a greater good than previously.”

To make this idea instantly applicable to your campus — and your department — I encourage you to read the article and replace every instance of the word “product” with “process” or “program.” Colleges and universities are fraught with processes and programs.

To take it a step further, challenge yourself to study your department’s standard operating procedures, practices, processes and programs. Then broaden your view to include mission-critical practices your department influence. Consider them through a critical lens of increasing their respective sustainability value in terms of achieving greater organizational health and sustainability and in terms of resource preservation and/or conservation.

In all likelihood, your campus community is already rallied ‘round sustainability policies and programs. You may even support a robust Office of Sustainability. For many prospective students, prospective donors and even prospective employees, an institutional commitment to sustainability is influential, if not non-negotiable, in terms of enticing them to align with your brand.

Last week, we received an invitation to propose a major program of work to one of the nation’s flagship universities. The RFP required multiple case studies, not to mention an extraordinary level of narrative detail about our firm’s experience, organizational structure, staffing and qualifications, creative approaches, research methods, evidence of success and financial health, and on and on. Standard fare for public university RFP’s.

But this RFP stood out: in this age of digital efficiency, it also stipulated that the submission should only be printed hard copies, and it requested a double-digit number of identical copies.

Nearly 1,000 printed and bound pages later we shipped our proposal, scratching our heads and wondering how the university’s procurement office requirements squared with the school’s sustainability commitment to “…be a catalyst for environmentally positive change by educating, connecting and empowering the members of our community for the wellbeing of people and our ecological systems.”

Is your department — and the departments with which you routinely collaborate — really walking your sustainability talk? In service to our greater good, let 3M’s Sustainability Value Commitment inspire you and your campus colleagues to assess and activate a higher performance standard.

Eric Sickler has helped the nation's college and universities clarify and more fully engage their brands for more than three decades. You can reach him at The Thorburn Group in Minneapolis, a Stamats company.​

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