According to the web newsletter Environmental Leader, the British consulting firm Verdantix has just published a report describing four strategies to achieve world-class carbon management. (Carbon management, while not synonymous with sustainability by any means, does address a large portion of the environmental sustainability problem.)
Three of the four are predictable, in terms of "best strategic practices" lists put out by consulting firms -- strong governance, clear strategy, integrated technology. But the fourth strategy, while still somewhat obvious, might have some interesting implications for colleges and universities:
"Design cross-functional process changes across energy, operations and finance."
Personally, I would have preferred the action verb "implement" rather than "design", but the rest of the statement looks pretty good.
Process changes. Change your processes. Don't do the same things the same way because, if you do, you'll continue to get the same results. Don't just be willing to consider change, expect to change. Demand change. Don't take "no" for an answer.
Cross-functional process changes. Meaning, changes that affect multiple operating departments. Academic affairs and student affairs and business affairs, all affected by the same change.
Changes across energy, operations and finance. It's not just an energy question. Changing the lighting, or buying more renewably-generated electricity won't do it. Operations -- what we do, where we do it, when we do it, for whom we do it -- can't stay the same. Neither can how we charge for what we do -- how we charge our students, how we allocate internal charges.
And if there's a single biggest implication of this report as advertised (and I have only the advertisements -- I can't swing the 300 pounds sterling to purchase the actual report (all donations gratefully accepted)) -- it's in the area of internal measurement, internal allocation, internal finance. If universities expect their administrative departments to operate the campus on significantly less energy, they're going to have to incent the academic departments to accept changes in schedule, and in resource utilization. The only proven method for achieving that incentive is to charge the academic departments for space used on an actual (not pro-rated) basis. When they pay the bills (and internal pricing can be adjusted to achieve results desired), the academic departments at Greenback become willing to consider doing expensive things differently. When the savings accrue to their departmental budgets, the unthinkable (like Friday afternoon classes) sometimes becomes a little less so.
Charging for campus facilities on an actual utilization basis requires a level of metering and measurement beyond what most campuses have in place. New meters need to be installed for electricity, steam, natural gas, water, whatever. The meters need to be able to determine not just how much of a resource was consumed, but where it was consumed and -- sometimes -- when it was consumed. "Good enough to pay the bills" is a higher standard when there are more bills to pay, and they have to be calculated with more precision. You can't manage what you can't measure, so we need to be serious about how well we can measure energy utilization.
Many of the meters can be "virtual", and most of them should report their readings regularly and automatically to a central data repository (remember the bit about integrated technology). On our campus, the metering enhancements won't be cheap, but they won't be prohibitively expensive, either. And they're a key enabling technology. Strategically, tactically, and operationally.
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