• Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.


Sustainability work #2 - Moving decision-makers

Sustainability work is a continuum. Some efforts are very physical, others are hands-on in an entirely different way.

October 6, 2008

Sustainability work is a continuum. Some efforts are very physical, others are hands-on in an entirely different way.

Like any other campus of which I'm aware, Greenback has a set of administrative policies. Administration goes on at a lot of levels, in a lot of departments, in "academic" as well as nominally administrative units. Campus administrative policies attempt to put a veneer of consistency on a highly diverse set of practices, so that at some level apples can be compared to apples, data can flow together in usable manners, and what we do can model what we, as an organization, value.

The campuses -- many of them outside the USA -- which have done the most effective jobs of decreasing their unsustainable behaviors have generally done this, in part, through the shaping of administrative policies. Some of them are quite simple (e.g., "thou shalt recycle all materials which our waste management contractor is equipped to handle"). Some of them are more complexly worded.

Having policies in place which promote sustainable behaviors is one of the things AASHE's STARS program is looking for, but that's not why we do it. We do it because having policies in place helps us get departments and individuals to actually change what they do. It's a statement of a social norm, and (even on university campuses) most folks want to fit in with the norm.

Having policies in place also gives departments and individuals the permission they sometimes feel they need to spend a little extra money. Buying an EnergyStar appliance, or a piece of furniture made from sustainable materials, or recycled paper may cost a little extra up front, but if there's a policy in place folks are generally willing to go along with it.

So where do little administrative policies come from? Well, I wish they sprung full-grown from the head of Zeus (or should that be Wotan?). They don't. Even the simplest policy Greenback publishes is the result of a disheartening amount of effort. Getting to the appropriate key decision-maker; convincing that individual that a policy mandating, prohibiting, or encouraging a specific form of behavior would benefit the university; identifying the various stakeholders on campus who will implement (or neuter) the policy when it's been published; getting a consensus among them as to what the gist of the policy should be; finding a wording which is strong enough but not too strong; which captures the thinking of the ultimate decision-maker(s) without offending those one or two levels down the administrative hierarchy; getting everyone onside and the decision actually made -- all of that takes far more work than I ever would have guessed.

But it's one of those "pay me now, or pay me later" kinds of things. I'm not sure what amount of downstream effort I save by selling the decision at a high (policy) level and then getting folks in departments all across campus to go along with it, but I'm sure it's a lot.

And it's indoor work, which is good in the wintertime or when the blisters get bad from moving all that dirt.


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