Going Green Report - The Four Key Factors
Research has identified four key institutional factors that together drive environmental performance improvement in universities.
These factors are:
The active, public support of senior university management (in particular the Vice-Chancellor or principal) — for a programme of environmental performance improvement.
Full-time staff dedicated to environmental management — developing objectives, setting priorities, and significant, timebound targets to fulfil them.
A written, publicly available environmental policy — to provide a formal demonstration of intent regarding environmental performance improvement, and against which to compare practice.
A comprehensive review to investigate all the environmental impacts of the institution — so that current impacts are measured, potential improvements are identified and performance is monitored.
The evidence for the combined necessity of these factors is powerful.
First, these four factors are common to all the institutions that are accepted to be leading environmental performance within the UK Higher Education sector, including Hertfordshire, Leeds Metropolitan, Oxford Brookes, Edinburgh and Nottingham. For example, all have full-time environmental staff and many have a fully dedicated Environment Team.
Second, when the environmental management staff of leading green institutions were interviewed in 2003, these four steps emerged as the common institutional and historical factors that they believed had contributed to their university´s good performance. Amongst these experts there was a consensus that for any university, these four factors are critical to driving good environmental performance, whereas other factors, such as public environmental reporting, or having an environmental committee, were seen as useful but generally not vital.
Interestingly, many indicated that although a significant budget is useful, it is not a requirement for performance improvement, and need not be a significant drain on resources. In many cases (see case studies) environmental improvements pay for themselves through the savings they can generate.
Third, this picture is reinforced by the findings of a number of academic studies of university environmental management, notably Keniry (1995), Herremans and Allwright (2000) and Sharp (2002). A recent review of the Higher Education Partnership for Sustainability Programme found that “`top-down´ leadership supported at operational level by persuasive and well-regarded champions… [and] policies and structures in place” were “critical success factors” in those HE institutions that have improved environmental performance. Similarly, both The Carbon Trust’s Higher Education Carbon Management programme and the EcoCampus Scheme have adopted the same step-by-step institutional approach as that laid out in People & Planet’s original Going Green report (2004).
There is of course diversity within the operations and facilities of Higher Education institutions and, as might be expected, not all universities that are progressing towards high environmental performance have done exactly the same things in exactly the same ways. Indeed, there is lively debate about the relative usefulness of certain approaches such as formal Environmental Management Systems (such as ISO 14001 or EMAS certification) and public environmental reporting. Additionally there are other drivers associated, albeit much more weakly, with high performance, such as establishing multi-stakeholder environmental committees, forming partnerships with other universities and the use of information technology.
Despite this, it is clear that if an institution does not, as a minimum, adopt all four of the vital factors described here it is unlikely to have significant success in achieving high environmental performance.
People & Planet therefore believes that Higher Education institutions that wish to claim they are committed to environmental responsibility should demonstrate this commitment by fulfilling these four criteria.
Herremans, I. and Allwright, D.E. (2000) Environmental management systems at North American universities: What drives good performance? International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 1 (2): 168-181.
Keniry, J. (1995) Ecodemia: Campus Environmental Stewardship at the Turn of the 21st Century. National Wildlife Federation, Washington, USA.
Sharp, L. (2002) Green campuses: the road from little victories to systemic transformation. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 3 (2): 128-145.