An adage often associated with sustainability says it "is not a destination, it is a journey." This adage correctly captures the notion that there is no "finish line," because schools and universities must continue to evolve as more is learned about what is needed to become more sustainable. But it also may suggest that a person can singlehandedly steer an organization to its final destination, and the rest of the people are just along for the ride.
Schools and universities will achieve their sustainability goals more effectively and efficiently with strong leadership from the top, but lasting success can be achieved only when a culture of sustainability is created throughout an entire organization. Every administrator, faculty member, staff, purchasing agent, student, parent and visitor should be encouraged to participate in the effort and appreciate that individual actions, however small, truly matter.
Sustainability must evolve into a culture. For those responsible for facilities, the goal must be to care and maintain those facilities in a manner that helps protect the buildings themselves and the components, furniture and finishes well into the future. Facility personnel can devise strategies to help schools and universities reduce unnecessary consumption of energy and water—both of which have huge environmental and cost implications. But it cannot stop there.
To best create a culture of sustainability, policies should be established at the board level that specifically address meeting these objectives. And perhaps more important, the policies should address other issues, such as those related to purchasing, that will will guide decisionmaking (and the culture) throughout an institution.
Schools and universities should adopt purchasing policies that help guide product buyers of cleaning supplies, grounds/landscaping materials, powered equipment, vehicles, furniture, classroom supplies, food and more. These policies help create a culture of sustainability so that everyone in an organization recognizes the importance of sustainability to an institution and knows what is expected in terms of how a job is executed.
Purchasing greener supplies, products and materials not only makes a statement about an institution’s commitment, but also influences the entire supply chain. As large purchasers, schools and universities can have huge environmental impacts and save an institution money over the short and long terms.
Creating a culture of sustainability cannot stop there. To embrace the effort fully, faculty members must understand what they can do within their classrooms and offices. For example, they should turn off computers when not in use or lights when a room is unoccupied or when daylight is sufficient for quality learning. Instead of disposing or even recycling materials such as file folders and other materials, they should make an effort to reuse them. A culture of sustainability creates shared values so these actions are seen as valuable, which can encourage creative efforts in other areas.
A culture of sustainability also encourages students and visitors to show that they can make a difference. This is especially important in activities that require individual participation.
For example, a culture of sustainability would encourage students to be more thoughtful about the materials and supplies they work with every day, such as paper, arts and craft supplies, and books.
A culture of sustainability also educates students, faculty and others on ways that their activities can affect the impacts of cleaning. From eliminating graffiti to reducing the waste of paper hand towels, to using care when moving desks and chairs to extend the life of floor finishes, all can make a difference.
With clear goals and policies that engage and empower individuals at all levels, a culture of sustainability can make a difference today and into the future.