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What’s the Role for Sustainability in Higher Ed?

Beyond teaching the theory of sustainability, universities must hold themselves accountable as socially responsible citizens.

There are many opportunities to grow sustainability at the university level – beyond and including curriculum!  How are institutions of higher education addressing sustainability reporting?  A quick glance indicates they are incorporating SDGs, but there is no reporting standard.  Yet, the often huge campuses have ample need and opportunity for sustainability strategy.

Educational organizations which do have some sustainability reporting are mostly for-profit corporations and are listed on CSRHub, the sustainability ranking service with whom CSE partners.  A good portion of their data comes from GRI database.

Ranking indexes also rely on sources which range from sustainability reports (both listed in the GRI database and not), annual reports, government and legal filings, positions on other ranking platforms, financial and general media coverage, reports made to other organizations such as CDP and reports by advocacy groups.  They are tailored toward for-profit corporations, explaining why universities generally don’t appear in sustainability rankings. Most universities are either non-profits, state agencies, or both.

In general, higher education is late to sustainability reporting. Organizations such as AASHE are trying to change this, but there needs to be a critical mass of sustainability practitioners to implement their recommendations.

Graduates need practical sustainability certification to hit the ground running, regardless the discipline they’ve pursued.  Theory is one thing – methodology and tools are something else.

As more universities release sustainability reports, ranking agencies will pay closer attention, requiring specific metrics.  Right now, the GRI sector disclosure which would apply to universities (but only the non-profits) is the NGO Disclosure.  In the future, there may be a disclosure that covers institutes of higher learning, both for-profit and non-profit.

Are there enough sustainability professionals to meet this demand?  In addition to sustainability practices themselves, and how to effectively implement or improve them, there are intricacies and nuances to the different reporting mechanisms and platforms.  We’re all moving forward in different ways!

CSE’s Certified Sustainability Practitioner Program (Advanced Edition 2019) offers training on these key topics and many others. The  first 2019 program in Toronto runs April 11-12, 2019.  Only two seats remain.



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