Starting the journey
What is 'sustainability' and 'sustainable development'?
There are on-going debates over the precise meaning of sustainability and sustainable development. However, sustainability can be seen as an ideal state where social and economic activity does not degrade the environment locally or globally, but maintains natural systems and resources for future generations. Sustainable development is the process (the actions, decisions, policies, etc) that move us closer to sustainability.
Why sustainability and sustainable development in the Learning and Skills sector?
There are a number of reasons that make sustainability particularly relevant for the Learning and Skills sector.
- FE colleges and other training providers are part of a wider community that is having to respond to new environmental, social and economic challenges.
- The Learning and Skills sector has a duty to prepare its students for these challenges and for new ways of living and working. The curricula, the management practices and the ethos of the organisation are equally important in performing this duty successfully.
- The business case for sustainability in the Learning and Skills sector has been established and it is becoming stronger as environmental legislation increases and as the demand for knowledge and skills associated with sustainable development grows.
- Sustainability can provide senior managers with a vision and a long term strategy for their organisation.
Starting the journey
The process of sustainable development is strongly influenced by context, which means that the experience of each college or learning organisation will be different. However, when it comes to implementing sustainability there are some critical factors that can help secure success.
Support of senior management
It is important for staff and students in the organisation to see that the senior managers are committed and supportive of any initiative to implement sustainable development. It provides leadership and it legitimises departmental and individual actions that contribute to sustainable development. Leadership can also come from a sustainability champion at middle management level, providing there is senior management backing.
Start from where people are already at
Everyone is engaged with sustainable development to some degree, but many staff and students may not recognise what they do as contributing to sustainable development. One way of raising awareness and establishing a baseline to work with staff is to carry out an audit. This could be a curriculum audit or an estates management audit or both. An audit combined with staff development can engage staff and a baseline audit provides an opportunity to demonstrate progress in future years.
Build it into the institutional plan and management structures
Establish a sustainability group or committee that includes students, teaching staff and non-teaching staff. There should be clear lines of accountability into the management structure of the organisation with new ideas and initiatives as well as reporting on established initiatives. The group or committee should feed into and comment on the institutional plan with regard to sustainability issues and it should also keep an overview on activities to insure they 'join-up' and complement one another.
Action plans and policies
Sustainability has a broad reach and it is impossible to do everything in the first year. A good action plan can set out achievable targets focusing on certain aspects of sustainability, while acknowledging these will link to a long term, broader set of aims. A sustainable development policy may not be one of the first actions; it may take some time to develop through a consultative process with staff and students, which can be a good awareness raising activity.
Enlist help from partners
Sustainable development is a large agenda for an organisation to address in isolation, but fortunately there are a growing number of organisations that can help. Other colleges, work-based providers and adult and community learning organisations that have already started their sustainability journey are good sources of help (see the case studies on this website). Community and business organisations can be good resources on sustainability for the curriculum. As contracts come up for renewal include sustainability targets and work with suppliers to help meet the targets.
Identify the best way in your organisation to communicate sustainable development activity to students, staff and the local community. This may be a noticeboard, a newsletter or an event. Find ways to connect existing pockets of good practice and celebrate successes.