9d Universities and Sustainability - ACF Tela Paper on Universities and Susteainability

Universities have a responsibility to lead society towards a sustainable future. Universities prepare most of the world’s managers, decision-makers and teachers, and themselves play significant roles in national and global economies. Universities across the world are now responding to these needs for more sustainable forms of human activity. Several key forces are driving this change. There is demand for expertise from students and employers. Sustainability in curriculum, research and operations confers economic and social advantages on universities. And university leaders acknowledge their responsibility in this arena. Together, these factors uniquely position universities to influence the direction society takes.

But in Australia, Universities have been slow to implement sustainability policy and practice, even slower than industry in many instances. To determine current progress, we surveyed all Australian universities and a selection of international universities. The survey revealed extensive commitment and actions by universities throughout the world. Progress is reflected in growth of the number of signatories to declarations of sustainability, the development of national and international networks of university staff devoted to improvement in sustainability, and impressive innovation in environmentally sustainable design and practice.

Despite these achievements, sustainability cannot yet be considered a mainstream activity in the majority of universities. There is very little evidence from universities in Australia and worldwide of integrated reporting of economic, social and environmental performance, despite leadership from progressive businesses. Additionally, several key practices were absent from most Australian universities; most noticeably ethical investment, purchasing protocols and faculty and staff development and rewards.

We define a fully mature approach to sustainability as one in which the activities of a university are ecologically sound, socially and culturally just and economically viable. In a university with a mature approach, substantial action would be taken through:

• articulation of social responsibility in the institutional mission and structure;

• integration of social, economic and environmental sustainability across the curriculum;

• academic research on sustainability, and consideration of social, economic and environmental sustainability issues in all other research;

• outreach and services, including the development of partnerships with schools, government, non-governmental organisations and industry;

• sustainable institutional operations, including effective monitoring and reporting;

• staff development and rewards;

• student opportunities; and

• cultural inclusivity.

Although few, if any, universities have achieved sustainability in all areas, there is movement towards these goals. At the conclusion of this paper we recommend key steps that will assist universities to achieve more sustainable practices. In addition, we provide recommendations for governments and corporations to form partnerships and otherwise support universities to achieve sustainability. Some of the recommendations apply specifically to Australia but the main recommendations apply to universities throughout the world.



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