By Kim Walker
The University of Technology (UTS), in Sydney, Australia, has
made sustainability a priority. Achieving the aim of an integrated
sustainable university requires a process of critically evaluating
the policies and practices of the university, creating a vision
for a more sustainable institution and committing the will and
resources to such a vision. In recent planning and development
of sustainability initiatives at UTS, it was understood that the
implementation of sustainability would require coordination that
bridged the operations, teaching and research of the University.
That is, the challenge was, and is, how to bring together 1- those
responsible for the buildings and grounds, 2- those responsible
for the teaching and research, and 3- the students. This article
reports principally on progress with the latter two groups.
UTS is the fourth largest university in the state of New South
Wales, Australia. There are nearly 23,000 students enrolled in
the University and 2,100 staff. Students study in the faculties
of Business, Law, Mathematical and Computing Sciences, Design,
Architecture and Building, Nursing, Midwifery and Health, Engineering,
Science and Education. The University occupies three distinct
campuses: the main campus is located in the Sydney's central business
district; the other two campuses sit in the northern suburbs,
one surrounded by native bushland and bordering a National Park.
The diversity of these campuses, both in their curriculum and
location, allows for unique opportunities to incorporate sustainability
into the functions of the University.
THE UTS APPROACH TO SUSTAINABILITY
In 1996, UTS made its first university wide commitment to sustainability
by establishing the Institute for Sustainable Futures. The Institute
focuses on transdisciplinary research and consulting relating
to sustainability. Since the establishment of the Institute an
increasing number of students and staff have felt that sustainability
should become central to the operations of UTS. A small core of
committed people from various constituencies within the University,
including faculty and the Environmental Health and Safety Unit
of the University, began creating opportunities to link with other
enthusiastic staff and students, which eventually reached the
larger UTS community. Crucial to the core group activities was
endorsement from key decision makers and some provision of resources.
The University's second major step toward integrating sustainability
on campus came in 1998 with the formation of a Sustainability
Task Force, supported by the Vice-Chancellor and the Academic
Board. The Task Force included two working groups: one in teaching
and learning; the other in operations. The Task Force immediately
drafted a Sustainability Strategy that outlined the University's
commitment to sustainability, its aims and objectives, and detailed
an initial coordination approach. The draft Strategy listed the
following key objectives:
- To integrate sustainability into teaching and learning, research,
consultancy and community service and institutional practice
with the aim of:
- producing graduates who are environmentally literate
and able to provide leadership in sustainability and environmental
citizenship in business, industry, government and the community;
- establishing UTS as a leader in sustainability research;
- minimizing UTS's impact on the environment; and
- developing a culture of environmental awareness and action
throughout the University community.
- To establish UTS as a leader in the adoption of an integrated,
transdisciplinary approach to environmental management and the
exploration of sustainable futures.
- To advance UTS as a socially just organization concerned
with issues of social equity and committed to community service.
A number of important groups and positions were established
in conjunction with the Sustainability Task Force.
These included an Academic Manager of Sustainability in Teaching
and Learning, appointed to implement sustainability across the
University curriculum; and an Environmental Officer, appointed
within the Environmental Health and Safety Unit to coordinate
sustainability initiatives in operations. Primarily, the Task
Force gave people from different areas of the University opportunities
for sharing ideas, discovering synergies and establishing working
partnerships that span disciplines and organizational divisions.
The Task Force was replaced by a Sustainability Action Group
earlier this year to signal the next phase in UTS's evolution
toward sustainability. The Action Group comprises a small group
of the University's senior management and faculty with overall
responsibility for directing the teaching, research, and operations
of the University.
A MODEL OF CHANGE
J. C. Van Weenen (1999: 9-10), in his study of a range of approaches
to sustainability taken by various universities around the world,
outlines levels of university engagement. The first level involves
the physical operations of the university (materials and energy,
facilities and spaces). Van Weenen claims that this is the easiest
level to change. The second level involves the university's core
interest in education and research. He sees that levels one and
two can be a combined approach i.e. researching the operations
of the university. Level three involves university management,
and specifically, the role of management in reformulating policies
and establishing the mechanisms for meeting the challenge of sustainability.
Level four incorporates the use of powerful outside advisory bodies,
a sufficient number of engaged staff and demanding students that
can convince the university to adapt or rewrite its mission statement.
Van Weenen's model is useful as a starting point in evaluating
a university's engagement in sustainability. UTS has found it
difficult to achieve the first level and I would argue that it
is not necessarily easy to achieve this level. A combination of
economic imperatives, long established physical structures and
entrenched practices combine to make this a very challenging step.
In fact, UTS is well on its way to achieving levels two and three.
Van Weenan's model is used below to describe the changes taking
place at UTS.
Level 1: Institutional practices
As explained above, changing institutional practices is a challenging
process. UTS is currently exploring systems for changing practices
and systems to monitor the changes. The issue about whether to
become ISO14000 compliant is a serious one given the size of the
institution and the financial investment required to become compliant.
One solution is to use ISO14000 as a self-reporting framework.
Other indicators of sustainability are also being explored. Student
involvement is an important issue. Operations staff is currently
identifying projects that could be implemented by students, such
as research on building design. Ideally, students will be able
to take responsibility for some of the operations of the University,
such as a composting process.
Level 2: Teaching and learning, and research
There is a great deal happening in sustainability in teaching,
learning and research across all the departments of UTS. The challenge
is to make links between these activities both within departments
and between them. It is becoming clear that a project focus is
the most effective means of implementing sustainability across
the University. One project that offers such possibilities is
the development of twenty-five hectares of rainforest as a sustainable
site in an area south of Sydney. The site consists of original
rainforest and an unused coal mine. It is an ideal project for
involving several departments (science, humanities, design and
architecture, education, business) and the local community in
creating a model of sustainability. It also provides an opportunity
for these faculty members to work together on a practical endeavor.
This project is in its early stages at present.
Level 3: University management
Significant support for sustainability from management at UTS
is a critical and positive feature of the progress being made.
UTS became a signatory of the Talloires Declaration in 1998. Management
has created committees to coordinate the change process and positions
have been created specifically to enhance sustainability at the
Level 4: Powerful external and internal stakeholders
The use of powerful outside advisory bodies is a strategy being
explored at UTS but not yet implemented. Clearly, employers play
a key role in influencing the nature of teaching programs in universities.
The evidence also suggests that while companies and organisations
are increasingly adopting sustainability in their practices they
are not using sustainability as a criterion in recruitment. Other
outside bodies also potentially have a key role to play. The New
South Wales EPA, for example, is a partner in many research endeavours
at UTS, but is playing a minimal role in bringing about changes
in sustainability at UTS.
A number of staff are committed to sustainability at UTS and
it is these people who have influenced the decisions being made
by the University. Similarly, there are demanding students who
have influenced the University in adapting its new mission.
CHANGING THE CURRICULUM
The Level 2 changes explained above are further elaborated here.
Changes in curriculum are still evolving but to date the process
- Appointment of a person responsible for implementing sustainability
across the teaching and learning of the University (Academic
Manager of Sustainability in Teaching and Learning). An important
aspect of the appointment is that it is not connected to a research
center which means that there is only one focus, that is to
work with academics to implement sustainability in their teaching.
- Identifying best practice within the University. It is important
in implementing change to start with what is already happening.
There were already many practices at UTS which supported sustainability.
The task was to highlight these practices and use them as a
model for change. Those already involved in sustainability work
appreciated the support and were eager to link with other people
who were engaged in similar practices.
- Acknowledging that different faculty members are at different
stages in implementing sustainability and working on strategies
to best support their efforts. There is no best way to implement
sustainability in higher education. It is important to acknowledge
the different disciplines and work within these disciplines
to implement change that compliments existing practices. At
UTS one faculty member chose to make sustainability a key theme
in his undergraduate course; another chose to concentrate on
an external project and linked sustainability issues to the
project; yet another investigated indicators of sustainability
in her course.
- Providing support for faculty and their research. This has
involved making links between their current work and how they
might incorporate issues of sustainability. UTS is very much
a practice-based institution. Therefore, one particularly successful
initiative has helped students become involved in community
projects related to sustainability. This has required brokering
projects between University operations staff, teaching and research
faculty and members of the community outside of UTS.
- Providing professional development for faculty. This has brought
positive results when faculty were genuinely interested in taking
on sustainability as part of their teaching. The important point
is that they need to have made the decision that sustainability
is an issue that will compliment their current teaching and
- Providing forums for discussion. Various forums have been
initiated to encourage discussion about sustainability. A sustainability
expo (see photographs) was held at UTS in 1999 to showcase and
debate sustainability at UTS. Since then other forums have been
established to enable staff to discuss sustainability issues.
This year, the Academic Manager started a "brown bag"
lunch series, modeled on a similar series at George Washington
University, to promote informal discussions among all staff,
both academic and operations, concerning sustainability throughout
- Working on strategies to incorporate sustainability in a
manner that does not increase the load of already overworked
staff. An important concern in implementing sustainability was
that it was yet another 'add on', something else to be done
in an already overcrowded curriculum. Our challenge was to show
that sustainability can be incorporated in existing practices
and fits well with other initiatives such as flexible learning,
internationalisation and quality of teaching and learning.
- Improving the profile of sustainability through the University
media. It is important to highlight new initiatives through
existing media. This has been achieved through the sustainability
expo, competitions and other student events. The aim is to draw
faculty, student and administrative attention to sustainability.
It is also important to capture media attention outside the
University. Here the aim is to attract prospective students
and industry partners.
- Identification of faculty/student projects within and outside
the University. One of the goals here is to make sustainability
'real', that is, to make it practical and attractive to students
and faculty alike. Several projects have been identified at
UTS. Given the complexity of 'sustainability' both in concept
and practice, it is probably best understood in terms of practical
projects. This strategy may be the most effective in fostering
change in teaching and learning at UTS.
- Involvement of key groups such as the Institute for Sustainable
Futures, Shopfront, and the Center for Teaching and Learning.
It has been critical to make connections between groups at the
University. Shopfront is a cross faculty group which negotiates
community projects and for which sustainability is a priority.
The Center for Teaching and Learning also has an obvious interest
in improving teaching and learning across the University in
areas which include sustainability.
THE NEXT STEPS FOR UTS
The challenge for UTS is to continue the momentum for building
a truly sustainable university. Future challenges and associated
questions include the following:
(a) To have a more cohesive approach to sustainability across
the departments: identifying the links, opportunities for working
together and opportunities for student participation. How can
a more cohesive approach be achieved?
(b) To work with students to find out more about that how they
want to participate and provide opportunities for that to happen.
How do we find out what students think? What are the best mechanisms
for bringing students together for discussion?
(c) To identify what employers want from our graduates. Research
conducted by the New South Wales EPA suggests that industry
wants to discuss environmental matters but lacks the skills
to do this. Training is an important strategy here. The research
data suggests that there is an interest in employing graduates
who have an understanding of sustainability related issues.
What is the best strategy to find out what industry thinks?
How do we educate students about these opportunities?
(d) To help faculty approach sustainability in a variety of
ways across the disciplines. Humanities and Nursing, for example,
are looking at social sustainability; Business is asking why
and how environment and business should talk; and Design and
Architecture and Engineering are incorporating ecological, economic
and social sustainability into their courses. How do we learn
from the different approaches and how do we link these approaches?
Faculty are often more able to grasp the notion of sustainability
when it is explained in terms of real life community projects.
How do we further coordinate such projects?
(e) To foster opportunities for people at UTS to work with the
community and local industry. Who or which group should act
as a broker for such projects?
(f) To better link University operations with the teaching
and learning and of the University. Students are already engaged
in research related to operations and opportunities exist to
share such research. How do we further these links?
Though still in the early stages of development, sustainability
at UTS is now considered a critical theme of the University by
the Vice-Chancellor's Management Group. Securing the support of
the Vice Chancellor and other senior managers has been a critical
step in ensuring real and lasting change. Similarly, identifying
committed staff, involving the student body, and providing new
ways of bringing both groups into the process has been important.
Additionally, as this article has shown, mechanisms have been
established that allow the various constituencies and groups involved
to share ideas and establish partnerships and links. It is through
this coordinated approach that UTS plans to become a model and
learning ground for sustainability. According to Anthony Cortese
(1998: 113), education must shift towards perspectives which encompass
the interdependence of individual, social, cultural, economic
and political activities and the biosphere. UTS has accepted that
these are an important part of its activities and is now working
to achieve them.
Cortese, A. (1998). Afterword, Academic Planning in College and
University Environmental Programs: Proceedings of the 1998 Sanibel
Symposium. Florida: North American Association for Environmental
Van Weeden, J.C. (1999). Vision of a Sustainable University. Environmental
Management for Sustainable Universities Conference. Lund, 30 May-1
Kim Walker is Academic Manager, Sustainability in Teaching and
Learning at the University of Technology, Sydney. She can be reached
at tel: +61-2-9514 5407; fax: +61-2-9514 5556; or email: Kim.Walker@uts.edu.au.
Acknowledgement: Larissa Grant, the former environmental education
coordinator at UTS, has contributed to this article.
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