Ingrid Timmermans & Heila Lotz-Sisitka
Rhodes University is a signatory to the Talloires Declaration.
Over the past six years the university has made a number of commitments
to work towards a more sustainable future. This case story is
focused on one department within the University. It reports on
efforts to implement an environmental policy and illustrates some
of the real 'struggles' we have experienced as we grapple with
the complex social processes of implementing more sustainable
practices in the context of everyday life and work. The Department
of Education's environmental policy has been operating for four
the start we adopted an educational approach to the implementation
of the Department's environmental policy. Key features of this
educational programme include an action learning framework, a
fictional 'character' who breathes life into the educational programme,
and use of the well-known footprint metaphor. 'EcoSonke'1
is an active, colourful and dynamic fictional character that regularly
makes her voice heard in the department (see Figure 1). She 'speaks'
to staff and students, congratulates them on positive achievements,
and informs them if 'ecological hotspots' appear in the department.
She has a 'box of tools' and her interactions within the department
are inspired by the concept of ecological footprinting. Using
this metaphor, brightly coloured footprints are pasted up around
the buildings. EcoSonke grows very large feet as the ecological
impact increases. She will place a large red footprint on someone's
office door if she notices that poor recycling practices are taking
place or energy is being wasted. She also sticks up small green
footprints and 'thank you' notes where resource-saving practices
the focus of our policy implementation process has been educational,
it has also brought staff and students face-to-face with some
of the real challenges of implementing change in the interests
of environmental best practice and sustainable living.
Language of Sustainability
A key challenge associated with implementing the department's
environmental policy is developing a common understanding of the
language used in the broader 'sustainability debate' and in the
Rhodes Environmental Policy in particular, which requires us to
actively pursue a policy of environmental best practice
in order to assist in creating an environmentally sustainable
future" (Rhodes University, 1997). We have found that both
'environmental best practice' and 'an environmentally sustainable
future' are terms open to a wide range of interpretations. Like
Simpson (2001:20) we have found that clarifying the language of
sustainability in practice requires ongoing dialogue about "cultural
change." Through such dialogue one can begin questioning
what needs to be sustained and from whose perspective best practice
should be considered. This can assist with the formulation of
practical outputs for working towards sustainability.
To foster this kind of dialogue in the Department of Environmental
Policy, we established a working group involving different members
of staff and a student representative, to 'drive' and 'guide'
the implementation of the policy initiative. Carpenter and Meehan
(2002:30) provide insight into the roles of such a working group
when they note that planning for policy implementation involves
facilitating the development of management infrastructure, setting
up accountability mechanisms and fostering of participation and
representation. In keeping with an open-ended dialogic approach
to this task, the policy working group discusses plans, problems
and successes at regular meetings, which are documented and shared
with the rest of the staff at staff meetings. In coming to terms
with the meaning of sustainability and environmental best practice,
the Department's policy thus evolves through an open-ended and
responsive process, as recommended by Roome and Oates (1996),
who comment that sustainability requires flexible, responsive,
diverse and devolved organisational forms. They highlight
the importance of a learning mindset in which staying attentive
to the shifting needs of society and the dynamics of environmental
change will be as important as staying close to the needs of
customers. It requires an approach that questions the adequacy
of the organisation's knowledge, understanding, practices and
values so that these are (re)shaped as part of increasingly
sophisticated and thoughtful responses to the interconnected
concerns we face (p. 169).
Learning Process of Information Seeking, Monitoring, Action and
A second key challenge we have faced is the need to ensure that
the policy implementation process is more than simply the actions
of a few dedicated individuals. Through our educational approach
to the policy implementation process, we aim to develop the action
competence (Jensen & Schnack 1997; O'Donoghue, 2001) of staff
and students in the department, enabling them to be informed and
to respond actively to environmental issues as part of a wider
community. In developing and implementing the environmental policy
process we applied an active learning framework that promotes
'good education' through coming to know the way things are (finding
information), having meaningful encounters in local surroundings
(auditing, taking action and ongoing monitoring), and critical
reflection (ongoing reporting). These educational processes give
rise to problem-solving interactions that encourage transformation
of current practice (O'Donoghue, 2001).
diagram above describes a number of elements of an environmental
policy process that can develop the action competence of participants.
In applying these elements to our policy implementation, we have
established the policy implementation process as an open-ended
learning process, as discussed below:
and Sharing Information
The first step in the departmental environmental policy process
was to gather information about particular activities in the department
that might impact on the environment. Staff members were asked
to identify which issues they felt left the biggest mark on the
environment. Issues identified were water, paper, energy, office
equipment (including radiation and ergonomics), stationery (including
both the toxic and sustainable options of stationery), and the
work environment (including aesthetics, the kitchen, consumables
and 'sick-building-syndrome'). More information was then gathered
about these issues from a range of sources including other departments
such as the computer science and information technology departments
and the purchasing division.
gathering was initially intense, but remains an ongoing process.
As investigations take place in local contexts and as action plans
are implemented, we have found the need for more information and
have had to delve deeper into issues as more questions arise.
Finding and sharing information is therefore an ongoing dimension
of the environmental policy process.
The policy working group, together with EcoSonke, plays
an important monitoring role. For example, the working group needs
to follow-up on whether paper recycling boxes are being used appropriately,
if they are being emptied before they become too full and unsightly,
and if the paper at the central collection point is being collected
regularly. If an initiative is badly managed and becomes a burden,
it is very easy to lose hard-won support and cooperation.
Action and Reporting
The working group makes decisions about how to tackle identified
issues and sets about implementing those plans with the support
of all staff members. Major activities include: ongoing development
of an environmental policy file (accessible to all staff and students);
updating an environmental policy display indicating current action
plans; identifying footprint 'hot spots' and informing staff and
students of emerging issues; and updating the regular newsletter
'EcoSonke Says,' containing short pieces of information
related to action plans in process or ideas for reducing ecological
footprints. EcoSonke Says is also e-mailed to all staff.
Implementation Outcomes and Associated Challenges
Through the adoption of a dialogic approach to policy implementation,
and through adopting an open-process educational framework aimed
at the development of action competence, we have made some progress
towards enabling a 'culture change' within our department. Each
outcome (or success) is, however, characterized by a number of
associated challenges, which are both social and technical in
Change at Individual and Societal Levels
To date we have addressed issues associated with paper, energy,
water and stationery use. Boxes of one-sided paper have been placed
in all the offices for re-use. The one-sided paper that is not
used is sent to local pre- and primary schools. Non-reusable paper
is sent to a local Grahamstown recycling company. We have been
collecting about one ton of paper per year in the Department.
Although the money obtained from our recycling is minimal, it
is enough to make small contributions towards improving our office
environment. For example, we bought a cycad for the gardens outside
the Department with our first payment received. We are now trying
to establish a policy for using recycled paper for letterheads
and publicity flyers for the Department. We have also established
a system for collecting printer cartridges for recycling and are
investigating the use of remanufactured/ compatible cartridges
in our printers. We are trying out small energy-saving initiatives
by looking at how different appliances use electricity, and by
strategically placing reminders to switch off lights. In the immediate
future we hope to address issues such as the recycling of plastics,
cans and glass.
an environmental policy creates an awareness and preparedness
in the Department that enables us to respond to issues as they
arise. For example, when a toilet cistern cracked recently, we
specifically requested a regulated flush cistern to replace it.
Without our heightened awareness, a more environmentally conscious
option may not have occurred to us at all.
of the challenges we have faced in our resource-use reduction
programme is the fact that South Africa does not have the culture
of recycling evident in many northern countries. This is particularly
demonstrated by the difficulty we had in encouraging staff members
to use the recycling bins provided. Despite repeated reminders,
we still found that the majority of rubbish collected from the
'normal rubbish bins' was paper, and that the paper recycling
boxes were being used for other purposes. EcoSonke's green
and red footprint cards, placed strategically on bins in the department
have made a big difference, radically reducing the amount of paper
thrown out with the general rubbish.
Trying to encourage small cultural changes in an office environment
(like changes in paper management habits) requires consideration
of the broader context. In South Africa, many environmental issues
involve more pressing problems associated with poverty, unemployment,
AIDS/HIV, inequality and the meeting of basic human needs. Seen
in this light, small resource-use initiatives can seem even more
insignificant. Considering our policy implementation process in
this context, we made decisions, for example, to distribute one-sided
paper to poorly-resourced early learning centers, thus ensuring
that the policy implementation process has broader social benefits
(if only on a small scale). We have furthermore been able to make
a small contribution in response to the issue of HIV/AIDS. The
policy working group and EcoSonke have taken the responsibility
of organizing condom dispensers for the student toilets. An important
monitoring task is to ensure that the dispensers are regularly
at the Institutional Level
In implementing the departmental environmental policy at a local
level, we have identified some of the issues associated with our
interdependence within a broader organizational and social structure.
One of the issues we have dealt with is aligning the policy requirements
with institutional traditions and culture. For example, we experienced
resistance when attempting to produce letterhead on recycled paper,
mainly because the recycled paper was not white (bleached) enough
to comply with the corporate image of the institution. After much
negotiation, we compromised by purchasing an expensive (bleached)
imported recycled paper. Besides the cost implications, having
to compromise in this way reduced our capacity to support the
emerging South African paper recycling production industry. The
paper we initially wanted to purchase is locally made and is neither
chlorine-bleached nor de-inked.
and Oates (1996:165) comment that there are many companies or
institutions that are involved in a process of improved environmental
performance, but few have considered this performance in light
of the broader notion of sustainability. They note that considering
the latter means a "profound examination and change in [the
institution's] social and environmental identity, its purpose
and its practices." A reconsideration of the letterhead requirements
to support the corporate image could be an example of such a change.
our efforts to recycle printer cartridges, two departments confronted
organizational challenges beyond the university. The Department
of Electronics discontinued a system of donating all of the university's
old printer cartridges to a recycling company because the cost
of the courier outweighed the price received for the cartridges.
After repeated disappointments with two organisations that promised
to collect cartridges, the Department of Education eventually
found a local company that pays us for our used cartridges.
initiatives are better established in larger South African cities
such as Cape Town and Johannesburg, but the cost of transporting
recyclable material to the recycling plants from small, more remote
towns such as Grahamstown (where Rhodes is situated) is often
very high. This highlights the need for a broader, institution-based
initiative to establish working recycling initiatives involving
all departments and ideally also the local municipal council.
Recycling on a larger scale may make these initiatives more financially
viable in terms of transport and equipment. In working at a departmental
level, we have found recycling companies particularly willing
to negotiate better prices with us once they hear that we are
part of a large organisation that can potentially generate a lot
of business for them.
During the initial phases of policy implementation, we have also
been faced with a number of technological challenges. For example,
we feel that if we genuinely want to support the recycling of
printer cartridges, we should be using recycled cartridges ourselves.
Yet research and experience at the university has revealed that
refilled inkjet cartridges are notoriously unreliable and result
in costly repairs to printers when they leak. Thus for the time
being we have been given the blessing of the Department of Electronics
(who repair our printers) to experiment with using recycled cartridges
on one of our LaserJet printers, but we have had to abandon the
idea of using recycled inkjet cartridges until we have some indication
that technology in this field has improved.
technological shortcoming is the lack of a suitable, economically
viable recycled paper to use for the copying of student notes.
The only recycled paper that is economically viable for this purpose
is a paper that utilises chemicals for the de-inking process and
bleach for whitening. The paper is also not of a sufficiently
high quality to be run through high-speed copying machines. Paper
making companies argue that their normal bond paper is environmentally
friendly because it is oxygen bleached and because they re-use
the water from the paper-making process. Yet this does not address
the many hectares of indigenous grasslands that are ploughed up
and replaced by plantations nor the large amounts of water used
by these plantations, which presents a big problem in a water
scarce country such as South Africa.
Next Steps in the Learning Process
In the past four years, the environmental policy implementation
process has enabled staff and students to learn more about the
environmental implications of their day-to-day habits and choices.
The working group has developed skills to better manage departmental
resources. Practical actions have been taken, and our ecological
footprint (resource use) has been reduced. Other environmental
improvements have also been made. In addition, a dialogue about
cultural change towards more sustainable living has been initiated,
within both our own department and the broader institution. This
has been achieved through ongoing problem identification and the
seeking of solutions to these problems (as illustrated in the
issues reported above).
have also highlighted a number of challenges that lie ahead. Key
amongst these is the need for broader institutional support for
practical environmental management on campus, so that a larger
constituency is created to encourage and support smaller initiatives
such as our departmental policy. We have also identified the need
to support recycling initiatives in South Africa so as to enable
and promote the necessary research for improved technology and
infrastructure. Our environmental management initiatives need
to be contextualised within the broader socio-economic issues
faced by the majority of South Africans. We have also reflected
critically on the structural and broader social and economic constraints
that reduce our ability to make more sustainable choices. We have
identified these as the most complex of the problems to resolve.
work so far has illustrated that seeking environmental sustainability
is not a simplistic or pre-defined framework towards which we
should be aiming. The complex nature of environmental issues means
that we need a dynamic and responsive process in order to strive
towards more sustainable lifestyle choices. We have found that
adopting an educational orientation to policy implementation has
created such an open-ended, dialogic process aimed at cultural
and social transformation.
Carpenter, D. & Meehan, B. (2002), "Mainstreaming Environmental
Management: Case Studies from Australasian Universities".
International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education,
Vol.3 No.1, pp.19-37.
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B.B. and Schnack, K. (1997), The Action Competence Approach in
Environmental Education. Environmental Education Research,
3 (2): 163-178.
R. (2001), Environment and Active Learning in OBE: NEEP Guidelines
for facilitating and assessing active learning in OBE. Share_Net:
University. (1997), Rhodes University Environmental Policy.
N. & Oates, A. (1996). "Corporate Greening". In
J.Huckle and S. Stirling (Eds) Education for Sustainability,
Earthscan Publications, London. pp. 165-180.
W. (2001). Environmental Stewardship and the Green Campus:
The Special Role of Facilities Management, UB Green Office,
1 The name EcoSonke is derived from ecological and the
Xhosa word for 'all together'.
Timmermans is a researcher and manager in the Rhodes University
Environmental Education Unit. She chairs the Education Department
Environmental Policy Working Group.
Lotz-Sisitka is Associate Professor, and holds the Murray &
Roberts Chair of Environmental Education, Rhodes University.
The staff and students in the Department of Education, Rhodes
University, are acknowledged for their contributions to the policy
implementation process. In particular, the members of the policy
working group are acknowledged for their ongoing contributions:
Di Gruneberg, Mark Schafer, Varonique Sias, Gladys Tyatya and
Adele van der Merwe.
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