By Irene Herremans and David E. Allwright
The University of Calgary (U of C) is located just north of the
city center of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. The campus covers 314
acres and employs over 4,000 academic and support staff. The U
of C serves approximately 23,600 full- time equivalent students.
The Environmental Management Committee (EMC) for the University
community was officially formed in 1996. The EMS is centrally
coordinated through working groups in the areas of waste management,
pollution prevention, energy and water conservation, education,
communication, risk management, compliance/due diligence, traffic
and transportation, and environmental accounting/audit.
In 1998, a proposal for funding to perform an audit to determine
the University's current environmental state was presented to
the vice-president of finance by the EMC, and a small amount of
funding was provided. The audit performed by internal personnel
not only provided information on the University's current environmental
status, but also made recommendations for further development
of the EMS in order to address areas where improvement was needed.
However, in order to build on the work of the audit, an accounting
and monitoring system was needed to determine how the U of C's
performance stacked up against other universities. It was decided
that the project should take on a practical as well as a research
perspective, as no resources were available to develop a monitoring
or benchmarking system by professional staff. Graduate students
were assigned to the project as part of their responsibilities
under graduate research assistantships.
The rest of this article discusses both the process that was
undertaken as well as the findings of the project.
SURVEY OF THE LITERATURE
The first step in helping us decide what we should be doing was
to determine what other universities were doing. Even though the
literature provides some excellent case studies of environmental
initiatives that have been implemented at universities throughout
the world, most of the information available is in the form of
examples of "this is what we did on our campus." Although
this type of research is excellent for sharing of ideas in a particular
area of concern, there was a lack of information on the holistic
operations of environmental management systems at colleges and
universities. Some of the questions that needed answering were
as follows: What are the major environmental challenges of other
universities? Do we feel we have the same challenges? Have we
overlooked an important area in designing our working group structure?
How should the EMS be structured? Is the environment an important
issue with other universities? How far behind are we? What works
and what doesn't work?
Rather than selecting a random sample of universities across
North America, we were interested in having a sample of universities
quite similar to our own, sometimes referred to as a purposive
sample. We attempted to select universities across Canada and
the United States that were similar or larger in size to the U
of C. Our priority was public institutions; however, we did include
several major private institutions. We wanted a fairly even representation
geographically; therefore, we chose at least two of the largest
universities from each of the provinces and states. From more
densely populated provinces and states, we selected more than
two representative universities.
Although the number of universities responding to the EMS survey
contained only 50 respondents out of an initial mailing of 269
(18 were returned undeliverable), of those saying that they would
respond to the EMS survey 78 percent actually completed the survey.
However, the non-respondents did provide us with some useful information.
Through either e-mail, telephone, or regular mail, several universities
explained that their lack of response was due to the absence of
an organized environmental function at their university or lack
of an individual(s) that could answer the questions adequately.
Therefore, we can say with some confidence that many of the responses
that we did receive are from universities that are undergoing
some thought process and have some degree of awareness regarding
the environmental management function. Many universities have
not even progressed to this point.
SUMMARY OF RESPONSES
79 responded either "yes" or "no" to answering
the EMS survey out of 251 valid mailings (31 percent).
50 universities out of 64 who said they would complete the EMS
survey actually did (78 percent).
The final sample contained 12 (24 percent) universities from
Canada and 38 (76 percent) from the United States. These universities
are classified in Table 1.
Size of University
|Medium FTE 10,000-20,000
PURPOSE OF THE SURVEYS
The purpose of the surveys was to determine what variables characterize
the EMS implemented by universities across North America, and
what challenges and concerns those EMS address. More specifically,
the questions were designed to elicit the following information:
1. Key environmental areas that university EMS are addressing;
2. Time and financial resources to address those areas.
3. Characteristics of universities (posture and behavior);
4. Characteristics of effective EMS at universities.
First Survey: Key Areas and Major Challenges
Universities were asked to rate their challenges, use of time
resources and use of capital resources from 0 to 4 on a Likert
scale, with 4 representing the most significant challenge or most
resources. The three challenges that were determined as most significant
(by their mean ratings) are energy management, dry waste, and
hazardous waste. Major challenges that universities face regarding
environmental performance are matched fairly well with the time
and capital resources needed to address these challenges. For
example, energy management also received the highest rating for
investment in capital resources. Dry and hazardous waste were
ranked 2nd and 3rd as significant challenges and also ranked 2nd
and 3rd for investment in capital resources. However, dry waste
was rated as 1st for time resources even though energy management
was rated as the most significant challenge. Other ratings are
shown in Table 2.
|Natural Area Conservation
Second Survey: EMS - Posture and Behavior Toward Environmental
In order to determine the posture (attitudes and awareness) that
would lead to actions and performance regarding environmental
issues, the second survey contained ten statements and asked respondents
to indicate to what degree these statements offered a good or
poor description of their university. Based on the correlations
among these ten statements and our responses to the first survey,
we were able to classify universities into four general categories:
Attitude: Feel that environmental problems do affect the university
Awareness: Know where the problems are; and therefore,
Actions: They have developed the necessary programs and
Performance: Are preventing environmental problems from occurring,
because they have the necessary finances, time and skills to implement
an effective EMS.
Attitude: Feel that environmental problems do affect the university;
Awareness: Are not sure where the problems are until they arise,
Actions: They are struggling to develop an
effective EMS and
Performance: Use it to determine what programs should occur. They
have the necessary knowledge and skills, but do not have the time
Attitude: Do not see the EMS as a necessary tool
Awareness: Because they are not aware of the environmental problems
that affect the institution.
Action: They might have signed a pre-prepared set of guiding principles,
but have not yet considered what preventive programs should take
Performance: "By accident", environmental problems have
not occurred. Therefore, they have not provided any additional
resources to deal with environmental problems.
Attitude: Feel that environmental issues do not affect their institutions;
Awareness: Are not aware if there are environmental problems.
Do not see an EMS or any other program as necessary;
Actions: Have not yet considered what programs should take place
Performance: Are not preventing environmental problems from occurring.
Have not considered what knowledge, time, or resources are necessary
to commit to an EMS.
Posture (attitudes/awareness) Leads to Behavior (actions/performance)
From an environmental management perspective, these four categories
of universities can be classified according to their environmental
attitude/awareness and their environmental actions/performance.
When organized in a matrix, four categories of universities emerge
(see Figure 1. Environmental Progress Matrix).
(attitude and awareness)
On the matrix, environmental posture (attitude and awareness)
ranges from low to high. Various attitudes and awareness are displayed
towards environmental responsibility. Universities with a low
awareness would be ignorant or uncaring about the impact their
operations have on the environment. This could be the result of
a belief (well-founded or otherwise) that their university has
no need to consider or improve its environmental performance.
High awareness universities are very concerned about the possible
effects their operations are having on the environment and have
addressed, or are contemplating policies and other actions to
address those concerns.
On the other axis, environmental behavior ranges from low to
high. Some universities act consistently with their posture regarding
the environment. If they believe they do not impact the environment,
they do nothing or if they believe they do impact the environment,
they act to lessen the impact. Others act inconsistently with
their beliefs, in most cases, because they do not have the knowledge,
time, or financial resources to perform consistently with their
attitudes. Low environmental performers generally have no environmental
monitoring programs in place and address each problem as it arises.
High performers generally produce little or no pollution, either
deliberately (through environmentally friendly processes or policies)
or because the very nature of their operations, policies, or processes
produces little or no impact.
It is proposed by the authors of this paper that movement from
Low Behavior/Low Posture to High Behavior/High Posture follows
a predictable pattern. Organizations generally do not move from
Environmental Dinosaurs directly to Accidental "Greens",
because moving from Low to High Behavior requires a concerted
effort usually as a result of an increased awareness or change
in attitude about the effects that their operations may be having
on the environment. Therefore, in order to move towards an Environmental
Leadership position, organizations must first develop an increased
awareness and change in attitude about their environmental impacts.
CHARACTERISTICS OF AN EFFECTIVE EMS AT UNIVERSITIES
Further support for the above classifications were developed
through the use of analysis of variance. The relationships among
several of the survey questions were analyzed to determine the
consistency of posture (attitudes and awareness) and behavior
(actions and performance). Furthermore, we discuss what characteristics
of an EMS are most important in producing high environmental performance.
The discussion follows.
Among the Environmental Leaders are universities who are using
ISO guidelines or are ISO certified. These universities were more
likely to have obtained the required finances and time to develop
their EMS and their environmental programs. Those with increased
finances set long-range objectives more often and would more likely
have assessed their environmental risks.
Also among the Environmental Leaders are universities that feel
they are preventing environmental problems from occurring through
some form of EMS. These universities generally answered "yes"
to having aligned appropriate controls, policies, action plans,
and procedures with areas of risk. They also believe in sharing
knowledge on environmental issues with other institutions such
as partnering, benchmarking, and conferences.
Universities that feel more strongly about environmental issues
affecting their institution and have actions consistent with their
beliefs are more likely to know if they have environmental problems,
to quantify progress, to report to the Board of Governors, and
to have full-time staff.
In turn, having full-time staff plays a major role in the further
development of the EMS. Those institutions that indicated that
they have full-time staff were more likely to respond "yes"
to having developed their own guiding principles, having both
short-term objectives and long-range objectives, using quantitative
measures and qualitative measures, sharing knowledge with other
institutions, knowing the cost to comply with environmental regulation,
conducting seminars, producing information pamphlets, and producing
an environmental newsletter. These universities also see the EMS
as a useful tool, have considered what environmental management
programs should take place, and report to the Board of Governors.
Of the respondents reporting to the Board of Governors, 75 percent
have full-time staff. Having full-time staff tends to ease the
time and finance pressures. Respondents that indicated they had
full-time staff suggested that finances and time were less of
a problem in developing environmental programs.
Environmental Strugglers are differentiated from Environmental
Leaders not by their attitudes but by their inability to implement
actions. Generally, they report to a lower authority within the
university's governance or are decentralized with no umbrella
committee to organize their environmental activities. They tend
to lack either the necessary financial resources or time resources
to carry out their initiatives.
Environmental Strugglers tend to report to someone other than
the Board of Governors and they have no full-time staff. Only
25 percent of these universities report to the Board of Governors,
and generally do not have full-time staff to help carry out their
programs. Of the respondents not reporting to the Board of Governors,
55 percent do not have full-time staff. These universities not
reporting to the Board of Governors tend to struggle for recognition,
authority, or organization. The universities without full-time
staff also tend to struggle for time and financial resources.
However, even if the university lacks reporting authority to
the highest level of the university, many respondents feel they
have the knowledge and skills to deal with environmental problems.
Additionally, these respondents know whether they have environmental
problems, suggesting awareness but lack of action. If the universities'
environmental programs lack finances the more difficult it is
to prevent environmental problems from occurring. Strugglers tend
to set more short-range objectives rather than long-range objectives
because setting short-range objectives is more often dictated
by the limited financial or time resources possessed by a university.
While 70 percent of the respondents felt that they had the necessary
knowledge and skills, only 26 percent felt that they had the necessary
finances and 34 percent felt that they had the necessary time.
This situation indicates an opportunity lost in terms of knowledge
and skills not being used to develop programs due to lack of time
If the university tends to lack knowledge as to whether it has
environmental problems or the university has not yet considered
what programs should take place, it might still achieve a high
level of environmental performance, or low environmental impact.
A number of explanations may account for these phenomena. First,
the size of a university may have a direct bearing on its environmental
impact. Small liberal arts colleges are likely to have a lesser
impact than large research-intensive institutions with large chemistry,
engineering, or medical departments. Size is also a factor in
the amount of waste produced (liquid and dry). Additionally, newer
institutions with more energy efficient buildings would be more
environmentally friendly than older universities struggling (at
great expense) to convert existing facilities into energy efficient
ones. Numerous jurisdictions also have much more stringent health,
safety and environmental regulations; leading to a more environmentally
responsible institution while at the same time achieving regulatory
compliance without the attendant voluntary commitment to environmental
programs (awareness/attitude). Other universities have undertaken
"modernization" programs that are driven by economic
considerations that also happen to have positive environmental
Attitude and awareness tend to be an important determinant of
the progress the university is making in addressing environmental
issues. If the respondent felt that environmental issues did not
affect the university, the EMS was in a lesser-developed stage
of development. Even if environmental issues affected the university,
but it did not see the use of an EMS as a useful tool, then again
the EMS was lesser developed. Respondents that felt their institutions
were not affected by environmental problems, however, also responded
that they did not know if problems existed (96%). Little information
is known about Environmental Dinosaurs as most of them did not
answer our surveys. However, we do know that they exist as we
received some responses that indicated that their environmental
impact was of little concern to them.
The most significant finding of this study, and one that should
be of particular interest to organizations contemplating implementing
an EMS, is the fact that it is more important to have the support
and oversight of a senior administrative body than a set of guiding
environmental principles. Reporting to a Board of Governors and/or
having full-time staff responsible for an EMS does more to ensure
dedicated resources (time, money, and expertise), than a simple
declaration of principles. This may be partly due to a reluctance
on the part of many organizations to declare their intention of
adhering to principles and guidelines without first having the
necessary resources in place (along with the support of senior
While it was the intention of this study to characterize universities
according to their performance and dedication to environmental
principles, other factors quickly became apparent. Most importantly,
the lack of a centralized reporting function made it very difficult
to identify the salient attributes of an effective EMS. This also
contributed to the low response rate. The current state of EMS
at North American universities is a patchwork of independent,
autonomous functions (recycling departments, facility services,
plant maintenance, etc.), that are not well coordinated, nor are
they working towards a common goal. Therefore, for an effective
EMS to exist, a centralized body must be established with the
authority to coordinate the various disparate activities.
Some concluding remarks relate to research findings not included
in this article, such as progress that universities are making
towards implementing an EMS, and benchmarking tools used for monitoring
and measuring environmental performance and EMS effectiveness
at universities. The full article can be accessed through www.ucalgary.ca
and then clicking on Campus Services, then Safety Services, then
University of Calgary Environmental Management Committee. For
more information, please contact the authors. Irene Herremans,
Ph.D. is on the Faculty of Management at the University of Calgary
and David E. Allwright is a Ph.D. Candidate for the Faculty of
Management. They can be reached at: 2500 University Drive N.W.,
Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2N 1N4; tel: 403-220-8320 or 403-220-8602;
fax: 403-282-0095; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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