Toolkit | Project

Post Secondary Educational Institutions

Toolkit Guides Sustainability Implementation

By: Kirsi McLandress, Sustainability Associate – Tavares Group Consulting Inc.

September, 2013



Colleges and universities have some unique characteristics and challenges that must be addressed when they are developing their sustainability plans. For example, these institutions are often one of the main focal points in their host community, especially in terms of providing employment and cultural services. This position of influence within the host community carries with it a responsibility to exhibit leadership within the area of sustainability. Another example is the mandate of colleges and universities to provide a balanced and comprehensive education to their students. Given the breadth and scope that the topic of sustainability covers, colleges and universities are realizing that sustainability concepts must be included within the teachings and curriculum of a growing number of fields of study.

These challenges in managing sustainability in post-secondary educational institutions have resulted in some specific sustainability initiatives for the sector. The Sustainability Tracking and Reporting System (STARS), developed by The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), has emerged as the leading sustainability reporting protocol specific to colleges and universities. STARS includes reporting for operations, human resources, finances, purchasing, curriculum, and research, among others. Tools like STARS provide colleges and universities with a framework to report their sustainability initiatives, but they lack the important guidance on how sustainability initiatives should be planned, implemented, and maintained.

The Toolkit is currently being used by two Canadian post-secondary educational institutions to address challenges they have met in their sustainability management. One of the institutions recently completed its comprehensive sustainability plan and has begun the process of implementing the goals identified in the plan. However, the actual implementation of institutional sustainability goals has proven to be challenging as individual departments/faculties have often managed their operations as independent ‘silos’. The Toolkit is being used to guide the institution in developing a consistent and repeatable process that will apply across all departments in the implementation of their sustainability goals. The other institution that has embraced the Toolkit is at an earlier stage of their sustainability journey, as they have yet to develop a comprehensive sustainability plan. Yet the institution is aware that there are many individual sustainability initiatives being conducted on a piecemeal basis without the guidance of an actual plan. The institution is using the Toolkit to guide the development of an overall sustainability plan that takes into account the needs of stakeholders, the STARS reporting requirements the institution has signed on to, and the existing piecemeal projects that are already underway.