Article written by Chad Wiedenhofer, SVP, First American Education Finance.
One of the core values that every institution embodies is commitment to preserving the campus environment and surrounding communities. As institutional leaders develop strategic plans for the future, increasing sustainability is a priority for many colleges and universities. Facilities leaders, sustainability directors, and finance officers all play significant roles in improving the campus environment and empowering students to become the next generation of environmental advocates. While today’s leaders have a direct impact on implementing sustainability initiatives, they are faced with the challenge of renovating aging structures with budget constraints and limited resources. Leaders in facilities and finance must work together to overcome this obstacle and come up with innovative solutions.
With more than 20 years of experience working with colleges and universities, we’ve found that collaboration and clear communication are fundamental components for creating a productive sustainability program. However, effectively communicating a sustainability plan that demonstrates financial benefits and aligns with strategic goals can be challenging. Here are our three takeaways for communicating the financial business case for sustainability initiatives that have worked well for many schools.
1) Speaking the Same Language
As a leader of campus operations, it’s helpful to have some background in financial management to discuss sustainability initiatives with business officers. Second Nature has trained 300 Climate Leadership Commitment signatories on financial management terms needed to secure funding and make Climate Action Plans more successful12.
Here are some tips for developing a sustainability plan that outlines financial costs and benefits of the initiatives:
- Expand knowledge of financial terms and research potential funding resources such as energy grants and financing vehicles.
- Evaluate construction costs, equipment costs, installation costs, projected ROI, and estimated life of the assets for sustainability initiatives.
- Illustrate the project costs vs. energy savings visually with tables, graphs, and infographics to discuss with business leaders.
2) Aligning Goals to Enrollment and Retention
With more prospective students interested in green campus initiatives, colleges’ sustainability goals can impact the admissions process. According to The Princeton Review 2017 College Hopes & Worries Survey Report, 64 percent of respondents said having information about colleges’ commitment to environmental issues would contribute (strongly, very much, or somewhat) to their application and attendance decisions4. Energy conservation projects can foster collaboration and environmental stewardship among students, which can help fulfill every college’s mission to build society’s future leaders.
Here are three ways to align sustainability projects with overall strategic goals for enrollment and academic programs:
- Coordinate initiatives with targeted enrollment and retention goals outlined in the strategic plan.
- Determine how the initiatives can improve curriculum objectives by offering students new academic programs and research opportunities.
- Evaluate other ways staff, faculty, and students can get involved by forming sustainability committees.
3) Seeking Valuable Alliances
Leveraging objective data on energy cost savings from associations can help colleges know where they stand on sustainability in relation to other colleges of similar size. More than 800 institutions have registered for ASSHE STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System), which institutions can use to measure performance and evaluate other institutions’ sustainability best practices11. In addition, building relationships with environmental associations and local community leaders can be resources for expertise knowledge that a business leader can relate to.
Here are several takeaways for enhancing sustainability initiatives with external data:
- Provide ROI results from credible sustainability reports and metrics tools.
- Reach out to external experts from environmental associations to present research on sustainability benefits.
- Form an alliance with local sustainability community leaders and discuss potential for collaborative energy efforts.
As a financing partner that helps institutions fulfill sustainability projects, we know how strengthening collaboration between facilities directors, finance officers, sustainability directors, and external experts can be critical to drive energy projects forward. Sustainability initiatives backed by financial outcomes, strategic goals, and external data can help institutional leaders clearly demonstrate campus benefits and energy cost savings. In the future, maintaining a robust sustainability program will be increasingly important to remain competitive in the education space.
Source4: 2017 College Hopes & Worries Survey Report. (2017). The Princeton Review. Retrieved from https://www.princetonreview.com/college-rankings/college-hopes-worries.
Source11: Why Participate in STARS? (n.d.). Retrieved July 21, 2017, from https://stars.aashe.org/pages/about/why-participate.html
Source12: Second Nature. (2015). 2015 Climate Leadership Network Snapshots. Retrieved from http://secondnature.org/wp-content/uploads/Network-Snapshots_All.pdf