Sending the Right Message “From Day One” – 5 Questions for Dennis Hanno, Dean of Babson College

Last week, I had the chance to sit down with Dennis Hanno, dean of the undergraduate school at Babson College in the US, to speak about an initiative that took place on campus over the month of September called 30 Days of PRME. The initiative aimed to raise awareness about a range of projects and activities happening across campus centered around responsible leadership in order to send strong messages about its importance from day one.

1. As a dean, where does your interest in sustainability come from?

In my role as dean, it hit strongest when I saw the results of a survey we do every four years of prospective students to learn more about what is on their minds. The thing that kept coming up was that students were really focused on gaining an education that would help them create a more sustainable world and second that they were very interested in CSR, broadly defined. So that really made me think about what we have to do as a business school to meet the demands of our consumers in some sense. We have a whole range of committees working on curriculum reform to ingrain more intentionally what we call SEERS, social economic and environmental responsibility and sustainability.

2. So where did the idea for 30 days come from?

In spring 2010, one of the ideas we had for creating a more robust dialogue around CSR and social issues in general was to create something called “From Day One.” From Day One was a series of activities and lectures that took place the day before our classes started on campus to engage students and staff around these issues so they would understand that they could make a difference from day one. It was a huge success. So many students, especially the new students, immediately got the signal that this is a place that is dedicated to making a difference on important issues.

3. So how did it go from 1 day to 30 days?

In 2010-2011 we thought that, since one day was really successful in setting the tone for the rest of the year, how about if we expand that to 30 days? So in August, we got a group of 12-15 faculty, students and staff together over lunch to see what they thought of the idea. At that meeting we came up with 90 things we wanted to highlight and had to narrow it down to 30. Professor Elizabeth Goldberg as faculty champion really moved us from idea to action. Projects just don’t happen without a champion!

The 30 Days started on the 1st of September and, each day, one initiative on campus was highlighted on our Facebook page with a 1-2 minute video made by students. The initiatives ranged from students doing projects in the community, activities happening through facilities, to faculty developing new courses around sustainability. We also wanted to find projects for people to get involved in who didn’t have a big project to highlight.

Even though some of the videos didn’t get huge amounts of hits, it really created a whole atmosphere on campus, and I heard a lot of faculty speaking about these issues who hadn’t before. It raised the level of awareness and helped us to realize that there are a lot of things that we are already doing that fit into the Principles, and lastly, but most importantly, the visibility will hopefully encourage others to think about what they are currently doing and how that too could fit into the Principles. We will definitely be doing this again next year.

4. Do you have a favorite day?

Probably, and I don’t think it got big playtime, it was the one about our community garden on campus. It is small but it was a lot smaller when it started. I think what is great is that it is something that a couple of people with a passion started, and now I think the dining service on campus even uses the herbs from it. There are 7 different campus groups represented in the video alone, which really shows how it cuts across everything that we do, and also it highlights that there is so much that we are doing around sustainability through facilities. We have a big proposal on the table with our parking lots to make them solar energy providers that I don’t think even a lot of people on campus know about.

5. Do you have any tips for other schools who might be interesting in doing something similar?

Start earlier than we did! We didn’t really start working on the 30 Days until August 15th, and it started on September 1st, so with the hindsight of having gone through it once, I’m sure we could get even more visibility out of it. Next time, we’d like to get more of the community involved and create talking spaces, not just in the 30 Days, but use those as a way to set up activities that will happen on campus throughout the year. A lot of it was student driven, because really, at the end of the day, they were the ones that had to do a lot of the work to build the art projects and film the videos to make sure you don’t under utilize that valuable resource and the enthusiasm that exist for issues like this.

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