Campus Sustainability at Copenhagen Business School

At the PRME Global Forum, several Signatories received Recognition for the Sharing Information on Progress Reports. Copenhagen Business School in Denmark once again received recognition for their report, a report which is distributed to staff, students and partners and is used as an important communication tool both on and off campus.

CBS has many initiatives around responsible management and sustainability and has recently launched a number of initiatives focused on campus sustainability. I recently spoke with Louise Kofod Thomsen, co-founder of the Sustainable Infrastructure Taskforce (SIT) at the business school about their approach to sustainability on campus and their plans moving forward.

Why is it important that universities bring sustainability onto their campuses?

Universities act as role models for their students and basically, nurture and influence future decision-makers. During students’ time at university, they are taught how to act when they take on positions in businesses, but if they experience that it is okay to waste or in other words act irresponsibly, this is what they will bring into their future roles. In this sense, campus creates a sense of identity for the students and it is our belief that focusing on sustainability on campus will ultimately foster certain attitudes towards responsible behavior upon graduating. 

What has been the push at CBS when it comes to embedding sustainability into the campus?

Every few years, the Minister for Education and Science negotiates new university development contracts. These contracts contain self-defined targets by individual institutions as well as obligatory targets based on societal needs. Until now, these contracts have not set targets for universities in terms of raising the bar for energy, waste etc. but we strongly believe that they should, in particular as part of universities’ role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Being a business school, we educate future employees for the business society (and other institutions). In recent years, we have experienced a growing interest from companies within the sustainability agenda that creates a natural push to how we should educate students. At the same time, there is also a considerable push from students through student organizations who wants to do more with sustainability.

What is your approach to sustainability on campus? What are some of the most material issues?

CBS Campus Services is working on getting waste sorting in all CBS buildings. At the moment they sort 12 different types of waste and we are working in close collaboration with the municipality to improve waste sorting on campus. A very recent development is the new department, CBS Estates. The new department will focus on 1. Operation and development of existing buildings, 2. Sustainability, 3. Development of teaching and learning facilities and 4. The establishment of Student and Innovation House in collaboration with the students. These four focus areas create a great platform for us at CBS PRME, student organizations and others to work more closely with CBS operations and top management to set even more ambitious targets for the green agenda on campus and launch projects that can get us closer to the goal of a more sustainable campus.

How are students engaged in sustainability on campus?

CBS engages students in sustainability on campus from day one. At the beginning of the first semester approximately 2500 new bachelor students start their time at CBS with Responsibility Day. The aim of the day is to provide them with an opportunity to reflect upon social, responsibility and ethical dilemmas, both in their new role as CBS students and in their future role as business managers. The day also sets expectations for the role that their education will play over the course of their time at CBS. One of our student organizations, oikos, hosts Green Week for one week in March where students learn more about sustainable living and working.

What have been some of the challenges?
It is always challenging when you try to create change. You meet a lot of “this is not possible” attitude or “this is how we have always done it” which can make it seem impossible to get the results. Often change starts from below, and when it comes to sustainability, this is also the case at CBS. This means that everything takes longer, because we need to mobilize stakeholders bottom up and document the impact to prove the importance. It is all about people, and therefore you need the people on board. We also need to work on improving environmental sustainability in buildings and this requires that we work across departments and facilities and collaborate with many different entities to achieve results.

What’s next for environmental sustainability at CBS?

CBS is collaborating with the Green Business Council to use CBS as a case study for the development of campuses in urban areas. We also recently launched The Sustainable Living Lab, a project that opens up campus data for students and researchers to use the campus to implement, test, research and teach sustainability. It is still in its early days but we are excited about what this could mean not just for the campus but for staff, faculty and students.

CBS Department of Management, Society and Communication is also engaging staff regularly around sustainability topics. With the Sustainable Infrastructure Taskforce, the department now wants to implement sustainable initiatives using the department as a pilot. One example is the department wide competition on ideas for how the department can become more sustainable. The winning solution was to have vegetarian meals as default for all meetings and conferences as opposed to the traditional non-vegetarian option.

A next step for the sustainable journey at CBS would be to gather more data on waste, water, energy and CO2 and set clearly communicated targets for these areas. It is a great opportunity to also track the savings you can make in the long run. The challenge is of course that budgets usually only cover short term, which can make it difficult to prove the long-term benefits.

What’s next in terms of student engagement?
In terms of engaging students, Five student organizations in collaboration with CBS PRME have come together to coordinate a 2-day hackathon inviting students from Danish universities to come to CBS and work on solutions to 4 defined sustainability challenges on campus from food waste to inequality. It is the ambition that the winning solution is to be implemented in collaboration with CBS top management and operations. The winning team will have the opportunity to present their solution at the PRME office in New York and hopefully inspire other universities to follow this path. A strong jury panel consisting of representatives from Copenhagen University, The Technical University of Denmark, CBS and representatives from private companies will judge the solutions. It is the first time that students, staff, management and partners come together to discuss the challenges and solutions for a greener campus and hopefully this will create a strong platform for future collaboration.

What advice do you have for other schools looking at campus sustainability?
It might seem as an overwhelming task, but just get started on the journey. There are ups and downs along the way, but if you keep pushing and engaging colleagues in the efforts, you will see results. Start by identifying the key stakeholders who you need to have on board to change the way you do things today.

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