Sustainability Partnerships with City Council – University of New South Wales

Unknown-1Partnerships, in particular with key stakeholders, are key to moving a University’s sustainability strategy forward. One of the primary stakeholders for a University or business school is the community in which it operates.

The University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia recognized this and has developed a key partnership with the local city council. I recently had the chance to speak with Loretta O’Donnell, Associate Dean, Education from UNSW about this historic agreement.

1.    What is the Sustainability Agreement that you signed with Randwick City Council?

Randwick City Council and the University of New South Wales signed, in August 2012, a new Sustainability Agreement, one of the only continuing agreements of its kind between a local council and a university in Australia. The historic agreement enables Randwick Council to access a number of specialist sustainability activities underway across the University. It also facilitates practical student learning and the application of particular areas of research and teaching into on-ground sustainability related projects or strategy areas being delivered across Council programs. The agreement quotes the 2003 New South Wales State of the Environment Report, which notes: “people living today have an obligation to protect the health, productivity and diversity of the environment for future generations”.

2.    What are the challenges of such an agreement?

Some of the challenges that we have faced with the agreement have been how to share intellectual property as well as dealing with conflict resolution. We have clearly discussed and addressed both in the Agreement to ensure that the partnership can operate smoothly. The common ground is very strong which helps substantially.

3.    What have been some of the successes? How is it impacting your school?

One of the projects we have undertaken through this agreement has been to develop a Transport Memorandum of Understanding so that we can jointly engage in lobbying the State Government regarding the provision of light rail to the University and to the Randwick shopping area. This went through and was approved by state government in December 2012

Previous project areas to be considered in the ongoing sustainability agreement between the University and Council include studies and projects carried out by students and staff from water and wastewater engineering, photovoltaic engineering, the Faculty of the Built Environment, and the Institute for Environmental Studies.

4.    What advice do you have for other schools thinking of putting in place a similar arrangement?

Find the common ground with appropriate stakeholders, and build on that common ground as a basis for discussion and dialogue. In our case, UNSW Vice-President, University Services, Mr Neil Morris said, “Sustainability is one of UNSW’s key research strengths. We are keen to link student learning and research with opportunities for practical experience within the community. Randwick Council has a strong record in sustainability initiatives over many years and we are thrilled to have this formal framework to improve those connections.”

5.    What is next for UNSW?

The agreement between the Council and the University covers a number of aims and objectives including: cooperation on mutually beneficial sustainability projects and outcomes; sharing of information and experiences to improve sustainability across Randwick; to work on appropriate joint or cooperative sustainability projects or initiatives for the benefit of the local community and environment of Randwick.

Councilor Scott Nash, Major of Randwick was quoted as saying in regards to the agreement, “This is a unique opportunity for Council and its residents to benefit from the specialist areas of research and learning that UNSW is involved in. We have had a strong relationship with the University over many years, collaborating on a number of projects and activities and we look forward to building on them.”

Bringing together sustainable companies in Australia – MGSM CSR Partnership Network

DHL2 Nov 8 AICCWhen it comes to bringing sustainability and responsible leadership to campus, many schools are finding that one of the best ways to do this is to bring together a range of partners from across society who are already actively working in this area. This is proving to be an excellent opportunity for the schools themselves not just to learn more about these issues but to help strengthen the position of sustainability in companies and organizations by providing space for discussion and collaboration on common research projects.

Macquarie Graduate School of Management in Australia realized that in order to create a better understanding of CSR in Australia they needed to gather and learn from leading businesses in this area. I recently had the chance to speak with the faculty Leader of Global Citizenship, Dr. Debbie Haski-Leventhal, who started the MGSM CSR Partnership Network about this new programme.

1.What is the MGSM CSR Partnership Network?

The MGSM CSR Partnership Network was created to better understand Corporate Social Responsibility in Australia, to create significant social impact through shared learnings and to increase public awareness about theses issues. The Partnership Network is composed of select organisations renowned for their CSR initiatives. The Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies in Australia sponsor the Network that also includes: National Australia Bank (NAB), PricewaterhouseCoopers Australia (PwC), IBM, AMP Insurance, Unilever, Brookfield Multiplex, the Commonwealth Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the New South Wales Department of Citizenship, the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity and the New South Wales Centre for Volunteering. The Network meets to discuss best practices, innovations and challenges regularly and will serve as the basis for new studies while benefitting from evidence-based peer learning to guide their own corporate initiatives. A key project relating to the Network will be an annual study on various aspects of CSR that aims to create an evidence-based dialogue with various stakeholders from across all sectors in Australia.

2.Why/How did you start the Network?

Two principles guided me in starting this initiative. The first was to work from a multi-stakeholder approach. If we were to create some CSR Partnership Network, it was clear to me that we would need to include the Not For Profits, the community and the Government and to have their voice heard in these matters to create shared value. The second principle was that this will have to be an evidence-based dialogue, led by research and creating knowledge and shared learning.

3.What have been some of the challenges? The successes?

It was not easy for some of the companies to commit to participating in the study. Some had concern regarding survey fatigue or having their own CSR survey. However, many saw it as a great opportunity to network, lead the way in responsible management and benefit from an academic study, which will allow them to improve employee participation in CSR, engagement and motivation.

In terms of the successes, we now have a “dream team” of great companies, governmental departments and NFPs on board. It took 18 months to put this team together and we are finally ready to launch the MGSM CSR Partnership Network on the 22nd of March, in the first workshop. It was well received by almost anyone we’ve approached, as it was seen as beneficial to all participants.

4. How does the Network benefit the work the school is doing in CSR?

The MGSM CSR Partnership Network creates a valuable network, which increases the positive reputation of the MGSM. It also creates ongoing research opportunities, which allows me to collect, analyse and publish data. But most importantly, it creates real partnership with various stakeholders that will in turn create knowledge, inspire others, create social impact and help advance CSR in Australia.

5. What advice do you have for other schools thinking of putting together similar networks and what’s next for the network?

We will run the first workshop on the 22nd of March. In April we will run the online survey on corporate volunteering. We will have another workshop to share the results and then in September we will launch the annual report in a big event, with the participation of the New South Wales state Minister of Communities and Citizenship, The Hon. Victor Dominello MP.

In terms of advice for other schools; believe in what you do and others will follow. If you are very passionate about Corporate Social Responsibility and Corporate Social Volunteering, it is amazing what can be achieved.

Sustainability Reporting – 5 questions for Carol Adams from La Trobe University, Australia

Last week, I had the chance to sit down with Carol Adams, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Sustainability) at La Trobe University, Australia to speak about the release of their 2010 Sustainability Report Responsible Futures. The Responsible Futures report follows the Global Reporting Initiative‘s sustainability reporting guidelines and is the first university to have a GRI report that is externally assured.

1.    Tell us a little bit about your background and sustainability at La Trobe.

I started as a qualified accountant with KPMG and then moved into teaching. My research focused on social and environmental reporting, and I worked extensively in this area with multinationals. In 2009, I was asked to chair a sustainability task force on top of my role as deputy dean, and then dean of the faculty, because I felt that, not only it was an important issue, but also that La Trobe was the kind of university where it could probably work, because it has a history of a focus on social responsibility and a concern for social issues. So, I agreed to chair the task force (which has since turned into a sustainability management committee), and by the end of the year, we had the agreement from senior managers about the way to move forward. We also have a sustainability advisory board comprised of outside experts who give us good advice and keep us on track.

2. So why sustainability reporting?

Because of my background in this area, I know the value of reporting. Not everyone will read a report, but the process of preparing it, setting targets, defining the key performance indicators with the senior managers, and then reviewing performance against targets is valuable.

The report process was really important in focusing our attention on areas of poor performance. For example, there were two key areas of poor performance highlighted in our report; one was energy consumption and the other was the proportion of women in senior levels of management and, on both of those issues, we have achieved quite a lot in the last few months in terms of a commitment to action and also action itself. The report highlighted the issues and drove change. Collecting the data on energy consumption for the report and having that externally assured was really important in creating the buy in we needed to move forward.

3. What is happening in the area of sustainability reporting with universities?

When we published our report, only 26 other universities had also published reporting using the GRI framework, but ours was the first one to be externally assured. GRI is a network-based organization that produces a comprehensive sustainability reporting framework that is used by a range of organizations around the world, including most large multinational companies. There are many benchmarking exercises for universities around sustainability, but I don’t think they can surpass the GRI process. What does need to be added to the GRI is a way of measuring the core business of universities, – education and research and their impact on sustainability.

I’m on a working group of the United Nations Global Compact developing guidelines for academic institutions in implementing the Ten Principles. It recommends that universities could use the GRI reporting as a way of reporting against GC principles.

4. Any tips for other universities thinking of doing this?

I think this is a really useful tool for other universities. I think that it really does need to be centrally managed. We are linking operational projects with faculty and student research projects, but the overall direction and performance needs to be seen as something that the university is managing.

We looked at a lot of reports, both by universities and from other sectors, to figure out what to report on. Using a report that has already been published as a framework could save other universities a lot of time. Another piece of advice is that it is really important to involve the managers who are concerned with that particular area, so with carbon emissions, speak those responsible for your transport fleet and people responsible for operations and electricity measurement systems and buildings. All players really need to be involved in the process because, if it is done without their involvement, it is not going to get embedded.

5. Will you do it again?

We will continue to do it as long as we have resources allocated to do it, because it really does focus attention on what is important and what is not. It will help us reduce costs associated with, for example, energy, travel, paper use, etc. I think it will become easier and less resource intensive as we move forward. We are also very proud of our report and just recently won two awards for it, the Association of Chartered Account’s (ACCA) ‘Best first time report’ in Sydney this year and the Continuous Improvement – Institutional Change’ award at the 2011 Green Gown Australia awards in Adelaide for our centralized approach to sustainability governance and management.

For more information visit:

%d bloggers like this: