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.”

Examples of Sustainable Business from Around the World – USA and Australia

As businesses around the world become more and more engaged in sustainability, we are presented with an increasing range of interesting examples of their activities. However, when I speak with students and faculty, they complain about hearing only the same examples from the same companies—time and again.

In an attempt to reveal some new best practices, I asked a handful of faculty members from different universities to share their favorite classroom examples of local companies that are actively involved in sustainability. Here are some examples from the USA and Australia.

Dr. Scott R. Herriott, Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, Maharishi University of Management, USA

The Sky Factory, a custom ceiling company, has a very progressive system for management decision-making and for ownership. Meanwhile, The Tower Companies is big on green building, but they use a system of architecture that is what I would call “deep green.” They draw on Vedic architecture to create a built environment that places man in harmony with nature. Another example is the Global ID Group which todayoffers sustainability certification for products and companies from a beginning in the food safety industry.

Raintry Jean Salk, Assistant Professor of Sustainable Management, Dahl School of Business, Viterbo University, USA

I tend to tout organizations that have highly aspirational goals in place. Locally, there is a health care organization, Gundersen Lutheran, who espouses to be energy independent by 2014. They are on a diligent path to be off the grid and are well on their way. They have become a model for other health care organizations across the nation.

Cheryl Kernot, Director of Social Business, University of New South Wales, Australia

National Australia Bank (NAB) switched their procurement from lowest cost tea, coffee and chocolate to Fairtrade tea, coffee and chocolate. Because theyserve 4,500,000 cups at their branches around Australia, this is an example of NAB driving a more deeply embedded corporate social impact. NABs purchase of Fairtrade tea, coffee and chocolate from Fairtrade importers means that grower cooperatives in our near neighbourhood – such as East Timor and Papua New Guinea and as far afield as Latin America and Africa – can, through the Fairtrade premium, build clinics and schools in their communities. That is a much more embedded form of social impact than the older versions such as sponsorship of awards.

Graduate Certificate in Social Impact – 5 Questions with Cheryl Kernot from the Centre for Social Impact in Australia

The Centre for Social Impact (CSI) in Australia has a mission: to create beneficial social impact in Australia through teaching, research, measurement and the promotion of public debate. CSI brings together business, government, philanthropic and social sectors in a collaborative effort to build community capacity and facilitate social innovation. CSI is a partnership between the University of New South Wales, the University of Melbourne, Swinburne University of Technology and the University of Western Australia.

One of CSI’s primary offerings is the Graduate Certificate in Social Impact, which is open to students from the Centre’s different partner universities across the country. I recently had the chance to speak with Cheryl Kernot, Director of Social Business and head of teaching at the Centre for Social Impact, about the programme.

1. Why did you start the Graduate Certificate in Social Impact with the four different universities and how did you create it?

The decision to collaborate across four universities was made by the founding Board of the Centre for Social Impact. Their motivation was to increase knowledge of social impact for future business leaders, and they believed that business school courses were key to influencing this outcome in Australia.

The founding CEO of the Centre for Social Impact, based at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, made the initial contacts with the business schools of the two Melbourne partners, then one year later with the University of Western Australia School of Business. We are reviewing whether we might expand delivery of the Graduate Certificate through other partner universities in the future.

2. What is the Graduate Certificate in Social Impact and how has it been received?

The Graduate Certificate in Social Impact is a comprehensive ‘pracademic’ post-graduate qualification for emerging leaders across the government, business and social sectors. Students must complete four subjects from the six currently on offer. A seventh, Design for Social Innovation, will be added next year. The courses are:

·         Social Impact – Entrepreneurs and Social Innovation

·         Social Investment and Philanthropy

·         Leadership for Social Impact

·         Demonstrating Social Impact

·         Corporate Responsibility and Accountability

·         Social Impact Field Study

In 2011, we had approximately 70 students around the country enrolled in the Graduate Certificate. Students also take individual Graduate Certificate in Social Impact courses as part of other degrees, including MBA and Masters programs. Our students constantly give us a high evaluation on the course content and teaching, while providing regular feedback that they are applying their new learning in their existing workplaces or that it has driven their decision to seek a promotion using their new learning or to change jobs.

3. What were some of the challenges and how did you overcome them?

One challenge is that some universities include Graduate CSI courses in MBA teaching and therefore work on trimesters, whereas others work on semesters. So there’s a difference in the timing for the students. It was also a challenge for teachers at the beginning when cross partner teaching was required. Other challenges included generating agreement around course content, which involves having a program working group from all the partners, and meeting and reviewing content. Finally, its takes time to get course approval through universities. There is not much that can be done about that, other than being prepared.

4. What are your hopes moving forward?

First, students have requested that we articulate to a Masters in Social Impact reasonably soon. But a Masters, according to recent Federal Government changes, now involves 16 subjects. We need to reassess demand for a Masters, as the average cost is  now approaching $50,000. Second, I hope that we can work with other universities that have expressed interest in delivering the Graduate Certificate in Social Impact and exploring that potential.

5. What would you recommend for other schools in other countries thinking of doing a similar project or working with other schools on a common project.

I would recommend that a lot of exploratory conversation happen first about formal agreement around content and timetable delivery. I have found that what some business schools think is a relevant offering – because it includes the words corporate and sustainability – does not actually have the same focus on the social impact core element of our courses. Initial conversations and agreements are important.

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