Why Top-Down Support of Environmental Initiatives Is Key: Case in Point from U. of AZ

by | Oct 16, 2017

The University of Arizona launched a commitment to environmental programs in 2007 and established an Office of Sustainability and a President’s Advisory Council on Environmental Sustainability in 2010. By 2015, however, the initiatives had lost their vigor, and blame has been placed squarely on the shoulders of Dr. Hart, former UA president.

Dr. Hart was “not listening to the advice of the Council and did not see it as a priority,” says Matt Lubisich, president of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona. Lubisich, along with the UA Students for Sustainability, is pushing for a new sustainability commitment to jumpstart stalled efforts, writes The Daily Wildcat.

Ben Champion, director of the Office of Sustainability, agrees with Lubisich: while Dr. Hart did renew the university’s Second Nature Climate Commitment in 2015, little action has taken place.

“If you look at the climate plan and its listed next steps, there are not very many that have moved forward,” Champion says. UA’s new president, Dr. Robert Robbins, is much more “receptive to issues of sustainability on campus,” Lubisich says.


Leadership Buy-in for Environmental Programs a Must

Lack of leadership buy-in is a risk all sustainability programs face, and most experts agree that top decision-makers should be fully onboard before such a program can be expected to be successful.  “Active participation of corporate leadership, from C-suite executives to the critical level of first-line management” is key to moving environmental efforts forward, according to Michele Villa, Director and Global Practices Leader, DuPont Sustainable Solutions.

But proving the value of an environmental program to higher-ups can be a challenge. Business models that in the past have relied on unchecked consumption and unlimited resources must be replaced by better models that deliver more value with the resources available, says Kevin Moss, global director of the World Resources Institute Business Center. “Right now, this issue is so uncomfortable that it often goes unmentioned in C-suites and Board rooms, because it requires a radically different approach,” he says.

The most obvious way to involve the C-suite is by showing how integrating sustainability into business practices can positively influence the perception of the brand and improve the bottom line – and marketing execs may be the natural choice to convey that message. “While marketers already understand the soft benefits of sustainability, they are also starting to see the hard returns,” said Gyro global chief strategy officer Patrick O’Hara in a report published last spring. “Our survey shows that business people – especially marketers – are increasingly aware that sustainability has hard business benefits including greater brand favorability, operational efficiencies and competitive advantage.”


But top leadership can also be influenced by proof of broad employee buy-in. At UA, student-level support via sustainability clubs and organizations have prompted the administration to support and assist environmental efforts. Lubisich believes that the only way to figure out how to collaborate with administration on climate issues is to create a centralized body made up of faculty, students and administrators to oversee campus sustainability efforts.



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