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Report Card 2011

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Leadership Challenge

Renowned management expert Peter Drucker once recommended that, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” By highlighting the need for vision and commitment, this observation epitomizes the sustainability leadership challenge faced by colleges and universities. It entails embracing a long-term perspective and a willingness to encourage a participatory problem-solving process. This empowering approach to creating a sustainable future characterizes the schools that the Report Card recognizes as leaders.


Applying Drucker’s insights requires leading by example and making difficult choices about the allocation of resources. For instance, lessons learned about sustainability in the classroom, in the library, and in the laboratory are reinforced when they take place in energy-efficient buildings, powered by renewable energy and accessed via biking/walking paths or mass transit. The Report Card looks at whether schools prioritize such sustainability criteria in campus operations and planning.


Incorporating a preference for sustainability in campus operations is an investment bringing both returns in energy savings and improvement in quality of life. Adopting this perspective also presents educational opportunities for participation in decision making on a variety of sustainability options on campus.


Leadership in undertaking these initiatives does not necessarily require large financial resources. As the Report Card illustrates in each category’s section on “Leading by Example,” many smaller or less wealthy schools have made impressive strides.


The Report Card regards endowment practices as a vital component of a school’s sustainability efforts. Choices about the transparency of the endowment, its investment priorities, and shareholder decisions are all expressions of a school’s values and priorities–the type of future it is helping to create with its financial resources. For example, how many schools “connect the dots” between supporting campus sustainability and leading by example in shareholder engagement to advance energy efficiency and other corporate sustainability policies?


Meeting the sustainability leadership challenge in relation to endowment practices and campus operations requires acknowledging that maintaining the status quo is a choice. While it may be more due to inertia than to active consideration, such a choice has repercussions on the sustainability of both the endowment and the overall economy. As instability in the financial markets continues, the synergy between economic realities and sustainability in both campus operations and endowment investment practices is becoming more apparent. Looking ahead, the question about campus operations and endowment practices is: In what other ways will colleges and universities help create the future by rising to the sustainability leadership challenge?

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