Below you find some answers to Frequently Asked Questions. Also check out our open-source materials on how to design and lobby for a GO, here. In case that you have additional questions, please get in touch.
About the model
1) Structurally embed sustainability within the institution: Change towards sustainability does not happen by itself. Unfortunately, still too many people believe that sustainability transitions can be managed on the backs of few, highly committed employees and students volunteering their time. The GO provides the mandate, resources, platform, space and legitimacy for people to create an impact far beyond what volunteers could achieve.
2) Build partnerships between students, staff and faculty to lead change towards sustainability: Oftentimes sustainability efforts of students, staff and faculty are isolated and everybody does their own thing. The GO model provides a platform for these stakeholders to work together. If done well, this can unleash incredible synergy effects.
3) Take a whole-institutions approach: Sustainability hubs inspired by the GO Model should work on advancing sustainability in education, research, operations, community and governance. In this way they become the central platform to coordinate and launch initiatives across the institution.
4) Run activities, coordinate initiatives and advance strategy: For organisational change to happen, a successful GO should fulfil three functions: Run tangible activities, coordinate sustainability activities of existing actors, and advance the institution’s sustainability strategy. We experienced that high-impact GOs fulfil all three functions.
5) Make sustainability visible: For sustainable behaviours and decision-making to become the new ‘normal’, they need to be embedded in the organisational culture. An important precondition is that people know what is happening, what the ambitions are and whom to contact to get involved. One major function of a GO is to inventorize existing sustainability efforts, and make them visible.
7) Link to an international movement: Your sustainability hub should develop strong links with students, staff and faculty from sustainability hubs that are part of the GO Movement. This is how you can learn from your peers, run joint projects, exchange staff and add an important international dimension to your work.
8) Open-source, award-winning and ready to implement: Our open-source change-making strategy is a key factor why the GO model has spread so quickly. You can read our materials online, here, and contact us for support. Also the fact that the model is based on six principles that can be adapted to any organisation provides you with a lot of flexibility to design your own sustainability hub. The GO has also become an internationally recognized and award winning model, making it easier for you to show that the model works.
Let us know which reasons you find most compelling!
The GO model is based on 6 principles. Read more about them here. A major strength of the GO model is that it provides you with great flexibility to adapt the principles to your institution. At the same time, there are limits on how to adapt the principles. For instance, we recommend to have a team of 5-8 students working on a part-time basis. Just hiring two student assistants as part of an existing sustainability team is thus not a sustainability hub as we would imagine it. Get in touch with us if you have any questions.
1st principle: Students and staff
A dynamic team of student employees, volunteers and university staff form the core of a Green Office. They are directly responsible for running the Green Office and its activities.
2nd principle: Mandate
The Green Office receives an official mandate to drive the sustainability transition of the university and/or local community, by creating new impulses, connecting and empowering actors, improving communications or implementing sustainability strategies.
3rd principle: Resources
The university grants a budget to pay for salaries, training, project expenses and office space. These resources are crucial to guarantee the continuity and commitment of student, and enable them to implement high-impact projects.
4th principle: Integration
The Green Office is integrated into the institution’s organisational structure, and is supervised by a steering group. The Green Office team also joins relevant sustainability committees.
5th principle: Collaboration
All activities of the team are conducted in close collaboration and partnership with internal and external stakeholders. The Green Office also becomes part of the vibrant network of Green Offices around Europe.
6th principle: Training
The Green Office and its volunteers receive training from other Green Office Alumni that are engaged as rootAbility Fellows. This helps to inspire and motivate them, and build their competencies as sustainability change agents.
It was quite a challenge to transfer the lessons learned from Maastricht University Green Office to another institution. We failed the first time we tried to develop a concept paper for a GO at another Dutch university. We were not aware about the differences of this university and the one in Maastricht and literally tried to copy-paste the GO Model. This did not work out well. We did not adapt the model in a way so that it would build on existing initiatives and strengths of the organisation. But how to adapt the GO from one institution to another?
In 2013, the GO model had been adapted to five institutions, namely Maastricht, Wageningen, Utrecht, Exeter and Greenwich. We then conducted five case studies of these GOs to understand their similarities and differences. The five case studies are published in this report, here. Based on these case studies, we synthesised the essence of the GO model into the 6 GO Principles. Until today, these principles form the essence of the GO model.
In this presentation, we outline the five steps of the lobby process towards your GO. As one of these steps, you need to analyse your institution to understand all relevant sustainability actors, existing sustainability policies, strategies and governance structures. Then it is important that you understand the GO model very well and the different options that you have to adapt it. Based on your understanding of your own institution and the model, you can design a student-led and staff-supported sustainability hub for your institution.
We encourage you to be creative and really make sure that your sustainability hub builds on the existing strengths of your institution. At the same time, it is important that you do not adapt the GO model randomly. For instance, just hiring 2 students as part of a sustainability team or giving 2500 Euros for student-led sustainability projects is not a GO as we imagine it. Please get in touch if you have any questions about designing a GO for your institution.
Over the years, we have come across multiple ways how universities design roles, responsibilities and structures to advance sustainability within the institution. Some of these options below are alternatives to the GO or can work alongside a GO. Each of these options has specific strengths and weaknesses. Please let us know if you come across other alternatives that you suggest we list here:
Professor as sustainability representative: Appoint one professor to advance sustainability in education and research, or to coordinate the writing of the institution’s sustainability report and strategy.
Sustainability Institute: A new sustainability institute is established with the explicit task to advance sustainability in education and research. The institute is headed by a professor, supported by scientific staff and student employees.
Students’ project fund: All student initiatives – and thus also those focused on sustainability – can apply for grants to finance smaller projects. The fund can also be extended by offering training, mentoring and office space to student initiatives that receive funding.
Sustainability manager: One staff member gets hired on a part-time or full-time basis to coordinate and implement activities.
Sustainability team: Existing operations staff who are responsible for waste, energy, transportation or catering are integrated into one sustainability team that is part of Facility Services.
Assign existing staff to run different sustainability activities: In this case no dedicated sustainability staff are hired, but existing staff are assigned with responsibilities for sustainability projects. For instance, the Marketing and Communication departments gets the assignment to develop a sustainability report.
Sustainability committee: A high-level committee is established to coordinate the writing, implementation and monitoring of the sustainability strategy.
Situation I: No sustainability governance infrastructure
The case for a GO is the most obvious in institutions that do not have a sustainability governance structure yet. These are institutions where nobody is officially responsible for sustainability. If at all, students, staff and faculty are running sustainability activities mainly on a voluntary basis. Since sustainability does not happen by itself, and change processes do not get very far if they are only steered on by volunteers, a GO should be established as a first step. In these cases, the organisational integration and mandate of a GO are also very straight forward: Establish the GO in a way that it reports directly to senior management. Provide the GO with a mandate to coordinate the development and implementation of a sustainability strategy.
Situation II: One sustainability coordinator and some student initiatives
Also in institutions where there is only one sustainability coordinator, and some active student groups, a strong case for a GO can be made. In this case, the existing staff member could form the core of the GO, together with 5-8 newly hired students.
Situation III: Many initiatives by students, staff and faculty
If for instance sustainability research institutes, student groups, a sustainability team and sustainability strategy already exist, then the case for a new structure like a GO becomes less obvious.
In situations with many sustainability initiatives, the GO can fulfil three functions: 1) Integrate all existing sustainability initiatives, by becoming the official umbrella organisation. 2) Coordinate sustainability activities between these different initiatives. 3) Implement specific objectives of the existing sustainability strategy. Here, the GO could conduct specific activities, like communication and awareness raising.
The 6 GO Principles could also be used as a yardstick to improve the existing governance structure. For instance, the principles can give the inspiration to hire more students for the sustainability team, to provide student groups with a stronger mandate or to improve the collaboration between sustainability research institutes and student teams. In case that you encounter a lot of people already working on sustainability within your institution, you should definitely get in touch with us.
You can read more about how to adapt the 6 GO Principles to different institutional contexts, here.
In student-led sustainability groups – those that are independent of student representation – , students are in charge and can decide themselves what types of activities they want to do. They have a lot of options on what to do. Yet a major downside is that their activities are relatively small scale in most cases, as they face systemic barriers to create an impact: A lack of resources, time, people, knowledge, as well as insufficient internal organisation, and access to the university (Spira 2011). In case that these student groups receive support by staff, this occurs in most cases through professors who sit on advisory boards, or staff that individual students have a trusted relationship with.
Professors and scientific staff run sustainability courses, institutes or research. Students enrol in courses and are supervised by the professors. Students can also work with sustainability teams and staff of Facility Services. In these cases, students volunteer, intern or work for them to implement specific tasks and activities. In most of these cases the initiatives are led by staff and supported by students. A hierarchy exists.
Our vision of a student-led and staff-supported sustainability hub is based on partnership. Students are in the driving seat, run the projects, are involved in the hiring of students, and provide an identity to the hub. The 1-2 staff who are part of the team can fulfil the following roles: They mentor and coach the students, run trainings and provide feedback, have oversight and final decision over the budget, implement sustainability projects that only they are responsible for or join the sustainability projects of the students. This is a challenging task and it is important to get staff on-board that want to work with students and are happy to fulfil a myriad of roles from project manager, administrator, coach, mentor and sometimes also friend.
Meeting an urgent need: Increasingly people are recognizing that universities have an important role to play to create a more sustainable world. But what do we need to do so that students, staff and faculty can advance a dynamic change process? How can we go beyond volunteer-led sustainability initiatives? How to take a whole institutions approach? These are all questions that the GO model provides answers to.
Open-source change-making: Rather than just keeping the knowledge about the GO model for ourselves and selling it to people, we produce a lot of open-source materials so that people can learn about and get inspired by the GO model. The reports, teasers, templates or videos that we produce about the GO model are all under a Creative Commons License, meaning that you can use them for non-commercial purposes as long as you acknowledge us as authors. This open-source material speeds up the time that people need to learn about the model.
Flexibility and adaptability: Rather than promoting a one-size-fits-all approach, the GO model acknowledges that each institution is different. There are different ways of how you can adapt the model based on among others how many sustainability initiatives there already are, how much funding you can mobilize and what sustainability challenges are important for your institution. This flexibility allows institution to gain ownership of their GO model rather than seeing it as something that has been imported from the outside.
Grassroots lobbying: We have become experts on how to support student, staff and faculty in writing a strong funding application and mobilizing actors to develop a strong alliance in support of their sustainability hub. By drawing on our expertise, students, staff and faculty avoid to make the same mistakes that other initiatives have already done when lobbying for their GO, thus significantly speeding up the lobby process.
Building a movement: Our vision is that the basic principles that the GO model stands for inspire a movement of people and organisations across the world that use these principles as call for action on how to institutionalise sustainability in higher education. This multiplies the number of people and organisations spreading the word about the GO model so that by now, but many other organisations help students, staff and faculty in their countries to lobby for GOs.
The number of GOs is increasing constantly, so that we also sometimes lose the overview. Get in touch with us to inquire about the current number of GOs, or check out this map.
We can tell numerous anecdotes about the impacts that GOs have created, but have to be honest that the research on the impacts of GOs has been limited to so far. Until today two studies have been conducted that illustrate the personal and institutional impacts of Maastricht University Green Office. If you want to do more research about the impact of a GO, please get in touch with us!
Personal impacts: An explorative survey study found significant improvements in the development of professional competencies and environmental knowledge among current and former student employees at Maastricht University Green Office. Respondents stated that the most relevant skills that they acquired include communication skills, as well as the management of stakeholders, volunteers, time and projects. The former student employees also stated that the competencies they learned at the Green Office are used to a large extent in their current employment or studies.
Room for improvement remains as working in the Green Office had little impact on analytical competency and international orientation, and insufficient focus on competencies which student employees would actually like to acquire/ improve. Overall, the study found that working in the Green Office greatly contributed to student employees personal-development and future career, as well as enabling them to bridge the gap between Higher Education institutions and the labor market. (Fella et al 2014).
Institutional impacts: An explorative study of the impacts of the Green Office on the energy efficiency regime of Maastricht University suggests that the Green Office was able to temporarily break through a lock-in in the energy efficiency regime. This was mainly achieved as the Green Office enabled students, as a new addition to the traditional governance mix, to contribute to the university’s energy efficiency efforts, in this way expanding existing capacities. The Green Office emerged as a network hub and was able to liaise and involve a much larger and diverse set of stakeholders in energy efficiency issues than before.
Through its projects and conversations, the Green Office increased the awareness for energy efficiency amongst the higher management and project managers, but did not have an impact on the larger university community. Another downside remains that the efforts of the Green Office had not led to any tangible improvements of energy efficiency between 2010 and 2013. Nonetheless, the Green Office also influenced strategy and policy, as the energy efficiency goals were integrated into a larger framework of sustainability goals that include the promotion of renewable energies (Spira 2013).
2012: Maastricht University wins the Sustainabul Award as the Dutch university with the most transparent sustainability efforts, thanks to the relentless efforts of students and staff in the Green Office.
2012 and 2014: Two Green Offices – Maastricht and Exeter – win the Student Sustainability Award of the International Sustainable Campus Network und oikos international two consecutive times.
2015: The Vrije Universiteit (VU) Amsterdam received the award as the Biggest Climber in the Dutch sustainability in higher education ranking in 2015. This increase in the rankings was due to the GO that was established at the VU and who increased transparency around sustainability.
2015: The Green Office was awarded the prestigious UNESCO-Japan Prize on Education for Sustainable Development as an outstanding project to train “young people as transformation agents to foster a whole-institution approach towards Education for Sustainable Development”.
The National Union of Students UK recommended the GO model as a good practice to design student-led and staff-supported sustainability hubs in its collection of good practices for the Students’ Green Fund.
In 2013, the Green Office Model was recognized and recommended as a good practice on how to structurally support sustainability student engagement, by Uwe Schneidewind and Mandy Singer-Brodowski in their book Transformative Science.
An expert commission by the government of Baden-Württemberg, Germany, recommended the GO as a good practice on how to institutionalize sustainability within a university in its report Science for Sustainability.
The Green Office Model was presented as a good practice on the UNESCO Education for Sustainable Development Youth Conference in Japan in 2014.
The 6 GO principles inspired recommendation 2.1 of the UNESCO Education for Sustainable Youth Statement that universities and governments should provide structural support for student-led change processes.
No. There is no need to call your student-led and staff-supported sustainability hub Green Office. Other potential names are: Sustainability Hub, Sustainability Platform, Fair and Green Office, Social Office, Student Sustainability Team, Climate Action Unit, Students’ Green Unit. Also names in your language work, like Nachhaltigkeitsbüro, duurzaamheidskantoor or duurzaamheidsplatform.
Also be aware that if you have the term green in the name, people often associate this with an environmental sustainability agenda. Also the name office brings up associations of bureaucracy or actually having a green office. At the same time, the notion of Green Office has become a brand of a student-led and staff-supported sustainability hub. In some non-English speaking cultures, it is also hip to give an initiative an English name.
Again, there is no perfect solution on how to name a GO. Just be clear about the associations that you want to trigger in people. When they think of your sustainability hub, what images do you want them to see? What should they feel? How do you want to be perceived?
Yes, we firmly believe that the 6 GO Principles can also inspire sustainability teams in other organisations, like companies, NGOs and government organisations. We have already worked with one organisation – the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency – to use the GO Principles as a source of inspiration to set-up an internal sustainability programme. Please get in touch in case that you want to learn more and are interested to adapt the 6 GO Principles to your organisation.
Designing your GO
1st Principle: Students and staff
Synergy effects: We have experienced that it is crucial for students, staff and faculty to work together on sustainability. If each group advances sustainability alone within their community, they do not get very far. A GO team is staffed by 5-8 students and at least one staff member who work in partnership with other students, staff and faculty to advance sustainability.
Sustainability does not happen by itself: Advancing sustainability within an institution of higher education is a big task. Oftentimes universities have tens of thousands of students and staff. It is important to officially allocate responsibility for sustainability to someone within the organisation.
It is more fun to work within a team: Oftentimes universities hire one sustainability coordinator. This individual is then a one-person show to advance sustainability. Well-operating teams can achieve more than one individual, as people can brainstorm together, exchange ideas and support each other.
Impact: Many institutions of higher and further education are big and complex organisations with tens of thousands of students and employees. If a GO just has 2 students working 10 hours/week it will be way too small to have any significant impact.
Critical mass for running a Green Office: Our experience in Maastricht shows that a Green Office works best with 5-8 students. A team larger than 8 students quickly becomes too big and it is difficult to keep an overview. A team of less than 5 is too small, to cover all dimensions of education, research, operations, community and governance. Also a GO always needs a minimum of 2-3 students who are very enthusiastic about the GO and show strong leadership to run it. Reducing the size below 5 students raises the risk of not getting enough students with great leadership potential and initiative. The size of the team depends upon the size of the university: For instance, a team of 5 students will be a drop in the ocean at a university with 40 000 students, whereas it can be more suited to a university with 4 000 students. In general, we recommend students and staff to create a Green Office with 8 student employees, to create the necessary buzz and energy to kick-start and accelerate a dynamic change process.
Volunteer work: The idea is that the payment for the student team is a reimbursement for their efforts. They are still invited to volunteer time beyond the hours that they get paid. Also the student employees will leverage the volunteer work of students: They should work with 3-6 students volunteering with them on projects, support students interested in setting up their own sustainability projects and do research on questions relevant for the institution’s sustainability transition. With a relatively small investment, the GO thus should manage to leverage the volunteer work of students. The more students work within a GO, the higher the number of students who will also volunteer.
Continuity: When there are 6-8 students in a GO, always two students can work within the same portfolio, e.g. two students for education and research, two for operation and two for community and communications. Having two students per team allows for a better continuity of projects. Students stay for a minimum of one year in the Green Office. In the first semester 4 students are recruited and in the second semester another four to reach 8 students. The first 4 students are then exchanged in the third semester. Afterwards, every semester a maximum of 4 students leave and enter the GO. This allows that in each team always one experienced student is present to introduce the new incoming student into the team. This overlap would be more difficult with a smaller team.
The student employees also recruit and involve other students as volunteers in their projects. Student volunteers do not get paid for their work, but contribute to projects of the GO or run their own projects together with the GO. The number of volunteers depends on the ability of the student employees to manage volunteers, the focus and work requirements of the GO. Experience has shown that 3-6 student volunteers per student employee work very well.
Student employees should have a contract for a minimum of one year. This is necessary as it takes at least 2-3 months for the students to get up to speed, learn about the GO, the university and dive into their projects. The time that it takes for students to get accustomed to their work in the GO can also be shortened if students are hired that have previously worked as volunteers. The hiring process should take place twice per year, so that only half of the students are exchanged during each hiring round. After their one year contract is over, student employees can discuss an extension of their contract with the team or the staff coordinator.
Continuity and commitment: The model suggests that students have a minimum of a one year contract to work in the GO, and that they get paid for their work for 8-16 hours per week. This increases the continuity of the students to work in the GO for at least one year, and their commitment.
Quality control: Student employees are expected to fulfil work according to high professional standards. Those standards can only be demanded from the university, if the students are also in an employment relationship. If a GO would only be a volunteer initiative, then also the university could not demand that the team actually delivers.
Attractiveness: The paid student positions make the GO an attractive sustainability initiative to become engaged in. This might be an important, but decisive factor in situations where it is difficult to reach out to and engage students.
Fairness: From the perspective of equality of opportunity, the paid student positions are a key factor in guaranteeing that students from all socio-economic backgrounds can apply. If this would be a voluntary positions, than only students who can afford not to work next to their studies can actually apply.
Yes, this is of course possible.Until today, we have no running GO that reimburses students in the form of study credit. In case that students work in the GO as part of their studies or an internship it is important that this lasts at least one year. We experienced that it is very important for the students to work at least one year in the GO to guarantee that they can gain the necessary experience and run larger projects.
In general, the following options exist to commit students:
- Paid positions for 8-16 hours per week. Students can also get paid for 8 hours per week and volunteer another 8 hours.
- Study credits
- Internships absolved as part of their study
Here we list a couple of competencies that experience shows is important for your team to have. You can then recruit students and staff so that your team overall holds these competencies, nurture them through peer-to-peer learning, and training from an outside organisation.
Institutional knowledge and networks: The GO will fail or thrive based on the abilities of the team to navigate the different departments, units, rules and committees of the institution. It is therefore very important to recruit students that have for instance worked in student representation or politics and thus know the institution. Also the most successful staff are oftentimes those who understand the formal and informal rules of the institution very well and can leverage them to achieve the goals of the GO.
Strong team spirit: It is important for your team to work as a team and not just a collection of individuals who are running isolated activities. A strong team spirit is created through team dinners, weekend activities, spending time together in the office, going out for coffee with team members, weekly update meetings to share what everyone is doing, a coherent strategy to align activities of team members, and activities that team members work on together.
Sustainability specific knowledge: If you want to run activities that require very specific knowledge for instance on renewable energy, IT or buildings, it helps if you recruit students who have gained knowledge about this through their studies or previous work. Of course, students will learn about these things as part of their work in the GO, but this takes more time.
Leadership and entrepreneurial drive: Especially during the start-up phase it is important to have students who have a vision of what the GO could become, inspire others with this vision and implement activities that help the team to realise it. These are students who thrive in situations of uncertainty, identify opportunities for the GO to have an impact, shape its strategic direction and execute. During the recruitment phase, you can recognize these students as individuals who have started their own initiatives, led teams, or significantly shaped the course of existing student groups and associations.
Intrinsic commitment to sustainability: It helps, but is not necessary, that everyone in your team is very committed to sustainability from the beginning. Trade-offs need to be made and you might recruit a student for her good institutional knowledge that at the beginning of her work does not have a strong affinity to sustainability yet. However, it is quite important that you have at least two to three members with a very strong commitment to sustainability, so that they can influence the others and guarantee that the GO itself adheres to basic sustainability principles in its work.
Project management: In the end, the impact of the GO will depend on the ability of the students to implement the events, projects and programmes that they envision as part of the strategic focus of the GO and university. Your team thus needs to know how to plan, resource, execute a project and group of volunteers to work on this project.
Situation I: Sustainability staff exists
In case that a sustainability staff already exist, then this person should become part of the GO. The person can join as overall coordinator of the GO, or work together with the students in one of the portfolios or project teams.
Situation II: No sustainability staff
- An existing staff with affinity to sustainability issues and working with students is assigned as GO coordinator for the duration of the funding period. In this case, no new staff needs to be hired, but an existing staff member – whose current position is not directly focused on sustainability – starts working on a half or full-time basis for the GO.
- A recent graduate or more experienced staff member can be hired to coordinate the Green Office. Hiring new staff is important in situations where existing staff do not have sufficient time or interest to coordinate the GO.
Situation III: Integrating scientific staff
- The GO is coordinated by a Post-doc who coordinates the GO 50% of her working time and engages in research 50% of the other time.
- Allocate a professor or lecturer to work two to three days per week with the GO. Academics are especially important to work on projects in education and research together with the students. Administrative staff oftentimes do not have the legitimacy and credibility to effectively engage academics to advance sustainability in education and research.
- Create a position for a PhD researcher can be integrated in the team. This has been already done at Maastricht University. The PhD could conduct action-research on the sustainability transition of the institution by implementing projects and then researching the impact of these projects.
Let us know if you have found any other options on how to integrate staff!
To fulfil the vision of a student-led and staff-supported sustainability hub, staff fulfil interesting and challenging functions resulting in a mix of being a mentor, trainer, administrator and supervisor. The staff should like to work with students and understand him/herself in a facilitating and collaborating, rather than supervising function.
The roles that staff members are expected to fulfil depend on the division of labour between the students and staff. For instance, one or two of the students can work as student coordinators, to help coordinate the team. These student coordinators can take up roles for administration, finance and human resources. To guarantee the student-led atmosphere of the sustainability hub, it helps if students are involved in running the hub.
In addition to the student coordinators, a one-year assistant position can be created for a student who has just graduated. High potential GO student employees can then be given the opportunity to continue working with the GO on a full-time basis to assist with the internal coordination of the team.
Generally speaking, staff within a GO can fulfil multiple roles:
- Link to the university: Train students on how the institution works, connect them with relevant staff and faculty, and remain in contact with the higher-level management of the organisation.
- Mentoring: Mentors, train and coach the student employees and volunteers to facilitate their professional development.
- Conflict resolution: Help to resolve problems and conflicts within the team and between individual students.
- Critical reflection: Help the students to critically reflect about their work, plans and how they see sustainability. Also stress when things are not going well and projects are failing.
- Administration: Arrange office space, furniture, equipment, and other administrative procedures that might make the life of the students difficult.
- Reporting & planning: Work together with students on annual reports and plans.
- Finance: Maintain the final oversight of the budget, approve expenditures, participate in budget negotiations and conduct financial planning together with the students.
- Human resources: Take recruitment decisions together with the students, arrange contracts, decide about the prolongation or termination of contracts together with the students.
In the ideal case, a full-time staff position is created as part of the GO. However, this might not be feasible for the budgets of all GOs. Experience shows that for part-time staff to effectively work together with and coordinate the student team that they need at least 3 full working days for the GO.
Until this point, experience still needs to show what the best way is to internally organise the team. We have seen five approaches on how to internally organise the team:
Portfolios: One or two student employees work in portfolios such as education, research, community, governance and operations. These portfolios correspond to the dimensions of sustainability in higher education. One or two students should work in the portfolio of student coordination, to internally organise the team. Functions of communication and outreach can be integrated into existing portfolios or a separate portfolio can be established. The staff member becomes the Green Office Coordinator, or also joins one of the portfolios depending on his/her expertise. For instance, an existing environmental coordinator from Facility Services could join the operations portfolio of the GO.
Domains: The team can also be organised into activity domains, such as campaigns, events, projects, policy, communications, volunteer support and coordination. This structures the GO with regards to the types of activities that it engages in. The staff member can join the Green Office in a coordinating role, and be involved in some of the impact-focused activities.
Themes: The team can also be organised along thematic lines, like energy, food, waste or transportation. Student positions are then focused on these themes so that the GO would have student employees focused on energy, water or waste. This internal organisation has not been done so far in any Green Office, but might be worth experimenting with it.
Domains/portfolios and themes: Students can hold positions called campaigns, communication, project and volunteer support coordinators. The overall focus of the GO be around sustainability specific themes, like responsible material usage, healthy, organic and fair food, or renewable energy and energy efficiency. Each of the activities implemented by the student coordinators would then need to focus on these themes. For instance, the campaign coordinator would then run campaigns on switching off the lights and electronic equipment or promoting healthy food choices among students and encouraging. The same approach could also be done for GOs organised into different portfolios, like education, research and operations. Each of these portfolios could then implement activities aligned with 3-4 overall themes that the GO wants to focus on.
Open structure: The team is run by one coordinator and several project managers. This open structure allows for the largest flexibility of the Green Office to engage in all kinds of activities. This might be important during the start-up phase when the direction and identity of the Green Office is still uncertain and in development. On the other hand, an open structure might raise internal challenges to coordinate the team as roles and responsibilities are overlapping.
Student coordinator(s): One or two students coordinate the team internally, working alongside the staff member. They schedule and chair meetings, work with the staff on budget calculations, write annual impact reports, coordinate the annual planning of the GO, etc.
One staff coordinator: Coordination is solely the responsibility of the staff member. The students are still involved in the annual planning of the GO and impact evaluation. Apart from that they do not hold any administrative or management responsibilities and focus on running projects, activities and events.
Assistant coordinator: A student who just graduated from the institution can be hired for one year to work alongside the staff coordinator and assist her with administration and
Integration into existing roles: Each student employee becomes responsible for promoting her own events and activities. This means that if an education coordinator wants to organise a lecture series that she also need to promote all lectures herself. One or two students should then also volunteer to set-up and run the website, regularly post on social media and design documents. In case that communication tasks are integrated into existing roles and no new communication position is created, then the student team should be aware that communication work is an integral part of everyone’s responsibility.
Dedicated position: The time and energy spend on communication depends on the extent the GO just communicates about its own activities or should work together with the communications department to communicate about all sustainability efforts at the university. The latter case is arguably more work, and would certainly require one student or staff position focused on communication. Also during the start-up phase of the GO, it makes sense to have a dedicated communications person who sets up the communication infrastructure.
Leveraging the communication department: It is very important for the GO to closely work together with the communications department of the institution, and people responsible for communication in student representation. Since these departments and actors already have a strong presence within the organisation and overview of the different communication channels, the GO can reach more students with its message.
Outsourcing: Developing a website, designing a flyer or brochure can also be outsourced to professionals, like independent designers or the university’s communication department. In these cases, you will (most likely) need to pay for these services.
2nd principle: Mandate
Legitimacy: The mandate describes your official role within the institution. The mandate is granted by the decision making body that officially establishes your sustainability hub. It is your entry ticket to officially become active on sustainability within the organisation.
Focus: The mandate outlines your focus: Are you taking a whole-institutions approach focused on sustainability in education, research, operations and community, or are you only working in one of these areas? What sustainability issues are you addressing like water, energy, waste or buildings?
Goals: In addition to providing you with a general focus for your work, the mandate might also describe very specific goals that you should reach. For instance, you might want or need to reach
Coordinate the sustainability strategy: In case that the institution does not have a sustainability strategy yet, the GO should become responsible for coordinating the development and implementation of this strategy.
Implement specific objectives of the sustainability strategy: The GO becomes responsible for implementing specific objectives of an existing sustainability strategy, like communication, student engagement, or building partnerships with the local community.
Connect and coordinate initiatives: In case that your university already has a lot of sustainability initiatives run by students and staff, but an overview of these initiatives, as well as a central contact point that they can turn to for support and inspiration are lacking, than this role should be an integral part of your mandate. The GO becomes the hub where all initiatives turn to.
Improve communication: Many universities are large organisations, with very specialized communities that oftentimes do not know of each other’s existence. If communication is a problem, than this should be an important objective of the Green Office’s mandate.
Empower students: In case that students, staff and external actors face hurdles to realise their sustainability ambitions, then their empowerment should be one aspect of your mandate. This empowerment can take several forms: Providing feedback and encouragement on project ideas of students and staff, connecting them with relevant actors, allowing them to run events in your office, financing small-scale student projects and assisting with their promotion.
Create new impulses: A key element of a Green Office’s mandate is the creation of new impulses. This can be achieved in numerous ways, through additional projects, programmes, meetings and conversations that the Green Office realises. These new impulses infuse the institution with a new energy and spirit which helps to create the necessary buzz and dynamic around sustainability.
The mandate coms from the decision-making body within your institution that officially establishes you and provides the funding. This can be your Executive Board, a sustainability committee, sustainability team, university council, Director of Facility Services or a research institute.
3rd principle: Resources
A budget is a crucial feature of a GO. It makes the GO different from student and staff-led sustainability initiatives that are run on a voluntary basis, in people’s free-time and with very limited financial resources. A budget thus allows you to scale your impact beyond that what would be possible for a mainly volunteer-led initiative. You can pay salaries to commit and compensate students and staff for their work, get an office space to work and become accessible for all stakeholders and pay for project expenditures.
While writing the budget, you might want to think of the following expenditures that your GO will need to make:
- Salaries: Paying the salaries of student employees and staff is the largest post within the budget. The amount of money you need depends on the hourly wage for students and staff, as well as overhead costs.
- Office space and equipment: At some institutions, office space can be provided for free, whereas at others you will need to rent office space from your university.
- Events and campaigns: For events – such as a lecture series, workshops, open day, networking evening – you might need money for rooms, catering, speakers, and promotion. For campaigns, you might need to invest into online software to run a social media campaign or develop an app or hire a professional designer and photographer.
- Projects and programmes: Projects and programmes can incur expenditures with regards to materials (e.g. LED lighting pilot), and printing (e.g. annual sustainability reports). Especially projects that want to change something within the building infrastructure of the university will require larger investments. In case that the Green Office wants to implement bigger projects, the team can also write business cases and proposals to acquire extra funding from other departments.
- Weekend working retreats: Leaving the city to move to a farm or the coast for a weekend with your whole team, and the new recruits to bond, organise team transitions, evaluate the last year and plan the time ahead.
- Conferences and excursions: Participate in conferences to present your work, and connect. Excursions to visit Green Offices and sustainability teams at other universities to learn from them and get inspired.
- Training and coaching: Investing into training and coaching of the student employees, volunteers as well as the staff member(s) is important as becoming a sustainability change agent is a very knowledge and skill-intensive endeavour.
You can find out about available office space and its costs, by finding the responsible person within the real estate department who decides about the allocation of office space. You can also reach out to professors and heads of departments to see if they can provide you with office space for free. We would highly recommend you to find office space that is central, so that other students and staff can find you easily. Also for other sustainability student organisations and Green Office volunteers to work in the Green Office, larger office space with one big or many smaller rooms would be ideal.
Funding from the central level: The Executive Board, Senate, University Council or any other relevant central decision-making body establishes the GO. The funding can come from central funds related to innovation, student affairs, employability, quality in education, sustainability, and organisational development.
Funding from departments: Departments have their own funds that can be used to kick-start a GO. This is why Facility Services, faculties or research institutes can contribute or fully fund a GO. The most relevant department for you to talk to is the one responsible for sustainability management at your university.
External funding: You can also write an application for external funding to finance the GO. External funding can come from ministries, corporations or foundations at local, national or European levels. Until this point, only two Green Offices received external funding through the Students’ Green Fund in the UK. This fund was especially developed to finance student-led sustainability projects at universities and communities. Please note that external funding might require more time to find funds, understand funding procedures, finding the organisational unit in the university that can develop the application with you and then submit it with you. It is also important that after the project period ends, the Green Office would need to be financed from your university, to avoid an abrupt ending of the project.
Patchwork funding: In this case, the funding to pay for the positions of the student employees can be drawn from several sources within and outside the institution. For instance, one student can be hired under the umbrella of a research institute, one student by Facility Services, another paid for by the Students’ Union and another by the communications department. In this mix, the central level can provide the funding for office space and project expenditures. This allows more organisational units within the institution to share the investments into the Green Office. At the same time this requires more time and energy for coordination and collaboration to get these partners together.
Structural funding: An external organisation finances the complete budget of a GO for a couple of years. In this case, you can either submit a funding proposal yourself or work together with other GO initiatives to submit a joint funding proposal to get funding for several GOs in your region or country. National Ministries of Education and Science or Economic Affairs, or foundations focused on sustainability, science and youth might have calls for proposals to provide this funding. Your GO would then need to be positioned to fit the requirements of these calls for proposals. A GO could also be financed as part of a larger funding application for a research project. For instance, if the goal of the research is to study the sustainability transition of your university, then a GO could be established to kick-start this transition and the researchers could study the transformative impacts of the GO.
Activity-specific funding: An external organisation contributes to expenditures related to specific projects, programmes or activities of the GO. For instance, you might work on a joint funding proposal together with other GOs to get funding to develop a sustainability course that is then rolled out across all GOs. Of course, also local companies or the city administration might sponsor some of your events. Funding from companies can come through their marketing or recruitment budgets. Also specific activities of a GO could be financed as part of a research proposal. Overall, activity-specific funding is easier to get for your GO that structural funding.
City: Sustainability budgets of the city, sponsorship and marketing from local companies
National: Ministry of Education and Science, Ministry of Economic Affairs, National Science Foundations, Private or company foundations focused on youth, sustainability and education, big national companies
European: Erasmus plus, European Social Fund, European funds for regional and city development. In these cases, your GO definitely needs to join a consortium of partners to hand in a joint funding application with other organisations.
International: Bodies of the United Nations, globally operating foundations, multi-national companies
Piloting: Another organisation might want to partner with you to pilot their projects, programmes or campaigns within a university setting. You can then arrange a deal that you get the project, expertise and resources to execute the project for free.
Sponsoring: Another organisation might sponsor your event, project or campaign through money, resources or other in-kind contributions.
Pro-bono consulting: Staff from companies could run training sessions for your GO for free, provide you with feedback and strategic advice or mentor some of your projects.
Staff exchange: Companies, NGOs or public organisations might make an agreement with you that their staff can do a sabbatical with you and work together with you for a couple of months. Companies sometimes partner with start-ups so that their staff breaks free from their work-routines and is put into a dynamic and open work environment. A GO provides similar conditions.
Event space: Other organisations might provide you their space for free to run events or host
The budget size for GOs varies from 15 000 Euros per year up to 164 000 Euro per year. The main difference between these budgets is how much support the GO gets from the university to compensate students for their work and hire professional staff to work with the team.
All existing GOs receive funding from the institution. So far, only two GOs have been kick-started through external funding.
We have experienced that this is the most secure source of funding for a GO, in case that the GO creates an impact and successes, documents and communicates those to decision makers. This is important as even a high-impact GO that does not communicate its successes can run out of funding, if it is not visible to the people who decide about the funding.
A GO that does not deliver on its promises should also not be supported indefinitely by the institution. In case that decision makers perceive a GO does not create an impact, then this case should be evaluated, to see where the problems lie, how and to what extent they should be addressed.
- Participation fees for lectures, workshops and events to cover the costs of events
- Sell food and beverages during events, or sustainable study materials, books or mugs
- Provide services to other organisations, like writing sustainability reports or conducting sustainability analysis, or recruitment services to companies to help them get interns, or students to write their Master thesis with them
This is a critical question. We think that a GO should always receive structural funding from the institution or another public body like the Ministry of Education, but that individual activities of GOs could also cover their own costs, like selling beverages and food on events, or be supported by external sponsors.
We believe that GOs should be structurally funded, because it is the responsibility of universities to use tax payers money to help society respond to critical sustainability challenges. In this sense, sustainability is part of the responsibility of universities as public organisations. They should therefore also strive to shift the funding from non-sustainable activities, teaching and research towards more sustainable alternatives. It is thus about re-prioritizing the way the organisation spends money.
In addition, engaging in commercial activities is not easy. Is there a willingness to pay and demand for the services that the GO would offer? How do you guarantee the quality of the projects for clients that actually pay for them? How does the GO make sure that new projects and clients are continuously acquired? To what extent is it actually possible for the GO to bill other organisations from an administrative perspective? To what extent can the GO maintain a double focus to change the university from within and engage in commercial activities?
We encourage you to be very careful when people claim that the GO should gain its own income. This can be an easy way out for the university to ‘outsource’ its sustainability efforts to a group of students that need to struggle to get funding in on a project-by-project basis. Also we believe that a GO that engages in commercial activities requires a different model than the way we have currently designed the GO. The focus would be more on professional staff delivering sustainability services to other organisations and students helping them with specific tasks.
Also please be aware that acquiring external funding is not easy. You will compete with other initiatives that have very good ideas and are working on pressing issues like refugee crisis, poverty alleviation, diseases or homelessness. It might be easier for you to strengthen your position within the institution by engaging key decision makers, rather than to compete with other social initiatives for external funding.
Still, generating its own funding for specific activities supports the entrepreneurial spirit of the GO, trains the students in mobilizing resources and looking for opportunities in the world around them. This additional income should supplement the structural funding from the university as a nice add-on, but never replace it.
4th principle: Integration
Integration describes the fact that your GO becomes officially part of your university, college or school, so that you are positioned somewhere within the organisational chart. Your positioning within the organisational chart describes to whom you are reporting within the organisation and which department, faculty or institute you become part of. In addition, integration describes if a high-level committee is set-up to support the GO, and to what extent existing sustainability initiatives are integrated under the umbrella of the GO.
Existing structures: The way the Green Office is integrated into your university heavily depends on the existing sustainability governance structures. The more people, teams and committees exist that are working on sustainability issues, the more important it is to fit role of the GO into these existing structures. Existing teams and positions can also be integrated into the GO.
Central position preferred: Since the Green Office provides benefits to the whole institution and works across all departments, faculties and institutes, we suggest positioning the Green Office centrally within the university. The GO should be positioned directly under the Executive Board, or the General Administration. This provides it better access to decision makers than if the GO is
Where to position your GO within the institution depends on the existing governance structure. We illustrate some options below. We suggest that you just contact us to discuss the specific requirements of your institution and how a GO would fit:
Ground zero: No sustainability team, committee or coordinator exist. In this case you have the largest freedom to position the GO. The GO can become part of Facility Services, a research institute, faculty, student affairs or directly report to the Executive Board.
One sustainability coordinator: Your university already has one or two sustainability coordinator. As mentioned under team, it would be important to make the sustainability coordinator part of the GO. At most Dutch and British universities, sustainability coordinators are linked to Facility Services. One option would thus be to integrate the GO into Facility Services.
The university has a sustainability committee: It is important that the GO is linked to a Steering Group on a strategic level. In case that the institution already has a Sustainability Committee, this committee can also take over the role of Steering Group for the Green Office. In case that no committee exists that could take over the role of the Steering Group, a Steering Group should be created as soon as the Green Office is launched. Depending on your university, this group could include a representative of the Executive Board, student representatives, departmental managers, professors and external actors. All members should be selected based on their skills, knowledge and connections that they could offer to advance the Green Office’s cause. The group meets the Green Office twice per year. During this two hour meeting, the group reviews progress, provides feedback on the strategic direction, and helps to overcome obstacles.
Your university has more complex governance structures: In case that your university is already doing a lot on sustainability, then you will encounter more complex governance structures: A whole sustainability team, multiple staff in different departments and institutes working on sustainability, and different committees dealing with waste, energy or sustainable procurement, as well as one central sustainability strategy or multiple policy documents on biodiversity, energy or sustainable real estate. In this case it is best to meet a staff member, who has a good overview of this complex structure, and then to discuss which sustainability issues are already addressed very well and where there are shortcomings. The Green Office can then be positioned in a way that it builds upon existing efforts and addresses weaknesses. Within a complex governance structure, you also might not need to have a separate Green Office. For instance, a self-governing student team of five to eight students can be integrated into
If you do not have a sustainability committee yet, it helps to set-up a high-level committee that advises, supports and works with your GO. In case that you are developing a sustainability strategy, this high-level committee can also take up the function to develop and monitor this strategy.
It is important to staff this committee with members who are passionate to work on sustainability, have influence within the organisation, are relevant for the institution’s sustainability efforts and take the time and energy to support your GO. Depending on the exact function that you envision, you can call this supervisory or advisory committee, or steering group.
The committee should include student representatives, Directors of Facility Services, Marketing and Communication or Human Resources, as well as sustainability institutes, deans of faculties and members of the Executive Board, and committed professors. However, it is important not to blow up the size of the committee too much, e.g. more than 8 members, to still keep it functioning and make it easy to schedule meetings. In general it is better to have a smaller committee with very active members, rather than a big committee that shows little support of the GO.
Members of the committee can be suggested by the GO and be invited to join by the highest ranking member of the committee. Experience shows that it makes sense for the committee to come together with the GO 2-3 times per year. In addition to these meetings, members of the committee can act as mentors of students working in the GO, and meet with them to support their projects or even join project teams.
The way you should relate to existing sustainability initiatives needs to be decided on a case-by-case basis. Please get in touch with us to discuss this. Still, we see three options how your GO can be positioned with regards to existing sustainability initiatives:
- GO as facilitator: The GO coordinates, supports and connects existing sustainability initiatives of students, staff and faculty. Existing initiatives remain their independence and the GO realises specific activities that support the efforts of existing initiatives.
- GO as umbrella: Existing sustainability initiatives become integrated under the GO. This can for instance occur as existing sustainability staff become part of the GO team, the GO becomes the umbrella for all student sustainability initiatives, or existing sustainability programmes become part of the responsibility of the GO.
- GO as institutionalisation of one student sustainability initiative: In case that a student sustainability group is pushing for the development of the GO, one option could be to institutionalise this initiative through the GO, by giving it a mandate, resources and making it officially part of the institution.
5th principle: Collaboration
Since many universities are quite large, diverse and static organisations, advancing changes towards sustainability requires a high amount of collaboration between internal and external stakeholders. We have seen projects fail at Green Offices, because end users and key staff have not been involved in the design and implementation of activities. Collaboration thus describes that you work closely together with relevant people and initiatives to advance sustainability in your institution. This helps you to mobilize supporters, leverage resources and advance changes from multiple angles.
In general, the GO can run joint projects with other initiatives, involve the in projects that the GO organises itself, or support the projects of others.
Joint projects: These are activities that are jointly organised by the GO and others. All participating initiatives have an equal say in organising the activity, provide funding and receive credit. These joint projects often emerge as initiatives come together and think about which projects they can do together. For instance, as part of a networking event the GO might meet someone from a research institute, and then decide to organise a sustainability research symposium as a joint effort.
GO owned: These are activities that are led by the GO, and that others support. This support can be in the form of giving feedback on ideas, providing funding, helping to organise the event or promote it. For instance, organising a student sustainability conference might fall under full project ownership of the Green Office. The GO works together with student organisations, the communication department and a NGO, but the still maintains ownership and control of the project.
GO supported: These are projects led by others, and that the GO supports. For instance, a building insulation project might be led by staff from Facility Services, and students from the GO assist through research and data analysis. The GO can also support the projects of student sustainability groups, by providing funding to their activities, or allowing them to work in the office of the GO.
The sustainability team could comprise the sustainability manager, energy and waste coordinators of the institution. The GO can have different relationships with this sustainability team, depending on who initiated the GO:
GO set-up by sustainability team: A sustainability team can set-up a GO. The sustainability team could hire 8 student interns, assign one staff from the team to directly work with the students, provide them with a mandate and resources to implement objectives of the sustainability strategy. The GO could thus help to implement objectives around student engagement, communication and supporting student-led sustainability projects. The GO could be called Student Sustainability Team or Students Sustainability Hub and work relatively independently to achieve its objectives. In this case, the GO is a tool for the sustainability team to realise the sustainability strategy of the institution.
GO set-up by Students’ Union or university: The default scenario is to set-up a GO within the university, college or school itself. However, a student-led and staff-supported sustainability hub inspired by the GO model can also be established within the Students’ Union. The GO thus becomes the sustainability unit of the self-governing body of the student community. In both cases, the sustainability hub would partner with the sustainability team to run specific activities together or to implement other activities itself. In case that the GO is established as part of the Students’ Union or university, it is very important that an existing sustainability team is closely involved in co-designing the GO. This guarantees their buy-in and avoids that the GO runs activities that are already done by other actors.
It is very important that the GO builds upon and supports existing sustainability initiatives. Therefore, it is important that the GO is co-designed in close collaboration with students, staff, faculty and university management who are engaged in existing sustainability initiatives, institutes and teams. We offer free and paid for services to help you in this co-creation process and have outlined tips and tricks to engage stakeholders in our report on how to design and lobby for a GO.
6th principle: Training
Students and staff working in a sustainability hub inspired by the GO model face a challenging task: Embed the principles of sustainability into public organisations that change very slowly. The people involved in the GO need to understand the current system they operate in, envision an alternative future, and understand how to realise this future. The change maker competencies that this work requires are among others system’s thinking, an understanding of sustainability, stakeholder engagement and communication, personal leadership, strategic thinking and visioning. Since most curricula do not prepare students for the task of working in a GO, it is very important that they receive the necessary training to gain the knowledge, skills and values of sustainability change makers.
For Green Offices in the start-up phase, experience suggests that a minimum of three workshops per year are necessary to build and strengthen their capacity. For more experienced Green Office, at least one whole-day training workshop per semester should be organised. Given our experience with the Green Office Model, we would highly recommend you to run these workshops with rootAbility Fellows.
- rootAbility: We specialise in training students and staff in GOs to become sustainability change makers. Check out our training and workshop portfolio and get in touch to learn more about our work. All our trainings are conducted by GO alumni or experts in their field.
- University: You might ask professors to provide your team with a workshop on sustainability, or get training on project management through the career office.
- Local: You might know NGOs or companies in your region that could conduct trainings on topics relevant to your GO.
Lobbying for your GO
1) Forming the initiative: Starting a Green Office requires an extensive network at your university, a diverse set of competencies and quite some capacities. This is why it is important to find existing sustainability initiatives and enthusiastic individuals on campus and to bring them together in a Green Office Initiative. This initiative then develops the Green Office and builds a larger alliance to co-create and support the funding application.
2) Discovery: Take the time to get to know your university, the context it operates in and the Green Office Model. During this process you learn more about your university and how the Green Office Model can be adapted to the situation here, so as to build on existing sustainability efforts and support existing initiatives.
3) Proposal writing: To realize your ambitions, the university needs to officially legitimize, support and fund your Green Office. You need to write a funding proposal to outline your ideas, rationale and suggested budget. Writing a proposal often sounds scary if you have never done it. But do not worry, we can help you in the process and also supply examples of funding applications that other Green Offices developed.
4) Engaging people and building alliances: You need to engage the larger university community, and build an alliance for change to back your idea. As part of this, you raise awareness and involve students, staff, academics and university management in co-creating the Green Office, building on what already exists and tap into their ideas, knowledge and networks. From page 15 onwards, we provide you with an overview of different lobby and engagement tacticts that Green Offices have used. The funding proposal is written at the same time as you start engaging people and building alliances. This is important as your funding application should be adapted as a result of the information and feedback you gather by engaging people.
5) Submission and decision: Generating momentum for a Green Office takes time, yet once you feel the timing is right you need to submit the funding application for the Green Office. The application needs to be submitted to the relevant university body, like a committee or the Executive Board. Without submission, there can be no official recognition and support from the organisation. Now, you await a reply from university. While doing this, you continue advocating for the Green Office and start your first projects. After a couple of weeks or months you will hear back from the decision makers if they want to support your application, if it needs to be revised or if it is rejected. Multiple options exist to continue from here.
- Forming the initiative: Duration: 1-3 months
- Discovery: Duration: 3-6 months
- Proposal writing: Duration: 2-6 months
- Engaging people and building alliances: Duration: 3-6 months
- Submission and decision: Duration: 1-3 months
We see that some initiatives have it easier to lobby for a GO than others. Regardless of the skills of the people, some specific characteristics of your institution play an important role. How difficult or easy your lobby process will be depends very much on:
How important sustainability is for your institution already. If there is very little going on and people are unaware that sustainability is important then you might need to do a lot of awareness raising and educational work to illustrate why and what universities should do.
How much people value student engagement. If student engagement is a low priority than arguing for a student-led and staff-supported sustainability hub will be challenging.
How people understand sustainability and organisational change. A lot of people still believe that you are already sustainable, if you recycle or engage people in a couple of events per year. This is nothing else but the first step. Raising the bar of what a sustainable institution actually looks like and also showing that organisational change does not happen if a group of 12 students and staff work on a mainly voluntary basis, is then a major challenge.
Existing sustainability initiatives and governance structures. We found that it is the easiest to lobby for a GO when there is already one very supportive
1st step: Forming the initiative
Legacy: Some people start with the assumption that they can get a Green Office going within three to five months. However, experience shows that the process leading up to the approved of the Green Office takes between one to two years. This time is necessary, as there is a lot to learn about and build a good alliance for change. To sustain the initiative through the 1-2 years of the development process, it is crucial that you engage a larger group of motivated and committed students, staff and academics.
Leverage: You need a diverse set of networks, competencies and capacities to develop and successfully lobby for your Green Office. If you are only two to three people, then your networks will be too small to engage a critical mass of people. You might also not have the capacities to go through all the steps of the lobby process. Being an initiative with multiple members helps you to mobilize the networks, competencies and capacities of multiple people.
Credibility & visibility: If your team only consists of two to three people promoting the idea of a Green Office then there is a chance you may not be taken seriously. However, if you are a group with 5-12 members, with a name, online presence and public activities, then you become more visible, credible and official.
You can start a Green Office Initiative as part of an existing (student) sustainability group or initiative on campus. Then your initiative can become a sub-group, working group or team within an existing initiative or group. This can help, as you then do not need to set up your own separate infrastructure. In the case that there is no sustainability student group you can join, it makes sense to set up a Green Office Initiative from scratch, making it a new sustainability initiative at the organisation.
Depending on the drive and energy of your team members, your initiative does not need to be large. A team of five highly committed people that are willing and able to invest time can achieve as much as a team of 10 people. Initiatives that have lobbied for Green Offices have varied in size, ranging from 5-12 people. A small, highly motivated team with a good network and diverse competencies can achieve a lot!
Students, staff and faculty: It is important to involve students, staff and academics in the initiative. Experience has shown that the work of GO Initiatives is very difficult, if they only involve students or if there are only staff. It is also important to involve academics as supporters and to provide feedback on the funding proposal.
Interdisciplinary: It is crucial to develop a multidisciplinary team. Your team members can come from different study programmes, departments, student groups and/or faculties.
Diverse competencies: This allows you to tap into their diverse networks and expertise, as there are certain types of competencies that you will need: One person who knows many people within the university and understands how the organisation operates. Someone who likes to dive into the technical specifics of the Green Office Model. One person who likes to write funding proposals. A member to take care of presentations, flyers, social media presence or the website.
You can find members in multiple ways: By asking your friends and classmates to join, contacting existing sustainability initiatives on campus, announcing your meetings in university newsletters, setting up a Facebook page, inviting your friends to join your first meeting, organising an information evening or a workshop on the Green Office Model together with us. Make sure that you have a sign up list at every event so that people can write down their email addresses and telephone numbers to be contacted by you.
You can motivate people to join your cause in multiple ways: Share existing materials about the Green Office, inspire them to become part of an international movement, share examples of successful Green Office Initiatives, visit an existing Green Office, show how the Green Office can help people solve their problems and what impact the Green Office has at other universities. Make it fun, relevant and meaningful.
Some Green Office Initiatives have also developed their own logos, names, Facebook pages and visions. The goal was to create an own identity for the Green Office Initiative. Keep in mind that this also requires extra time, energy and creativity to be established. Also be aware that this can be tricky as universities have rules for design, website development, etc. This is why it is important to communicate that this is for the initiative developing the Green Office and not yet for the Green Office itself.
It helps to organise weekly team meetings always at the same time and place, so that people can develop a routine and it becomes easier to guide new recruits to a specific time and place.
It is important to document the action and decision points from every meeting and to send them around to everyone interested. Also regularly send email updates to key decision makers that you have been in contact with, like deans or directors of departments.
You might even want to send the notes to the larger group of people whose email addresses you have acquired and with whom you have had meetings, just to keep them in the loop of what is happening.
A working afternoon or day where you all meet to work together on the Green Office are also important to get people aligned, connected and moving forward.
The Executive Board is the highest governing body of your institution, comprising in most cases the president, vice president and rector. It is important to engage these stakeholders since they might be the ones deciding about your GO. If you engage them early, you might also get an impression if and what type of funding would be available. We suggest that you contact them as soon as you have a first draft for your funding application.
You can then set-up a meeting with the member of the Executive Board that has sustainability related issues in his/her portfolio, by contacting the secretariat of the Executive Board, or by asking a professor or dean that knows him/her to make the introduction. If they do not have time to meet with you or consider you important enough, they might forward you to meet with someone from their executive staff that works directly for them.
Prepare well for the meeting, be clear of what you want to reach, who the person is that you are talking to and that you are well informed about sustainability at your university and the GO model. Just get in touch in case that you want to discuss how best to engage your Executive Board.
2nd step: Discovery
Overall the discovery process helps you to craft a powerful narrative why a Green Office is necessary (or not). During this analysis you might also come across other solutions that you see better suited to your university than the Green Office. Always remember that the goal is to make your university more sustainable and the Green Office Model is a way to achieve this goal. It is a powerful tool to provide structural support, legitimacy and funding for student-led and staff-supported initiatives.
- Your institution: Learning about existing (sustainability) initiatives, actors, activities, policies and strategies allows you to better understand the current sustainability governance structure of the university. You then learn how a Green Office can build on existing efforts, collaborate with and support other initiatives and address current weaknesses.
- Institutional context: By analysing the context, you better understand what external funding opportunities exist, how unique or similar your situation is to other universities, what other solution models next to the Green Office are out there, and what sustainability challenges exist in your city or country that the university could respond to.
- Green Office Model: Understanding the Green Office Model allows you to see how other Green Offices are designed and helps to adapt the model to your context. Adaptation and experimentation with the model is very important, to enable it to build on existing efforts and fit into the unique context of your university.
- Highly committed, and research-minded people in your initiative who do it in their free-time,
- Hiring two to three student assistants to conduct it,
- Assignment to a whole course, or a single student writing their Master thesis. Experience has shown that integrating the analysis into a research assignment for a course or individual is highly effective.
- Explore the website of your university. University websites can be quite confusing. But taking one afternoon to scan the website will give you already good insights.
- Conduct a brainstorming session with your team to gather names of important stakeholders and existing sustainability initiatives.
- Contact relevant stakeholders and existing initiatives by email and organize a meeting with them to explain the Green Office Model, gather their inputs and feedback.
- Meet people you want to talk to over lunch, to learn more about the organisation.
- Conduct several workshops with key stakeholders to draw together the relevant knowledge.
- Run formal interviews with key stakeholders within and beyond your university.
- Send out a survey to get a better understanding of how important it is for students, staff and academics that the university takes sustainability seriously, what’s already going on and who should be involved.
- Read open-source materials and watch information videos on the Green Office Model.
- Set up a skype call with us.
- Connect with other Green Offices and initiatives via the
- Green Office Movement Facebook group.
- Visit or Skype with existing Green Offices.
- Read funding proposals from successful Green Office initiatives, here.
3rd step: Proposal writing
- A written proposal is a formal requirement for many decisions that are made within your organisation. Gaining the necessary support, legitimacy and funding for your Green Office requires that you follow the (bureaucratic) decision-making procedures of the organisation. This is why you need to write your ideas down.
- Bringing your ideas on paper helps you to specify and reflect on them.
- Writing a proposal also allows other people to give detailed feedback.
- Having a written, nicely designed document boosts your credibility. You are not just an initiative with an idea. You have a plan on how to implement this idea.
Write a 8-12 pages funding application for your Green Office. The exact outline of the funding proposal depends on the requirements of the university body that you will submit it to. Check out the proposal template and funding proposals under resources and downloads, here.
In general, the funding application can take the following outline:
- Executive Summary
- Table of contents
- Analysis: University and context
- Existing sustainability efforts
- Sustainability trends in higher education
- Results of SWOT analysis
- Green Office Model and Movement
- 6 Green Office Principles
- Strengths and weaknesses of the model
- Green Office Movement
- Our Green Office
- Role within the organisation
- Activities and projects
- Internal organisation
- Investment & funding
- Benefits and opportunities
- List of supporters of this funding application
- Highly committed members of your initiative who do it in their free-time
- Existing sustainability staff
- Students who write the funding proposal as part of their course or thesis
- Student assistants who have been hired for the proposal writing
It is sometimes challenging to integrate the writing of a funding proposal as part of a course or thesis, as professors might perceive this work as not ‘academic’ enough. Still it is worth trying to find courses and professors that allow for more practical assignments like this. Courses that you might be able to submit an assignment to include those on sustainability, business strategy, social entrepreneurship, or corporate social responsibility.
One successful example of integrating the assignment to write the funding proposal in education is Green Office VU, at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Check out their website here, A student conducted a 58 page study on the Green Office Model as part of her Master thesis that then led to the establishment of the Green Office. How much more impact can you have with a Master thesis?
Another example is a Green Office Initiative at the University Hildesheim in Germany, The students developed a first version of the funding proposal for the Green Office, a rough sustainability analysis of their university, as well as a marketing plan for the Green Office as part of a course. The results were then presented, discussed and improved in a workshop together with us during an Education for Sustainable Development Summer School.
Involve key stakeholders from the beginning. Run a stakeholder mapping and analysis to identify key stakeholders and then meet with them, invite them to information evenings, have them give feedback on the proposal.
Strong argumentation. Make sure that you know about existing or past sustainability efforts and that you can argue why they are not enough and what the benefits of a GO would be. Also be very clear about what projects and activities you would be running so that people know what to expect.
Make it look professional. Find a nice design, add photos and graphics if needed. Write a good executive summary.
Collect signatures and statements of support. It helps if decision makers feel that this is not a proposal of only 2-3 people or a student club. Make a tour through your institution to collect signatures and statements of support of students, staff and faculty.
- Writing team: Form a small team of two to three people to write the funding application. Contact the Green Office Expansion team to obtain a sample funding proposals and funding proposals of other (successful) Green Office Initiatives.
- Draft: Write a first version for the funding proposal. You might end up with multiple versions of the funding proposal as you improve it over time.
- Feedback: In the first feedback round, distribute the draft within your team and trusted students, staff and academics. Ask them to provide critical feedback to improve the proposal.
- Improvement: Discuss, evaluate and incorporate the gathered feedback. Keep stakeholders informed about which feedback was (not) integrated and why. Write new draft versions after each feedback round is closed. Conduct as 2-3 feedback rounds until your proposal has reached a high standard and you have involved all major stakeholders.
- Finishing & Submission: Finalize the proposal. Design it nicely. Make it ready for submission.
- It is important to link the writing of the funding proposal to the engagement of students, staff and academics, as well as lobby efforts. Engaging stakeholders to contribute to the development of the Green Office is a powerful act of co-creation. The feedback that you get on your ideas helps you to improve the application.
- Accept all feedback that you get with gratitude. If people give feedback – positive or negative – it means that they care about your initiative. After you have gathered all feedback, critically review it and see what feedback can help you to improve the proposal. Inform stakeholders about which feedback you have included or rejected, and why.
- Involve us in the feedback rounds. We provide feedback on your proposal within two weeks. We can also connect you with other Green Office Initiatives so that you can provide feedback to each other. Just send it to our Green Office Expansion team.
- In case that you use our open-source texts, videos and presentations, please be sure that you reference us in your funding proposal. All our documents are under a Creative Commons License so that you can use them, but you need to reference rootAbility as the author. If you are unsure about how to do this, please send us an email.
- Make it look beautiful and official. A nice layout, cover page, graphics and photos are already half the work. For some weird reason, people give more credibility to things that look nice.
- Invest a lot of time in writing the one-page, executive summary. This is what most people will read, and then judge if they will continue reading the full application.
- Keep it short and simple concerning language (avoid jargon) and length (8-12 pages).
- Search past versions of your university newspaper, website and strategic documents to identify quotes of important stakeholders that can provide backing to your ambitions. For example, try to find if the president said something positive about sustainability and if there are ambitions within the university’s vision to enhance student engagement. Just include these quotes in your proposal.
- Ask key stakeholders to write a statement of support for your Green Office that you can attach.
- It is critical not to get stuck in too many feedback and improvement rounds. We suggest to have two to three feedback rounds, and then to work towards submission of the proposal. Please get in touch with us when you are unsure about how many feedback rounds you should go through and when is the best timing to submit.
- Before submission, make sure you have a logical story and an enticing design. Insert attachments and appendices like supporting statements. Double-check for typos and other errors.
4th step: Engaging people & building alliances
Engaging people and building an alliance for change are crucial for your funding proposal to be successful. If you rush this component of the process or miss to engage people, then your funding proposal will be more likely to fail. We have observed the following benefits of extensive engagement:
- Discussing your ideas allows you to gain important feedback to improve the design of the Green Office and content of the funding proposal.
- Certain engagement methods, such as World Café (learn more here) or Open Space (click here), allow you to co-create the Green Office together with students, staff and academics.
- Critiques and opponents can voice their opinions early on. You can learn from these critiques, improve your approach and develop counter arguments if necessary.
- Students, staff and academics that you engage and meet learn about the Green Office Model. They also get to know you personally. This should increase their willingness to cooperate with the GO once it is established.
- You build the necessary alliance for change that can back your funding proposal and advocate for your idea within the organisation.
Engaging people = Broad and public outreach to create visibility and spread your message. This can be done among others in the following way:
- Organise a panel discussion, conference or sustainability day to raise awareness around sustainability and promote your idea of the Green Office.
- Run a workshop on the Green Office Model and sustainability in higher education together with rootAbility.
- Set up a Facebook page or newsletter to send regular updates about your activities.
- Contact journalists to write a newspaper article about you.
- Get a radio or television podcast in the local media.
- Invite representatives from another Green Office to come over and give a talk on their Green Office.
- In case that you want to give a presentation on the Green Office Model we are happy to supply you with slides that you can adapt and other information materials. Just contact our Green Office Expansion team.
- Organise a co-creation evening to present your ideas for a Green Office and gather feedback.
- Collect signatures from students, staff and academics supporting your idea for a Green Office.
- Make and spread a video about your initiative that you then spread online.
- Deliver presentations in front of classes to inform students about the Green Office idea, and how they can join your initiative.
Building alliances = Behind the scenes efforts to co-create and build an alliance supporting your idea. This can include the following activities:
- Organise meetings with high-level stakeholders, such as members of the Executive Board, deans, the director of communications, and the director of facility services.
- Organise meetings with individual staff and academics.
- Organise meetings with student representatives and presidents of relevant student groups and parties.
- Invite multiple high-level stakeholders for a two hours working session on the Green Office Model. This allows you to bring a lot of them together at the same time. You can then present the model and get their feedback in a group. If you need assistance, invite a member of rootAbility to join, answer questions and share our experiences with the Green Office Model
- Pitch in front of relevant university committees, such as finance or quality management
- Give a short talk at an open meeting of the university council.
- Invite rootAbility or someone from another Green Office to come and present in front of the relevant committee that will make the decision.
We compiled a 33 page report that outlines the 5 steps to take in the lobby process and that offers lots of tangible tips and tricks, here. Across different case studies of students, staff and faculty lobbying for a GO we saw that the following strategies are important:
- Build an alliance of students, staff and faculty: If it is only students lobbying for a GO, they often do not get very far since they have not a lot of contacts and experience within the organisation. If it is only staff and faculty lobbying for a GO, they oftentimes do not get very far since they lack the student voice.
- Gain top-level support: If the Executive Board, deans and directors do not like your idea, then you might be able to set-up a GO that has a very narrow mandate, only focused on engaging, communication and small-scale events. If high-level decision makers in your institution understand the GO model and have a vision of what it could contribute to sustainability, then you are more likely to end up with a GO that has a strong mandate and support to engage in sustainability strategy work.
- Build a grassroots movement: Collect signatures of students, staff and faculty to support your proposal for a GO. Attach the signatures to your proposal before you hand it in. You can also collect quotes of people who support your idea of a GO.
- Analyse the funding structure of the institution early on. It helps very much if you invest significant time at the beginning to research how the funding structure of your institution works. What is the overall budget? How is this budget allocated? Who decides, when and how? What are options to position a GO that you can get the funding?
- Write a professional proposal: You will not get any funding if you do not outline your ideas in a concise, well-argued and nicely designed proposal. This proposal also helps you to clarify your ideas and make them more specific.
- Build up momentum, but do not rush: You build up momentum, as you increase the number of people who are enthusiastic about your idea and want to support you. It is important to hand in the funding application as long as the attention of relevant stakeholders is on you. At the same time, you should not rush to build this momentum, as you otherwise might appear to be too push. Balancing this momentum is a challenging task.
Engaging people and building alliances should be an important priority in your group. Members who like and have experience with organising events, workshops and information evenings for students, staff and academics should be involved in engaging people. On the other hand, members with interest and experience in working with university managers, department heads, or student representatives should be involved in building the alliance for change.
Do not underestimate how much time this takes! Most universities have thousands of students and staff. You do not need to reach out to all of them. Depending on the size of your organisation, it helps to directly meet with 7 – 20 decision makers, engage 40 – 400 people in events and workshops, and several hundred people through social media, newsletters and email lists. You can identify the key stakeholders to meet individually to build the alliance for change based on the stakeholder analysis that you did during the ‘discovery’ phase.
- Timing for public events is crucial. Most students like to meet up in the evening. They have classes during the day. Also during exams students are less flexible and available. On the contrary, staff like to meet during the day. They want to spend time at home or with their families in the evenings. A good time for information events are lunch breaks from 12:30-13:30 or events that go from 16:00-17:30.
- A critical issue is the level of awareness about sustainability within the organization. In case that people are unaware and do not consider sustainability important for the organization, then events should also include a strong sense-making component: What do we mean by sustainability? Why is it important for us? Why should our university do something? What can we do? Otherwise, if sustainability initiatives and awareness is already more advanced, then events can also focus more strongly on the Green Office Model.
- Outreach, outreach, outreach. Many events fail to realize their potential, because not enough or the wrong type of outreach is done. Just keep the balance and be careful not to spam people, as this might be perceived as being too pushy.
- We are living in an era of information overload and it helps to commit people in multiple ways to attend events: Personal invitations, reminders via emails, outlook invites so that they have it in their calendars, Facebook events, telephone calls to follow-up on people. It helps if people have to sign-up for the event so that you have their contact details. You can then send friendly reminders one week as well as one day before the event.
- On information materials for events, be clear where people have to go so that they do not need to run around, searching for the location. Also putting up signs to guide people to the location can be useful to avoid confusions.
- Some engagement strategies are more time intensive and demanding than others are. Depending on your group, you might want to start small with an information evening or short presentation on the Green Office during a lunch hour meeting. Then you can organize events that are more demanding.
- Identify champions among the community of student groups, representatives, academics and university staff. Champions are people who could be open to your idea and support you throughout the process. Meet them regularly, send them email updates, and ask them for advice.
- Try to identify people in the organization that are not in management positions, but have a strong influence. In most cases, these are people with an extensive network, and a good reputation. Try to recruit these people to become champions of your idea. They can help you to connect with other people and help you spread the word about your initiative.
- First contact students, staff and academics with whom you already have a good relationship. This could be a student representative that you voted for, a lecturer or tutor.
- Schedule a meeting with the university’s president or vice-chancellor/president. During this meeting, present and discuss your ideas. Also, ask the president whom else you should talk to within the university to realise the idea of the Green Office. Directly contacting the president might sound scary, if you have never done this before. Consider it as a nice challenge that allows you to get top-level backing and feedback for your initiative.
5th step: Submission & decision
Submit your proposal to the relevant university body. This can include the university council, Executive Board or a specific committee, for instance on quality management.In case that the university approves your proposal, you can celebrate and the start of your Green Office can be planned. In case that the university rejects the proposal, it is important to find out the exact reasons. Maybe you need to revise your ideas, resubmit it at a better point of time, or do more lobby work. You might also get feedback from the university that the proposal needs to be changed. Then you need to meet up with the decision makers to discuss their ideas.
Without submitting your proposal, you cannot obtain the necessary funding, legitimacy and support for your Green Office. A university body needs to adopt your proposal so that support and the Green Office can receive a budget. This is the culmination of your advocacy efforts and work over the last months and years.
During the engagement process, you find out which university body would be the right entity to receive your proposal. You can either submit the proposal yourself, have a champion submit it for you, or submit it in the name of a larger alliance of people and initiatives supporting the Green Office idea.
Universities have special procedures to earmark money for the coming year. This is why it is important for you to find a financial controller or other university employee to talk to and learn more about the budgeting procedures. Here are a couple of things that you might need to consider:
- Forms: The decision body that you submit your proposal to might require you to fill out specific forms.
- Deadlines: At Dutch universities, budget calculations and allocations for the next year are done between September to December the year beforehand. If you want to earmark money, then you need to submit your proposal during this time.
- Requirements: Watch out for specific requirements, like detailed project plans, limitations to funding or letters of support that you might need when handing in your application.
We experienced that it can take 2-6 months until a proposal is granted or rejected. It is important that you find out at which meeting the GO proposal will be discussed. You can try to get a one-on-one meeting with one of the decision makers beforehand and also to immediately follow-up after the meeting took place.
After you submitted the proposal, you can also kick-start the first projects and events to keep your members engaged and remain visible at the institution. Starting with tangible actions is better than just sitting there and wait.
Try to get a meeting with the decision makers to collect their feedback. Honestly ask them what the reasons for rejection were, what they think should be improved, and if they would suggest to resubmit the proposal at another time. There might also be another fund, department or commission to whom you could hand in the proposal. Also your timing might not have been right and you should try again in the future.
In one case, the proposal was submitted and the Executive Board decided not to have a GO yet. Then the president of the institution changed. The new president was very committed to sustainability. In the meantime, also a stronger alliance of students, staff and faculty formed that kept asking about the GO. This continuous ‘nagging’ from the bottom-up, combined with a change in leadership led to a positive decision – over half a year after the proposal was submitted. So this case shows that it is important to continue building the support base for your GO to sustain the momentum until the timing is right.
- Inform supporters that you submitted the proposal. Send regular updates to keep them in the loop. Since it might take a couple of weeks or months until the university body decides it is important to keep people informed, otherwise you will lose the momentum.
- Timing is crucial. You need to submit the proposal when you feel you have done enough engagement and lobbying to generate momentum and the funding proposal has achieved a high quality level.
- Be aware not to let the university water down your proposal too much. In case that the university likes the idea about the Green Office, but only wants to support a ‘mini-Green Office’ with little funding, support and responsibilities then you should reconsider if you want to agree to this or not. A Green Office requires a certain amount of funding, resources, integration and mandate from the university. Otherwise, it is not a Green Office, but greenwashing. Please consult with us!
- Check the formal requirements about submitting proposals in advance. This can include deadlines, specific templates or formats to use. Some committees only meet a couple of times per year.
- Be patient and wait until the university decides. Make sure to communicate the decision of the university widely, announcing that your Green Office idea has been approved or rejected. In case that the funding proposal gets rejected, do not lose hope! Just get in contact with us. Rejection has happened before and then Green Office Initiatives have integrated the feedback, improved the proposal and submitted it again.
- Finding the right university body to submit your proposal is a bit of a challenge as you need to find the organisational entity that can allocate budgets to your Green Office. Given the fact that dedicated sustainability budgets are oftentimes quite small, you need to look at other sources of funding. Funding can come from budgets from the Executive Board, funds for innovation or quality management, as well as external subsidies. In this case, a supportive staff member or academic is crucial to help you navigate the agglomeration of commissions or committees.
- At most Dutch universities, Green Offices are directly financed through the budgets of the Executive Boards of the university. This is also the relevant body to submit the proposal to. At German universities, Green Office Initiatives have submitted proposals to commissions who are responsible for allocating funding (On German: Studienqualitätsmittel) to projects that increase the overall quality of the educational experience at the univeristy. In any case, just get in touch with us so that we can help you locate the right funding body at your university.