We interviewed Anselm from GO Maastricht and Julius from Nachhaltigkeitsbüro Magdeburg about sustainability reporting. We summarised the highlights from the discussion into six reasons why sustainability reporting could also become a high-impact activity of your GO:
1) Identifying activities
Writing a sustainability report enables your GO to systematically gather and analyse data about the university. Your GO learns about the strengths and weaknesses of the university’s sustainability performance. This helps to identify areas of improvement. For instance, Anselm mentioned that GO Maastricht realised that the catering company did not comply to its goal of selling catering products that adhere to sustainability standards of the Dutch government. The GO then successfully lobbied for changes so that the catering company now complies to its own targets.
2) Developing a framework for action
A sustainability baseline analysis is the basis for developing a successful sustainability strategy. Julius stressed that without a proper baseline, a university rans the risk of setting targets randomly and without a proper understanding of what sustainability means within a university context. Anselm emphasised that after its first sustainability report in 2011, Maastricht University then developed a Sustainability Vision 2030, and Roadmap to achieve this vision. This now sets the strategic framework for action.
3) Improving transparency and visibility
A sustainability report allows you to collect data and information with regards to sustainability in education, research, operations, community and governance. Julius and Anselm mentioned that their sustainability report includes an overview of all courses, research institutes and professorships on sustainability, as well as student-led initiatives, and lots of data on energy, water, waste and buildings. The publication of this information provides stakeholders with an overview of what is actually happening at the university.
4) Getting to know important stakeholders
In the process of data collection, you will need to talk to a lot of people at your institution. Julius observed that collecting data for the report allowed him to interact with staff, students, teaching and research faculty. This was a great basis for networking, and to make stakeholders aware that their GO exists.
5) Making sustainability tangible
When writing your report, you will also need to find out what sustainability issues are important for your institution to report about and what indicators to use to report on these issues. Anselm stressed that this is a very good exercise to ground hat sustainability means for your university and to make it more tangible.
6) Having a joint project for your team
In the discussion with Anselm and Julius, we also brainstormed gathering and analysing data for a sustainability report can be a great joint project for your team. The education and research coordinators can get inputs on sustainability in courses, faculties and research centres. The operations coordinator gathers data on resource consumption. The community coordinator collects an overview of all sustainability-focused student groups and events. Such a joint project might be especially important for GOs that are just starting-up. Julius also emphasised that the final report is a nice product that the GO can communicate to stakeholders.
Thanks a lot to Anselm and Julius for this first conversation about sustainability reporting. You can find the different reports that GO Maastricht published on their website, as well as a Sustainability Reporting Standard that the GO is developing together with rootAbility. Let us know if you have more reasons why GOs should engage in sustainability reporting or in case that you disagree with some of the arguments we make here.
Text by Felix Spira, based on an interview with Anselm and Julius. Photo by dirckuys, creative commons