From education to employment

Building Opportunity and Resilience to Tackle an Uncertain Future for Universities and Colleges

A panel of over 100 national and international judges – a who’s who of leading names from the education, business and sustainability worlds – met to judge the 2018 Green Gown Award Finalists at the PwC Headquarters in London on Friday 28th September. They represented institutions including United Nations Environment, Unilever, Goldman Sachs, Advance HE, Marks and Spencer, National Union of Students – among many more.

The Green Gown Awards recognise and celebrate the inspiring exceptional sustainability initiatives being undertaken by universities and colleges across the world. But they are also a critical mechanism to help the sector identify megatrends and prepare for challenges and opportunities ahead.

Of the trends identified by the judges, there was consistent concern about ‘uncertainty’ from attendees. The source of the ‘uncertainty’ was multi-faceted – budget cuts, mergers, in some cases dwindling student recruitment, ‘fake news’ or data and uncertainty about the ever looming Brexit were all given as examples. Sustainability can quickly be side-lined, jettisoned as a ‘nice to have’ or even unnecessary by institutions that need to account for every penny, but if they do they will fail to realise the long-term financial and social gains of sustainability.

The responsibility of an institution in its community or city was raised by many judges as a shockingly fast growing trend. But, with sustainability at the heart of institutional strategy, institutions can defy much of the uncertainty and build community resilience by helping to tackle inequality and improve the quality of life for staff, students and local people. In turn, this helps to attract students to the institution and promote regional growth and social cohesion.

Iain Patton, Chief Executive of the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges, (EAUC) said:

“Position sustainability correctly within a university or college and staff and students are better prepared to take on the challenges of uncertainty and embrace the opportunity to be a civic university or college and build organisational resilience and opportunities for students, employers and neighbouring communities.”

Sustainability needs to be considered as a key strategic agenda that can balance the financial health of institutions with social and environmental impacts, helping it take a longer-term view and future-proof its decision-making.

The 2018 Green Gown Awards recognise the institutions taking steps towards this ambitious goal and the Finalists set an inspiring example of how the education sector can brace itself to tackle an uncertain future.

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