Saturday, October 10, 2009


How does an organizational culture support and implement sustainability as a way of life? What is the relationship between sustainability and participatory governance? How do you use sustainability as a means to motivate, unify, and inspire an entire campus?

Benjamin Barber in his groundbreaking book Strong Democracy describes thin (or representative) democracy as a small group of elected officials making all of the decisions all of the time. In contrast, with strong democracy everybody makes some of the decisions some of the time. This makes good sense in a setting where all constituents contribute ideas, voice, accountability, and leadership to sustainable practices and policies.

On a college campus there must be alignment between mission, governance, and curriculum. If the motivation is entirely generated from the grassroots, it will always be a struggle to influence senior leadership and the Board of Trustees. If leadership for sustainability comes mainly from the administration, the people may not necessarily follow. This is why sustainable practices must built into the mission, master plan, and strategic plan for a campus, conceived as crucial to its educational philosophy. Otherwise, sustainability will be marginalized, trendy, and viewed as just another special interest.

Leadership at all levels of an organization provides meaningful support in dozens of ways: building sustainability initiatives into job descriptions and performance evaluations, setting curricular objectives, following reasonable but firm guidelines regarding procurement, commencement, transportation, and other aspects of events or operations.

Two caveats: Sustainability is not the political philosophy of an esoteric, green politics. It is beyond traditional left/right categories, embodying elements of traditional conservative and progressive political approaches. Second, decisions related to governance will be complex and controversial, and not always consensus-driven.

No comments: