Harvard grounds

What does world-class social responsibility look like?

Director of Social Responsibility and Sustainability, Dave Gorman reflects on his trip to the International Sustainable Campus Network (ISCN) conference in Boston this month.

What does world-class leadership in social responsibility and sustainability look like? Would we know it when we see it and what can we learn from the best around the world? These were just some of the questions I took with me to the 2014 ISCN conference on Pushing Boundaries: Leveraging collective action for global impact.

Jointly hosted by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge Massachusetts this year, the International Sustainable Campus Network conference brings together leading global universities and colleges to share best-practice and exchange ideas on how we can create truly sustainable institutions.

The conference was a privilege to attend, with fantastic opportunities to hear from world leaders in their field and network with Universities from around the world. Over the course of the week I attended four days of conference and had a chance to meet and make connections with many of our global peers including Harvard and MIT, Princeton, University of British Columbia and Hong Kong to name but a few.

ISCN conference 2014

Reflecting on the ISCN Conference

It is clear that universities around the world are wrestling with the same sustainability challenges that we face in our own universities. Some of the main challenges are:

  • How do we embed sustainability?
  • How can we change attitudes and behaviours across large institutions?
  • How do we make sustainability relevant to senior managers and to fit with other priorities?
  • How do we make absolute cuts in carbon emissions without constraining ambitions to grow and develop

It is sobering to think of the scale of our challenges yet at the same time it is encouraging to see the commitment we are all making in acknowledging and attempting to solve these problems as a global community. Reflecting on our own practices, I feel that the actions and commitments being made by the University of Edinburgh compare well to some of our leading educational institutions. This should not make us complacent in our efforts, but we are by no means behind in our thinking.

We are one of the few universities to have moved on from thinking just about sustainability, to what we consider to be broader social responsibility challenges.

Our current strengths lie in our Awards programme, our approach to fair trade and our commitment to embedding social responsibility in both our actions and thought, as well as our extensive investments in district heating schemes. However, there is still much to learn about the best means of implementing our ideas in practice and how we can truly realise our ambitions. Harvard, for example, has succeeded in reducing emissions by 22% over the same period as our current climate plan. It was great to not only be able to measure our success against others but highlight areas where we can improve.

I found the whole experience reminded me and reinforced what I already knew- the value of networks, of discussing issues with global leaders, of making connections and sharing knowledge.

It’s clear that the dedicated resources the University has made available for sustainability and social responsibility are very significant compared to many others around the world. This is both a challenge and a responsibility for myself and my team to show value and to deliver, but also a fantastic opportunity to enhance our reputation and show global leadership.

Published by

Dave Gorman

Dave Gorman

Dave is the University's Director of Social Responsibility and Sustainability.