Making the Business Case for Sustainability

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A Guide for Sustainability Leaders

Download the full Guide

Sustainability is key to institutional success over the long-term.

It provides critical opportunities for value creation and risk mitigation at a time when universities and colleges are looking for ways to become more resilient in an increasingly volatile environment. Additionally, staff and students are increasingly looking to further and higher education (FHE) institutions to make a socially responsible and sustainable contribution to the world.

So why is it so difficult to make the business case for sustainability?

Business cases often fall down because they don’t clearly articulate the benefits for the institution. Sustainability leaders may not link sustainability to the institutions overall strategy nor take opportunities to promote the agenda in ways that are relevant, timely and persuasive. They may also fail to acknowledge trade-offs that exist between sustainability and other institutional priorities, such as those relating to carbon emissions and business travel. A lack of evidence on the business benefits of sustainability in FHE is a related barrier that further weakens calls for support.

It can be particularly difficult to make a successful case for sustainability in a FHE context, because universities and colleges are highly complex institutions. An intricate web of structures, processes and cultures means decisions taken in these settings are often subject to many differing forces that are unique to each institution.

This presents a significant challenge for sustainability professionals who want to achieve greater influence at a senior level, but it is essential for them to understand these complexities before working to drive change in their organisation.

This Guide is designed to help sustainability leaders overcome these challenges and develop compelling business cases which, over time, help them to embed sustainability at the top of their organisation and bring about systemic change in the way business decisions are made.

By ‘sustainability leaders’ we mean those who are aspiring to have greater influence
at a senior level. They may have had few opportunities to write business cases before or be looking to engage with senior leaders for the first time as they move along the pathway to management and leadership (though this resource may also be a useful aide-memoire for more experienced leaders).

The Guide was produced by the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability at the University of Edinburgh, on behalf of EAUC.

The content was developed with expert input from sector leaders who have real experience of delivering change in their organisations.

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