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COP27: Is Higher Education ready for the challenge?

by David Cope | Nov 6, 2022 | Strategy & Transformation

The Higher Education sector is both at the heart of understanding the scale of this mounting climate crisis and in providing many of the solutions. But how can we raise ourselves to the colossal magnitude of this challenge? Consulting Fellow David Cope outlines the progress made, and how Halpin is geared up to help.

A new season is well and truly upon us now. This summer’s heatwave has faded in our memories, and the storms of last winter even more so. We feel the seasons in higher education, where regularity feels reassuring. With the international climate conference (COP27, being held in Egypt), the UN General Secretary’s stark warning is that the seasons as we know them are truly a’changing.

It is only a year since COP26 in Glasgow raised the ambition of countries around the world. But we also know that we cannot rely on governments to do everything – all of us have a role to play.

Sustainability is much more than just climate action, it is all about ensuring that we meet the needs of people and the planet today, without harming the chances of future generations. UK universities are rising to the challenge with initiatives like the Climate Commission for Higher and Further Education. Our students are forever encouraging greater ambition. After the People and Planet University League pioneered the idea, international ranking bodies are getting in on the act, with THE Impact Rankings and the new QS Sustainability Rankings highlighting achievements across environmental and social impact.

There is a wealth of information on how to implement more sustainable operations on campus and how to integrate climate and sustainability into the curriculum. Most universities now have some form of sustainability strategy or plan, many with clear targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There are a growing number of senior academic positions with responsibility for this topic across their institution.

Sustainability is no longer a niche topic, but it is still relatively new for most.

This means that most universities are still finding their way and have yet to stitch this topic into the very fibre of their strategies and governance. This is where external advisors like Halpin can provide a helping hand. We have been researching good practice across the sector and have created a maturity framework to help diagnose the strengths of any one university in how they organise themselves for success, and the opportunities for improvement.

The Halpin sustainability maturity framework builds on our sector-leading governance and EDI maturity frameworks, which we have deployed in universities around the UK. These frameworks focus on identifying good practice in university strategy, Council and Academic governance, student and stakeholder engagement, as well as clarity around policies, performance management and decision-making.

We take a strategic stance – there is a gap between operational advice and outcomes – our maturity framework is the jam in the sandwich that helps institutions organise themselves strategically to make the most of the operational advice to achieve those outcomes. We believe an institution demonstrates its maturity on sustainability when it has woven sustainability thinking into every part of the university, so that is our focus.

There is no better time to recommit to taking action on sustainability.

David Cope is a Consulting Fellow of Halpin Partnership and an expert adviser in sustainability, working across the private, public and higher education sectors. If you would like to discuss your sustainability needs or learn more about how we use the sustainability maturity framework in our services, contact us.