Engaging Your Campus Community in Sustainability Planning

The U of A's Trina Innes facilitates a workshop at the AASHE Conference

Over the past year, the university community has taken part in a consultation process for the institution’s new Sustainability Plan. The new plan will be implemented from 2016 to 2020—what are shaping up to be exciting years for our institution, province and the planet.

While the plan is still a draft and in the process of governance approval, putting together this plan has been so enriching that we couldn’t help but share our experience at the Association for Advancing Sustainability in Higher Education(AASHE) conference in late October.

Over sixty professionals from universities and colleges across North America took part in our workshop “Engaging Your Campus Community in Sustainability Planning” led by the Office of Sustainability’s Trina Innes, Lisa Dockman and Kayleigh Wiebe. The workshop shared best practices in community consultation, social marketing and strategic planning that we have learned, tested out and adapted at UAlberta.

Community engaged planning isn’t easy, but it’s the foundation for a strong, realistic and lasting plan. Community engaged planning ensures that the diverse actors responsible for sustainability are informed, engaged and excited about the new plan from the beginning.

As workshop participant Caroline Savage from the Institute for Community Sustainability, Indiana State University explains it, “the University of Alberta really started a conversation. By starting with visioning and working backwards to actionable goals in a discussion-oriented format, you can do more than just create a plan—you can build the relationships that will be the foundation for successful implementation too.”

As she suggests, sharing and conversation is at the core of sustainability. It’s in that spirit that we shared the U of A’s experience at AASHE, actually running an interactive activity that showed participants exactly how our process works and inspiring them to try it out themselves.

Matt Wolsfeld, from the Office of Sustainability, University of Saskatchewan told me “the greatest strength of the workshop was the hands-on component that demonstrated the exact process used at the University of Alberta. I was able to witness varied group dynamics and how to bring together many different mindsets into a unified solution.” Matt couldn’t contain his excitement at seeing the strides taken by a Canadian peer and is eager to try out some of the techniques he learned on his own campus.

If you want to see what has Matt, Caroline and others so excited (Caroline called the workshop “utterly brilliant”), download the workshop participants’ handout package. It includes some of the planning frameworks and exercises used in our campus community consultations, as well as marketing tools and the draft plan itself. Give the draft Sustainability Plan a read and share the ideas and goals that inspire you with your colleagues. You'll have the perfect opportunity to share your passion for sustainability at the upcoming round tables for the university's next Institutional Strategic Plan.