To encourage more sustainable behavior, build leadership capacity, and remove barriers that discourage sustainable practices among occupants of the University’s 200+ buildings
Navigating the complexities involved in reaching the entire Northwestern community spread across 12.4M sq. ft. in the Cities of Evanston and Chicago
The University formed a Sustainability Steering Committee and five Sustainability Working Groups to create and implement a Strategic Sustainability Plan with an Implementation Roadmap
Communication and outreach efforts have expanded the sustainability program’s reach, successfully engaging students, faculty, staff, and members of the broader community in Northwestern’s sustainability efforts
Comprehensive Occupant Engagement Program
Northwestern University developed and launched a communication and engagement program, sustainNU, aimed at encouraging more sustainable behavior among the occupants of the University’s more than 200 buildings. This initiative leverages certification programs, social media, outreach events, and friendly competition to foster a community-wide culture of sustainability and environmental stewardship, removing barriers that discourage sustainable practices. This program also builds leadership capacity among students, faculty, and staff, and empowers them to identify and act on opportunities to conserve resources, reduce waste, increase energy efficiency, or otherwise reduce environmental footprint.
sustainNU commits to creating a culture that is ecologically sound, socially just, and economically sustainable. The program engages Northwestern’s entrepreneurial students, industry-leading researchers, world-class faculty, dedicated staff, and supporting communities to integrate sustainability into all endeavors. sustainNU will be an example for environmental accountability to generations that follow.
The Strategic Sustainability Plan and Implementation Roadmap establish a cohesive set of goals for the University, as well as strategies for achieving these goals over the next five years (2017-2021). sustainNU is the entity charged with implementing these strategies and achieving these objectives. In developing the plan and the roadmap, sustainNU staff members collaborated with University faculty, staff, and students to obtain the necessary buy-in from those tasked with implementing key energy and water efficiency projects or supporting other sustainable practices on campus. The process involved identifying and engaging key stakeholders across the University including: departments such as Facilities Management, Procurement and Payment Services, Office for Research Safety, Risk Management, Human Resources, Transportation and Parking Services, and Northwestern Dining; faculty from The Institute for Energy and Sustainability at Northwestern (ISEN), Earth and Planetary Sciences, and students involved in a variety of campus sustainability groups.
sustainNU, the Strategic Sustainability Plan, and Implementation Roadmap are designed to carry out the University’s commitment to sustainability:
“Northwestern is committed to fostering environmental and ethical stewardship, to providing a living-learning environment that supports student, faculty, and staff led initiatives, and to improving our built environment and natural ecology.”
A broad spectrum of University community members were invited to participate in the initial meeting to launch campus sustainability planning efforts. The town hall-style event was open to anyone interested in attending, and participating stakeholders were organized into five working groups based on areas of interest and expertise. The working groups were made up of students, faculty, and staff members across schools and administrative units.
During the first two months, the groups participated in roundtable workshops to identify best practices from other peer institutions and customize Northwestern’s objectives to both fit the University’s needs and uphold its commitment to sustainability.
The groups went on to finalize objectives and strategies for each program area identified below, which were then included in the Strategic Sustainability Plan. They also identified key departments to engage in the process and actions to be taken to achieve those goals (Implementation Roadmap).There was a temporary delay on progress due to the departure of the University’s former Sustainability Director; however, this was rectified upon the arrival of the new Director. Minus this transition time, the planning and development process took about one year.
Once the Strategic Sustainability Plan and Implementation Roadmap were developed, the working groups focused on planning and implementing initiatives aimed at achieving the goals outlined by the plan. More than 150 members of the University community are currently participating in the working groups. Each working group has two co-chairs who sit on the Sustainability Council, which coordinate and oversee the groups’ efforts.
The working groups are organized around the five program areas:
1. Built Environment
3. Resource Conservation
4. Experiential Learning
5. Communications and Engagement
The Communications and Engagement Working Group was expanded to include students, faculty, and staff members representing key departments. Departments represented include:
Involving working group members from multiple University administrative units and schools made it possible to overcome barriers in distributing information across the organization and its multiple audience segments. To target messages to the appropriate audiences, each working group broke into subcommittees to develop strategies for engaging different segments of the Northwestern community.
The subcommittees include:
Faculty and staff engagement:
Community and alumni engagement:
The Communications and Engagement Working Group is the central hub for outreach efforts, and ensures that all five-Working Groups maintain in common focus on Northwestern’s sustainability objectives. The group seeks to build the leadership capacity of students, faculty, and staff and to motivate them to conserve resources, reduce waste, increase energy efficiency, and otherwise reduce the University’s environmental footprint.
Areas of focus:
Key initiatives and objectives for this working group and its subcommittees are:
Faculty and Staff Engagement
General Awareness and Visibility
See the Implementation Roadmap for additional details.
Tools & Resources
sustainNU measures the success of communications and outreach efforts using the following metrics:
Tools for assessing these metrics include Google Analytics, Mail Chimp email newsletter data, and Sprinklr reports on social media engagement. Assessments require staff time to pull and analyze reports. Some tools, such as the Mail Chimp email newsletter, also require a small amount of funding to pay for the service.
The Communications and Engagement Working Group uses these metrics to continuously refine strategies for reaching the broader community and encouraging greater engagement among those reached. For example, data from Mail Chimp shows that the sustainNU email newsletter has an excellent open rate, averaging more than 32 percent compared to an industry average of approximately 16 percent. Keeping content relevant to the campus community has been key to maintaining this open rate. In addition, data from Google Analytics shows that the email newsletter is effective in driving traffic to the sustainNU website, with large spikes in visits after each newsletter is sent.
Communications and outreach efforts have expanded sustainNU’s reach, engaging students, faculty, staff, and members of the broader community in Northwestern’s sustainability efforts.