23 Jan 17

The university sustainability data challenge

library-1147815_640.jpgFor many universities, sustainability reporting is seen as a fundamental part of day-to-day operations. With students placing higher importance on sustainability credentials and public expectation increasing, further education institutions have not only accepted the importance of being ‘green’ but have largely embraced the journey. At Greenstone, we have seen first-hand the challenges that universities face and the unique position they are in when it comes to reporting. Below we outline 3 of the key challenges that a Sustainability Manager at a university is likely to be faced with.

The University Challenge

1. The reporting cycle

The majority of large organisations in the UK now report non-financial information at some level but for universities there is a host of reporting requirements to fulfil alongside this; all with considerably contrasting criteria and submission deadlines. With annual reports, HEFCE / HESA related reporting such as Estate Management Records (EMR), CRC submissions and other internal and external reporting to take care of, sustainability managers will often have to switch focus and think about what’s coming next. This continuous cycle of reporting results in little time left for what most universities see as the important part of sustainability; engaging people and making a difference.

2. Diversity of estates

On top of this, having large diverse estates that are constantly being developed and refurbished makes the task of collecting and maintaining consistently accurate data for reporting complex at best. Most universities have a large number of buildings, schools, academic faculties and departments to report against and pulling together the data across multiple sites can be onerous and time-consuming.

3. Lack of information

Another common challenge we have seen relates to the non-carbon data surrounding sustainability initiatives. Universities often have multiple and diverse ‘good stories’ to tell but struggle to collect all of the information required to communicate success and use this to engage students, staff and wider stakeholders. As such, it is important to define which areas are material and focus efforts accordingly, but this is often easier said than done.

Adopting software

A recent growing trend has seen universities turn to software solutions to help with the reporting challenges they face. With instant, automatic emissions calculations and the ability to run diverse reports with just a few clicks, the introduction of an online system which can be used as a repository for all reporting needs can save considerable time and stress. Whether the current focus is the annual report, EMR return or internal reporting, having a central database of all sustainability information ensures a consistent and efficient approach. This ultimately means that sustainability managers can worry less about maintaining accurate information for reporting and focus more on developing and implementing new initiatives.

A number of UK universities are currently using Greenstone’s software solutions to assist with data collection and reporting. With consultancy services such as data workshops, process refinement and materiality assistance, Greenstone provides both the expertise and the tools to help universities navigate the reporting landscape and ensure their data management processes are consistent and robust. The flexibility of Greenstone’s Enterprise software gives universities an accurate picture of their sustainability performance and provides the opportunity for both detailed analysis and high-level management reporting.

Despite the complicated and ever-changing reporting landscape that universities find themselves in, it is clear that all involved personnel are putting considerable effort into progressing their collective sustainability journey. With students inherently learning their life-long values and ethos during education, this effort is greatly welcomed.

The University of Manchester – case study

The University of Manchester has been using Greenstone’s software since 2012.  Through the use of Greenstone’s Environment module, the University collects, calculates and reports its environmental data with accuracy and confidence across more than 100 buildings, 28 schools, 4 academic faculties and 5 other university departments. 

The use of Greenstone’s software has reduced the burden of data gathering across multiple sites and has provided useful metrics to encourage staff, student and local authority engagement with its broader environmental sustainability programme. It also enables more efficient reporting and helps to identify additional opportunities to reduce carbon, resource consumption and cost.

Lucy Millard, Environmental Sustainability Manager at the University of Manchester, works closely with Greenstone’s team of industry experts to ensure she gets the data she needs to support the University’s ever-evolving reporting strategy. One of Greenstone’s key differentiators is its ‘data that talks to you’ promise guaranteed through the provision of uncapped support from its team of consultants.

Lucy comments "Greenstone takes the time to really understand our organisation and requirements. They are always on the end of the phone and work hard to ensure we get the best out of the system. I really like the friendly nature of the company and the excellent customer service. The software is really easy to use and has all the functionality that we require.”

Talk to us about how your university could use Greenstone’s software to improve reporting and save you time, energy and money.