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It’s Nothing Personal

In my last post, I talked about making it easy for an administrator to support your program. To do so, your program, or at least parts of your program need to meet the following criteria.

  • Aligns with personal motivations of a particular administrator
  • Aligns with campus “drivers”

Last post, I talked about approaching administrators from a personal perspective. Beyond personal interests and motivations though, there is a series of “business decisions” that drive all of the decision-making at any institution or business. Understanding these drivers is often the key to getting the support that you need for your program.

It’s not you, it’s me. If an administrator is not supporting your program, do they need to change, or do you? Too often, with environmental programs, we assume that if an administrator doesn’t support your program, they must not be “green” enough. However, confronting their personal environmental ethic may be the exact wrong approach, one that only sets your program up for confrontation and failure. It may be time to take a good hard look in the mirror. Does your program align with the “campus drivers” that are guiding their decision making? Are you selling it that way?

The drivers will vary at different types of corporations or institutions. To focus on colleges & universities (and any school that is competing for enrollment), there are 4 things that drive the administrative decision-making at schools. You won’t see them in any campus brochure or mission statement but one or more of these drivers are behind every decision that a campus makes. Those drivers are:

  • Attracting new students
  • Retaining existing students
  • Attracting alumnae donations and other funds

Everything else revolves around meeting those drivers. Take something as fundamental to schools as high academic standards? Everyone wants high academic standards. But at some upper level of the administration, you have to start making hard decisions about trade-offs. How high? How much are you willing to spend, and what else are you willing to give up in order to attain a certain level? At some administrative level, “how high” is getting weighed against these business drivers. What academic standard best helps to attract new students? Is your current standard helping you to retain students once they get there? How does your academic standard impact alumnae donations, research grants, and other funding, and how would a change to that standard impact those things?

Money issues are keeping us apart. When we focus on recycling and sustainability programs, we often focus on operating costs. Recycling on the micro-scale is often evaluated in terms of whether the program avoided enough landfill fees and/or brought in enough revenue to justify the program’s costs. For other aspects of sustainability, it is a case of how they impact the utility bill or water bill. These drivers are critical. To sustain a program, these operating costs must be a net positive.

As a quick point of clarification, I am including risk management, worker safety and regulatory compliance as operating costs. Safety and risk, is to me, a huge part of operating costs and whether or not they are a net positive. A program that saves a few thousand dollars per year but results in a million dollar safety-related lawsuit once a decade or more isn’t really a net financial positive. Conversely, it is worth investing in a piece of equipment that may not pay for itself in avoided landfill fees or returned revenue but will pay for itself in avoided worker safety and productivity.

However, as much as operating costs are a foundation, there are elements of the program that go beyond into other campus drivers.

At some point, I couldn’t stand even looking at you anymore. That often-pesky issue of campus aesthetics? How a campus looks can play a huge role in attracting new students. Some campuses spend millions of dollars every year just on landscaping, all designed to be part of the package that gets a seventeen year old high school student to say “yes, I want to go here”. Too often when it comes to waste and recycling, folks view aesthetics as an issue of “oh great, they want me to spend how much more out of the custodial budget to buy those fancy expensive bins?” My advice: don’t think that way. I’ve been there – you will only drive yourself crazy. You need to think of this differently. These high-profile areas on campus are a key to attracting new students, and attracting alumnae donations. Especially for private campuses, those drivers are the financial life-blood of the schools.

If you want to see recycling bins in these high-profile areas, you need a plan that takes this into account. If what you are asking for is going to conflict with the very life blood of an institution, it is going to be very difficult to get administrative support, no matter how good your intentions are, or how much an administrator might personally care about the environment. From a campus business decision perspective, it would be far better to pay for a couple extra tons of waste (even if trash costs went up to $200/ton), than it would be to lose a full-pay student and all of their tuition money, as well as that student’s potential life-long contributions as an alum.

Conversely, if your program and the aesthetics of a particular bin is helping to sell the campus to perspective students, and if you can effectively make that case to the right administrator(s), it is much easier to get them to support your program. You might even find yourself with pockets of support or funding you never knew were available to you.

How do we look to my family and friends? Campus plans, and policies? Just remember to look at them through the lens of these campus drivers. It may be frustrating because a policy or plan may seem to have little value in driving action on campus, but remember that is not always their intent. What impact will having that plan or policy have when it comes to promoting the campus to prospective new students? What impact will it have when it comes to reaching out to alums for support? What impact will it have when the campus applies for a certain grant? When you recognize the “marketing” value of that plan or policy from that larger perspective of campus drivers, it is easier to understand the urgency for such plans and easier to justify the time spent in developing them. And if your plan or policy can be used to help attract new students, or reach out to alums, or bring in grant money, it will be much easier for an administrator to support your program and will make your program more valuable in their eyes.

One of us needs to change. Different aspects of your recycling or sustainability program may align to different administrative drivers. You might need to talk about them differently and to different administrators. Ultimately though, aligning your program to these campus decision drivers may be the key to getting the administrative support you need. If you are not getting the support you need, it might not be anything personal. It might really be you that needs to change.

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Roger Guzowski

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