Nov 21 2013

The sustainable university: from practising to teaching and back

Jon EmmettJon Emmett, LSE Sustainability Projects Officer, gave a lecture on sustainability as part of a module on project management, and reflects on the opportunities for further collaborative projects to develop new approaches to sustainability teaching in universities.    

Last week I had the privilege of giving a lecture to a class of project management students, on how to incorporate sustainability into projects.  Hopefully they took away some new ideas to play with, and introduce into their work.  I certainly found that the students provoked me to think about my own work in a new light, and I took away some thoughts on how to improve my own team’s practice.


I was honoured to be approached during the summer break by Dr Susan Scott from the Management Department, who asked if I could contribute to a module called Business Transformation and Project Management.  Her initial idea was that I’d provide my experience of introducing sustainability halfway through a project, and how this new constraint affected project management.

Happily for LSE, we’ve actually got pretty good at incorporating sustainability at the earliest stages of projects (especially major ones like new buildings), by using robust systems processes and close working relationships between teams.

Instead, we chose to develop a case study based on LSE’s implementation of its new recycling system.  This was a complex project, which involved not just significant capital spending on improved recycling bins, but all the work before and after the roll-out of the bins:  making the business case;  obtaining stakeholder feedback on their requirements;  collaborating with users and the manufacturer to develop many iterations of bin and poster design;  securing buy-in from users by explaining the changes; delivering training; responding to enquiries (and complaints!);  and much more.

The students were given a design brief based on the LSE bins programme, and were asked to consider how they would approach the project themselves – how they would capture stakeholder feedback, plan their budgets and timescales, etc.


The module was structured so that I gave a 20 minute video lecture, which the students watched online before attending the class, in which we had a Q&A session.  This is an innovative teaching technique known as ‘flipping’, and is aimed at frontloading the hard ‘learning’ part, to free up class time for more stimulating debate, and creating a more interactive and engaging learning environment.  My video lecture was structured by Susan Scott, who interviewed me on the implementation of the LSE bins project, as well as on my general experience of embedding sustainability into projects, and into institutions.

The lecture

The question and answer session followed a lecture by Dr Scott on the general principles of sustainability (defining it, considering its origins as a concept, its global implications, and its implications for project management and businesses).  I then took questions from the students on every issue under the sun, ranging from why sandwich boxes don’t fit in the hole in LSE’s green bins, to the effectiveness of international climate negotiations.

As someone with an academic background in sustainability, as well as experience as an environmental management practitioner, I found it interesting to engage with the students on all of those levels.  It was really stimulating to respond to questions surrounding some of the broader philosophical, political, social and historical questions, as these are areas I don’t usually spend a lot of time thinking about in my daily role.  It was also interesting to hear student perspectives in response to being provoked to consider the unequal global distribution of environmental risk, opposing viewpoints on policy options to manage climate change, approaches to individual vs societal management of environmental problems, and more.

On a practical note, this was an opportunity for me to reconsider my own approaches to project management.  Although LSE has robust processes in place to manage its environmental impacts as a whole (through its ISO 14001 environmental management system), and systems to ensure individual projects are carefully planned and managed, it is rare that the Sustainability Team would do so using a formal ‘project management’ strategy (such as Prince 2, which the students have been learning about in this module).  In particular, one student’s question really highlighted for me that we need to get much better at post-project evaluations to learn for the future, as it’s easy to get caught up in the next project, and then be too busy to make the time to reflect on completed work.


Many colleagues in the HE sustainability sector frequently discuss embedding sustainability in the curriculum, and I found this collaborative approach, drawing on expertise from across the School to create new interactions and learning environments, to be extremely fruitful.  I can’t speak for the students, but from my own perspective found it to be highly professionally and personally fulfilling.  It’s certainly something I would like to participate in more at LSE, and have recently been interested to hear of many excellent examples of similar work being undertaken in universities across the country.

Dr Scott tells me that she’s planning a Masters course next year, to further develop some of the material and ideas explored in this module.  I sincerely hope to be invited back!

This entry was posted in Behaviour change, Defining sustainability, University sustainability and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The sustainable university: from practising to teaching and back

  1. Hamdan Al Yousefi says:

    m8 u were sick

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