Sustainable Practices Program | University of Colorado Boulder

Key Elements of Public Sector Sustainability

At a time when sustainability is at the forefront of many an organization’s agenda, there is a disjoint between the public sector’s supposedly central role in sustainable development and its actual participation in the endeavor. The reason behind this is the difficulty in integrating the numerous needs and requirements of different cultures and localities into a single, comprehensive blueprint. But while the framework for maintaining public sector sustainability remains nebulous, there are a few key elements that must be present to ensure success.

Communication and coordination frameworks. Because sustainability is interdisciplinary, it is impossible to achieve outside of public participation, public-private partnerships, and intra-and interdepartmental cooperation. Similarly, cooperation cannot be achieved without a platform for communication, collaboration, and knowledge sharing. Sustainable development is a monumental challenge consisting of several smaller goals, all of which must be discussed with and relayed to all participating bodies.

Among nonprofits, the early establishment of unified goals is needed to ensure that all stakeholders’ issues are dealt with properly and in a timely manner. Because this sector often lacks the powerful and time-sensitive impetus of the financial bottom line, they run the risk of running out of steam in the absence of a clear vision.

Tools for evaluating existing processes and policies. Once sustainability goals have been set and communicated, the next step is to identify the what, when, where, and how of integrating sustainable practices into the public sector’s policies, operations, and programs.

The difficulty in mapping out sustainable practices for non-profits and for the rest of the public sector lies in the wide variety of stakeholders and the dynamic tensions between them. What’s more, the process doesn’t stop upon implementation. Complex decisions must be made constantly, and because these policies and programs do not exist in a vacuum, there is no getting around the learning-by-doing process.

Tools for measuring sustainability. “Learning by doing,” while not necessarily synonymous with trial-and-error, involves a lot of the latter. Therefore, to minimize any negative impact on stakeholders, there needs to be a set of reliable sustainability metrics and indicators. Planners and policy makers must be able to evaluate sustainability practices accurately so that adjustments can be made with as little delay as possible.

Apart from these three key elements, there are the less tangible factors of proactive leadership and synergy. Unfortunately, most public sector organizations sometimes have a patchy, compliance-led approach to sustainable development. This underscores the need for forward-thinking professionals who can assume leadership roles and promote a systemic, hard-wired attitude towards sustainability.

Students and professionals interested in meeting this need are strongly advised to enlist in a sustainable practices program. Participating in an online sustainable practices program such as the one offered at the University of Colorado is one good way of achieving the hands-on training required to become a leader in sustainability.

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