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Re-Thinking Green: From Saving Polar Bears to Sustaining Society

How Bentley University, companies and society are focusing on sustainability.

“It’s Global Warming, Stupid.” Bloomberg Businessweek’s cover story in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy spoke to something deeper than climate change: specifically why we need to worry about the environment from a business, economic and security perspective.

So says Amanda King, director of sustainability and special advisor to the president at Bentley University. “Sustainability is about how humans are going to survive as a species, how we’re going to survive as society, and what our economic systems are going to look like. This would not have been on the cover of Bloomberg if they did not identify the fact that climate change poses a major threat to business and our economic system.”

Sustainability is about how humans are going to survive as a species, says Amanda King #sustainability


We need to shift our mindset from “green” to “sustainability.” And Bentley is doing a great job of managing that transition.

Want to learn more about the latest findings on sustainability? The 2015 Bentley Research Colloquium on October 30th featured a cross-disciplinary look at sustainability, covering diverse topics such as sustainable food and fuel production from the sea; the impact of CEO philanthropic choices; gender equality; and environmental psychology.

How We Need to Change Our Understanding of “Green”
“It goes beyond saving the polar bear standing on a melting iceberg,” agrees Bentley’s manager of sustainability, Natalie Berland. “Sustainability is about a holistic view that considers the environment, society and the economy — and how neither piece can survive without the other.”

But since it’s hard to break old habits (“I’m green, so I’m saving the world”), Berland and King developed five ways to re-think green and focus on sustainability:


  1. Think People, Planet, Profit
    It’s not about being “green” anymore. We need to shift our mindsets to the triple-bottom line: people, planet and profit. Sustainability is about maintaining a healthy environment and society so that the economy can function.
  2. Understand that Sustainability Is Profitable
    When companies prioritize society and the environment, they reduce risk and increase returns. Businesses that honor the triple-bottom line outperform ones that don’t, according to a 2014 report by the nonprofit Carbon Disclosure Project that examined S&P 500 companies.
  3. Preserve Life, Not Just the Environment
    The Earth, as we know it, provides the raw materials on which business and society depend. If we jeopardize the stability of the environment, and thus our access to natural resources, we jeopardize our ability to support ourselves.
  1. Fight Hunger, Racism and Unequal Access to Education
    These social issues play a part in the quality of all of our lives. Sustainability is as much about just and fair societies as it is about energy conservation. In fact, underrepresented populations bear the brunt of pollution from coal-fired power plants and industrial facilities that are more often located near poor neighborhoods.
  2. Get Serious about Climate Change
    Climate change has played a part in the Syrian Civil War, the California wildfires and Super Storm Sandy. Drought, wildfires and flooding made more severe by climate change, disrupt business and impact our quality of life and the stability of our societies.

Check out these 28 predictions for the future of sustainability.

Ways to Use Less and Manage More
Berland and King aren’t downplaying the need for being mindful of resource consumption and climate change. Since Bentley’s President Gloria Cordes Larson signed the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment in 2007, the university has achieved a 50 percent reduction in its carbon footprint (greenhouse gas inventory), and set a 2030 goal of carbon-neutrality.

Bentley’s Office of Sustainability, which is celebrating its five-year anniversary, has an impressive  list of accomplishments that includes a comprehensive waste management plan — composting in all Sodexho-managed dining facilities on campus, an online office supply swap, and expanded capacity for recycling throughout campus, for example — that has resulted in a 52 percent diversion rate (recycling and composting surpassing trash). See more initiatives that have boosted sustainability success on campus.  

The university has received a “Silver Rating” for its sustainability efforts through the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). It has been included in The Princeton Review’s list of top environmentally responsible colleges in the U.S. and Canada for five years straight, and has won the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s College & University Green Power Challenge — for using more green power than any other school in the Northeast-10 Conference — two years in a row.

Read more about Bentley’s green accolades for sustainability practices.

How Diverse Minds Tackle Sustainability
These efforts were the work of many people on campus, King notes. “Without the support of the entire campus community — faculty, staff, students and alumni — the efforts of the Office of Sustainability would go nowhere”

King is talking about the importance of engaging Bentley’s students, faculty and staff in sustainability efforts and about key university partners and programs, including: the Natural and Applied Sciences Department curriculum; a Sustainability Science major and Liberal Studies major concentration in Earth, Environment and Global Sustainability (EEGS); Bentley-Service Learning Center community service initiatives for social issues, such as literacy and job training; and Students for Sustainable Business (a merging of the Eco Reps and Green Society), which focuses on educating the student body about the triple-bottom line and includes the university’s first undergraduate Net Impact chapter.

Why Sustainability Matters on the Job
The Office of Sustainability has identified career options in sustainability for business graduates, and King worked with Colleen Murphy, associate director of Undergraduate Career Services, and Rick Oches, natural and applied sciences chair, to create a Global Sustainability Advisory Board, comprised of professionals representing sustainable businesses including clean tech and renewable energy companies, consulting firms and socially responsible investment companies..

“We use our board to gather information to stay on trend with what’s happening in the fast-changing sustainability space,” Murphy says. “A critical role in the solution process is solving business issues that can impact the triple bottom line on a national and global scale.”

And that brings us back to sustainability’s holistic nature.

“The triple bottom line is about interconnection,” King shares. “Businesses and society cannot operate without a stable environment. If we don’t have these three things balanced, we cannot have one of those things survive properly.”

Sustainability is so much more than being “green”!


Berland agrees. “Sustainability is so much more than being 'green'; it’s about efficient resource use, working toward social justice and preserving the bottom line.”