Students Make Sustainability Matter in Higher Ed

by | Apr 11, 2019

Shelton Stat of the Week

82% of American students over the age of 18 say that a company’s environmental reputation moderately to strongly impacts their decision when making purchases (Eco Pulse 2018).
Sustainability This Week
I started my week speaking at the University of Pittsburgh’s annual Engineering Sustainability event and one of the students asked me, “You talked about what people expect of big companies … what do they expect of universities?” Here’s the answer:

According to a 2019 Princeton Review survey of nearly 12,000 college applicants, approximately 64 percent consider a school’s environmental commitment when deciding where to attend.

In the past decade or so, a number of organizations have sprouted up with the sole purpose of measuring universities’ commitments to sustainability. The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) has become a hub for colleges to self-report, compare and boast about their accomplishments ever since the founding of the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System™ (STARS) in 2011. The program encourages healthy competition amongst universities and gives out ratings ranging from Platinum and Gold to Bronze and “Reporter” status. Environment America Research and Policy Center also regularly reports on universities’ renewable energy commitments (see their most recent report here).

In some cases, strong sustainability commitments attract students to universities, whereas in other cases, the students spark universities to adapt. Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, became the top-most ranked school for renewable energy in large part thanks to students and university leaders who lobbied the university nearly a decade ago to commit to wind-power electricity and renewable energy credits. Student demand for sustainability has also led to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville (my alma mater) creating a dedicated sustainability major and Office of Sustainability. The university now recognizes sustainability as “a rapidly growing interdisciplinary field with practical applications across all sectors of the global workforce.” They also offer a certificate in Sustainability Science and an interdisciplinary sustainability Ph.D. program.

The bottom line is this: Gen Z not only values sustainability; they expect it, and colleges and universities are responding. As the best and brightest come out of a college environment where they’ve been immersed in opportunities, visible actions, messaging, etc. about sustainability, they will expect the same of their employers, and the brands they buy from. Hiring and retaining the best talent is and will continue to be one of the greatest challenges for all companies and organizations. Without strong commitments, actions and communications on sustainability – both to recruits, employees and the outside world – you’re at risk of being passed over.

News of the Week
European Union government backs ban on single-use plastics – GreenBiz

Another good reason for companies to be considering the switch to reusability. Members of the European Parliament last week voted in favor of banning a number of common single-use plastic items, including cutlery, straws and stirrers. The ban isn’t law yet (it will likely be approved later this year – and will take effect in 2021), but it indicates increasing government and social pressure to cut down on waste – and an emphasis on reusability that we expect will become more pronounced in upcoming years.

When people downsize to tiny houses, they adopt more environmentally friendly lifestyles – The Conversation

What once was thought of as a fad is now here to stay. Tiny houses are increasing in number throughout many parts of the U.S. – and in many cases, they serve as a sustainable response to unsustainable housing problems such as rising home costs and high energy bills. The article shows how downsizing to tiny homes encourages behavior modification, resulting in significantly lower carbon footprints (45% reduction on average) and more pro-environmental practices such as recycling more, wasting less and using renewable sources of energy.

Apple persuades Foxconn and TSMC to use only renewable energy when making iPhones ­ – The Verge

An excellent example of how major companies and brands can use their influence to encourage sustainable practices in the supply chain. “Apple has persuaded 15 more of its suppliers, including Foxconn and TSMC, to manufacture Apple products using 100 percent clean energy” and there are now 44 participating suppliers in total.

It's a Period of Change

“Disposable” and “single-use” are becoming bad words. What customers really want is reusability, which is pulling ahead as the next big market trend. We’ve homed in on one particular industry and product type where we expect the biggest upset: consumer packaged goods and feminine hygiene products. Women are embracing reusable products and it’s shaking up the industry. And chances are, it’ll spread to YOUR industries and products.

Previous Posts

About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Suzanne Shelton

President and CEO

Suzanne is the voice and the vision of Shelton Group. Drawing on her extensive experience in energy and the environment – and 25+ years in the marketing and advertising industry – Suzanne provides high-level strategic insights for our clients and guidance for our research and creative departments. She regularly speaks at conferences around the country, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and the International Builders’ Show, and serves as a guest columnist for publications like Fast Company, Green Builder and

Susannah Enkema

VP Research & Insights

Susannah directs our research team and plays a key role in extracting the nuggets of information that pave the way for recommended marketing strategies and creative approaches. Susannah has nearly two decades of market research and strategy experience, including her role as president of SE Consulting, where she led the services for the likes of DIY Network and the makers of GORE-TEX®.

Matt Brass

VP Creative

Matt steers the creative department in concepting, designing and producing campaigns. He ensures sound strategy and deep insights inform everything his team develops, and works closely with the accounts department to ensure copy and designs will meet our clients’ goals. As a designer and filmmaker himself, he’s also a principal contributor to all of Shelton’s in-house photography and videography work.

Courtnay Hamachek

VP Operations

Courtnay oversees our day-to-day operations to keep us running smoothly and support our growth. She establishes project management systems and processes to help our teams anticipate bottlenecks, prevent process issues, and keep projects on time and on target. Courtnay has built extensive experience over 25 years in all aspects of marketing, from account services and project management to design and production.

Aaron Crecy

Digital Marketing Director

Aaron is responsible for planning, executing and measuring digital marketing strategies for Shelton Group and our clients, with an emphasis on inbound, content, SEO, social media, email and paid initiatives. He constantly researches and explores new tactics and strategies to improve digital campaign performance and results.

Aaron brings to the table more than 20 years of marketing leadership experience with premium consumer-facing brands. He came to Shelton Group by way of Malibu Boats, where, as Director of Global Marketing, he oversaw strategic marketing planning and execution for multiple product lines, with specific emphasis on social media and digital. Prior to that, he served as CMO for a leading daily fantasy sports operator, guiding it from startup to the industry’s third-ranked site.

Scot Case

Senior Consultant

A sustainability strategy consultant since 1993, Scot has served as non-profit leader, as a partner in an environmental marketing firm that he grew and sold, and as an executive in a multi-billion-dollar, international company. He has published dozens of articles and case studies, was co-author of the original “Sins of Greenwashing” study, testified before Congress, and been quoted on NPR, Good Morning America, CNN, The New York Times, Business Week, and the Wall Street Journal. Scot was also highlighted in an Emmy award-winning documentary on sustainable purchasing.

Casey Ward

VP Account Services

Casey manages our relationships, growth and development with a specific group of clients that includes Environmental Defense Fund, Cotton LEADS and CertainTeed Insulation. She provides leadership and support for the account team members who manage the day-to-day processes for these clients. She contributes to strategic direction for each client and guides our creative efforts to ensure everything we do builds toward meeting – or exceeding – the client’s goals. Her ability to simultaneously see the big picture and pay close attention to the details helps her champion her clients’ needs and identify new growth opportunities for them.