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Senior leadership for Responsible Futures: UCEM Responsible Futures host partnership webinar


April 13, 2021

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Last month, UCEM facilitated a webinar on Senior Leadership - sharing the importance of senior leadership support and top-down change to advance sustainability learning across a whole institution and exploring what impactful senior leadership looks like.

UCEM Principal Ashley Wheaton began the webinar discussing his support for Education for Sustainable Development and Responsible Futures, emphasising that “There is no room in the [senior leadership] agenda for a sense of complacency” towards the climate crisis. “Everywhere you look there is an appetite to do more… what it needs is commitment from the top of the organisation downwards”.

In demonstration of the partnership approach embedded in the Responsible Futures framework , following Ashley’s calls to action, Antonia Lindsay (UCEM Sustainability Officer) emphasized the need for a team effort to drive this work forward through collaboration for sustainability to maintain momentum and achieve a whole-institution approach. This is a key part of the UCEM sustainability strategy, which was born out of the commitment from senior leadership and UCEM’s ambition to become the world’s most sustainable institution. As pivotal stakeholders at the institution, UCEM student ambassadors Vicki Grimshaw and James Doyle were a key part of the event, shedding light on “the learner voice” and its role engaging with senior leadership. On the benefits of partnership working through Responsible Futures, James highlighted that “crucially, [Responsible Futures] gave me direct access to senior leadership and showed the senior leadership team’s commitment to opening itself up to its students”.

Some fruitful discussions took place amongst webinar attendees, exploring barriers to engaging with senior leadership teams and consideration of what good senior leadership support looks like. Groups touched on difficulties including conflicting or competing priorities from senior management, lack of cohesion within institutions on taking climate action, lack of follow through on action, and ensuring the student voice is included in senior leadership decision making. Another challenge faced by a number of participants was ensuring senior leadership teams fully understand the breadth and complex nuances of sustainability, not just a snapshot.

Good senior leadership was highlighted as: trusting the opinions, ideas and experiences of students and staff on taking climate action, accurately and transparently measuring progress and communicating progress to students, staff and local communities and also not just building back better from Covid-19, but taking the opportunity to restructure many systems and values in place that may be harmful to environmental and social justice.

The breakout room discussions demonstrated that getting buy-in from senior leadership can be tricky - but Ashley Wheaton wrapped up the event reminding participants to continue taking action against the climate crisis and to “push really hard” for meaningful change, saying “I would ask you all to be really demanding of you senior leadership teams and to push your institution as hard as you can for it to do as much as it can” in response to the climate emergency. As a senior leader himself, Ashley emphasized the importance of bravery and courage needed at all levels of an institution to make sustainable decisions and to think about long-term benefit over short-term gain.

Thank you to UCEM staff and students for planning and delivering this webinar.

This year, students and staff from Responsible Futures Host Partnerships, De Montfort University and Students’ Union and University College of Estate Management are sharing their learning and experiences with the Responsible Futures cohort through webinars and support days.  Previously, the 2020-21 Host Partnerships have facilitated discussion on whole-institution approaches to ESD and social justice through sharing learnings from delivering “Decolonising DMU” as well as bottom-up change through a student-led webinar on student leadership for Education for Sustainable Development.

Change at every level is valuable and contributes to the wider goal of safeguarding environmental and social wellbeing now and for future generations. That’s why Responsible Futures facilitates partnership working amongst institutions and their students’ union or association to embed sustainability holistically informal and informal learning from the top-down, bottom-up, and middle-out.

Interested in Responsible Futures? Learn more about the accreditation here.

Sign up for our next national support afternoon, Tuesday 20th April, co-hosted by SOS-UK and DMU/DSU.