ISCTE-IUL Business School embeds sustainability into the university’s established Quality Assurance program by collecting environmental indicators, as well as SDGs contributions, in teaching, learning, research, and community.
As everyone who attended the GRLI AGM this November at the ISCTE Business School in Lisbon, Portugal knows, the campus is a warm and welcoming place for educational innovation — with a strong culture of changing the way business is done for the better.
One of the stories we wanted to share about our ISCTE colleagues is how the university is also an innovative leader for its success in fully integrating sustainability, including teaching and publishing about the SDGs, into the institution’s long-established quality culture and processes.
As an antidote to how sustainability can be seen as a “nice to have” or a “sidecar” to core priorities, the ISCTE team is demonstrating how sustainability — in all its components — can be systematically, reliably, and consistently assessed.
Earlier this year, GRLI’s Claire Sommer had a conversation with ISCTE researchers and professors Catarina Roseta-Palma (Sustainability Director of ISCTE-IUL as a whole) and Ana Margarida Simaens (Quality and Sustainability Interlocutor for the Business School), who are members of the Sustainability@ISCTE-IUL coordination team.
Claire: How did you design ISCTE’s Environmental Management System to align with the existing Quality Program?
Catarina: In 2016, ISCTE-IUL started a project to create, implement, and certify its Environmental Management System (EMS). The development of the EMS was a starting point to monitor and improve ISCTE-IUL’s sustainability performance, and from there, to make better informed decisions to fulfill the institution’s mission and purpose.
An initial, key design decision was for the EMS to fully align with the Quality program, which has been certified in accordance with Portuguese Standard ISO 9001, since 2008.
It was also clear at the beginning of the initiative that ISCTE-IUL’s EMS would require an innovative design and implementation, based on the fact that ISCTE is a higher education institution with a mature quality culture. We knew from the outset that it was important to think about sustainability in a broad way — including environmental issues, but above all, social and economic benefit.
We knew that capturing water, energy, and waste indicators were important, but also that this is not the summary of our environmental impact. We are a university so we actually have a responsibility to think about how we can bring a positive environmental impact to society.
We were working on ways to measure, what indicators, the kind of positive environmental impact that could come from our core activities of teaching, research, and community work. Can we come up with indicators for the things that really matter to us?”
Claire: How did you decide to use the SDGs to help you assess social as well as environmental contributions?
Catarina: A breakthrough came when Ana attended the July 2017 HESI and PRME meetings in New York City and learned about the movement of business schools toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Upon her return, she met with university leadership and told them: “The world is moving towards the SDGs and so will business schools — that’s the trend.”
When Ana told us this, it was the light bulb moment where we thought: “This is actually a way to do what we’ve been wanting to do.” To connect our main activities to sustainability in a more holistic way. By using the SDGs, we’re not just looking at the environment. We’re also doing everything else.
We started thinking about how we could measure, or how we could know, what activities are contributing in terms of the SDGs. Initially, we started with publications and asked researchers to identify the relevant SDGs (up to 3 goals per contribution) to each of their research outputs over the past 5 years.
Here are links to the platforms where the information on the SDGs coding is available (anyone can search by SDG):
Claire: How is the self-identification process worked out for SDGs contributions?
Catarina: As well as capturing contributions, the self-identification process has the effect of engaging people with the SDGs and helping them learn more about them. In next steps, we used the same methodology to collect SDGs contributions for courses, for master theses, and more recently, for on-campus events. You will still have to validate, to look at the information and to validate it to see if people really are kind of associated with the SDGs they select. We also offer training on the SDGs.
Claire: What’s the status of the program today?
Catarina: With the successful certification of the EMS in December 2018, the sustainability function is distributed throughout the university and its colleges, with the university’s Sustainability Manager, Carla Farelo, physically located in the Quality office. This structure has helped internally to legitimize what we’re doing, to give a sense of the importance for achieving the university’s purpose.
What we want to achieve with our process, or work towards with our process, is to have students that are not only prepared to be good managers, good financial managers, and good accountants. They also have a notion of how this can be important for the world.
For an overview of the Quality and Sustainability process integration, please see this report in Portuguese.
ISCTE — Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL) is a public university established in 1972. Pursuing teaching, research and community service activities, it plays a major role in educating qualified specialists and personnel, whose cultural, scientific and technical skills enable them to contribute to sustainable development both at the national and the global level. The strategic objectives of ISCTE-IUL are: innovation, quality, internationalization and development of an entrepreneurial culture.
ISCTE Business School (IBS) is one of four schools that constitute University ISCTE-IUL, along with the School of Sociology and Public Policy, School of Social Sciences and Humanities and the School of Technology and Architecture.