Course helps make sustainability practical
For organizations looking to create or sharpen a sustainable model, the University of Colorado offers top-notch instruction through its Sustainable Practices program.
“The Sustainable Practices program is designed for the working professional. It’s a continuing-education program that is noncredit and nonacademic,” said Kelly Simmons, program manager for the Sustainable Practices program.
Course topics include an introduction to sustainability, water conservation, climate action planning, creative financing for “greening” initiatives and creating a zero-waste work environment. The classes focus on practical application rather than loads of theory, Simmons said, and students can take individual classes or complete all 10 courses to earn a certificate in sustainability management.
Classes, which cost $355 each, are offered from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays with a break during the summer months.
“We do have some discounts, too,” Simmons said. Folks who sign up early get 20 percent off.
The program recruits quality teachers.
“The instructors are sustainability professionals who have national and regional reputations,” Simmons said. That includes Kai Abelkis, Boulder Community Hospital’s sustainability coordinator and an instructor in CU’s Sustainable Practices program. He teaches an introductory class on sustainability management that helps businesses and organizations understand the importance of creating a culture of sustainability within an organization in order to harvest sustainable “fruit.”
“You can’t make anyone do anything, but you can create a culture in which you empower the employee to reflect a value that you and the business have,” Abelkis said. His classes range in size from six to 20 people.
Creating a “green” values-based narrative doesn’t just help the environment. It also can make a business more attractive to consumers and future employees.
“When businesses begin to evaluate around sustainability, there is all sorts of marketing fodder,” Simmons said. “People want to work for a business that cares about the community, and a business that is a responsible community member adds to the attraction and retention of top talent,” Simmons said.
Sustainability plans also appeal to investors, she said.
“A business that is not adjusting to sustainability is a business at high risk because of supply-chain issues and transportation issues,” Simmons said. “Attracting top investors can hinge upon the degree to which a business is thinking toward the future and planning for the future.”
Abelkis also teaches a 2.0 sustainability class, in which students go into a business and integrate sustainability. This gives the students experience designing a plan in a real-world setting and gives the business a solid sustainability platform from which to launch. The service is free to the business, and Abelkis is looking for business partners for future classes.
Local business owner and Sustainable Practices instructor K.J. McCorry likes to make her classes practical, too, and finds many students walk into her classroom with a narrow view of sustainability.
“It encompasses so many topics and areas ... it’s not just about turning off the lights and waste management,” said McCorry, owner of Eco-Officiency LLC. Her company offers sustainability consulting to small- and medium-size businesses and organizations in Colorado and across the nation. McCorry is a contributing author to the recently released “A Simple Path to Sustainability: Green Business Strategies for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses.” She also incorporates information on the return on investment a business can expect from various green initiatives in terms of cost savings and customer and employee attraction.
As sustainability in the workplace has evolved, so has CU’s Sustainable Practices program, Simmons said. The program was started in 2007, making it one of the oldest in the nation, and initially targeted community members wanting to help the environment. As sustainability grew, so did the need for classes, she said, and the program expanded. Former students include the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, New Belgium Brewery and the city of Fort Collins as well as out-of-state boys’ camp owners and rafting guides, Simmons said. In 2010 the program moved to CU’s Environmental Center.
“We’ve really tightened the program up and aimed the program at business and public-sector managers,” Simmons said. It now offers online courses, too, and face-to-face classes begin in September.
For people interested in being an environmental leader in their organization or community, Abelkis said, the program has a class for them.
“This is where the real work begins,” he said. “We need more folks in the choir to do this work. That’s the only way we’re going to create sustainability in our lifetime.”