Rooftop solar panels on the ASU Tempe campus are in the background of a three flags: The Arizona state flag, the United States flag and the ASU flag.

Sustainability Literacy program engages, educates ASU employees

Not only is Arizona State University the first institution in higher education to create a School of Sustainability that educates students, but also extends sustainability education to all of its employees through its new interactive online Sustainability Literacy Education program .

The electronic platform informs ASU employees of sustainable practices currently under way at ASU, the university’s sustainability goals, ways to support ASU’s promise to become more sustainable, and relevant facts to fulfill the sustainability requirement of their yearly work-performance evaluations.

“The literacy program is based in the basic concepts of sustainability and individual responsibility to contribute to implementation,” says Ray Jensen, associate vice president of University Business Services and University Sustainability Operations officer. “Our successes as a university in sustainable practices are directly related to how each individual employee plays a role in sustainability within their day-to-day activities.”

The literacy program is comprised of tutorials that include photos with accompanying audio, and is designed to easily be worked into employees’ daily work schedules. Start to finish, the program takes about an hour to complete. Employees also can stop and start the program tutorials at any time and upon logging back in, can pick up where they left off.

An overview of ASU’s sustainability definition kicks off the literacy program: promoting a healthy, robust society through the interconnectedness of environmental, economic and social systems that balance the availability of usable natural resources for present and future generations.

The overview is followed by ASU’s four sustainability goals for carbon neutrality, zero solid and water waste, active engagement, and principled practice, which simply means, “walking the talk.” Employees then take a three-question sustainability quiz, which follows each of the five lessons. The program can be taken as many times as necessary until employees receive their desired score. Upon program completion, employees receive a certificate that can be emailed to their supervisor.

“There are over 82,000 change agents at ASU and everyone has a role to play,” says Bonny Bentzin, director of sustainability practices at ASU. “The program engages employees and gives them the tools for all of us to be successful and make a huge impact on our sustainability goals across all four campuses.”

Not only are there tens of thousands of people at ASU who can help ASU reach its sustainability goals, the literacy program also is linked to employees’ work performance. Beginning in January 2008, employees’ yearly evaluations included a section about sustainability practices. Supervisors began evaluating employees on sustainable practices the following year. In February 2011, the program launched universitywide and currently is recommended for all new employees.

“The literacy program builds an employee’s competency and awareness of what sustainability is and how they can help in the university’s efforts,” says Kevin Salcido, associate vice president and chief human resources officer. “Engaging with the program potentially can help employees understand how they can contribute to our success.”

ASU’s Human Resources department supports the literacy program in several ways, including on its website and through its network of business operations managers. The department educates new employees about the university’s sustainable practices and goals during orientation where reusable cups have replaced water bottles. Using electronic formats for employee benefits enrollment and all personnel transactions including hires and transfers has helped reduce the department’s paper needs.

To add to ASU’s current 20-30 percent waste diversion rate, University Business Services is engaged in efforts across ASU to increase the number of area printers to replace desktop printers. Departments also have the option to buy 100-percent recycled content paper, and the standard copy paper offered at ASU stores includes 30-percent recycled content.

Other programs and practices highlighted in the literacy program that are happening throughout all four ASU campuses touch a variety of areas and departments, from custodial, to transportation and Grounds Services. Employees and students assist Grounds Services to sustain the Polytechnic campus’ date grove and harvest some of the 20 varieties of citrus, herbs, and stone fruits grown on the Tempe campus that are used in campus dining facilities and around the Valley.

Regarding alternative transportation options, campus commuters who currently have a U-Pass/Platinum Pass can purchase the Eco-Pass and park their vehicles at a discounted rate in a chosen lot on thier campus 25 times a year. To improve air quality and custodial staff safety, 95-percent of cleaning practices at many ASU facilities are green.

“The literacy program underlies all sustainability practices happening around ASU. Our philosophy about sustainability consists of small steps and bold moves, in which our employees play a key role every day,” Bentzin says.