The UK Higher Education Partnership for Sustainability (HEPS)

The Declaration, Volume 5, Number 1: December 2001  [Partnerships]

By Heloise Buckland, Fiona Brookes, Deborah Seddon, Andy Johnston and Sara Parkin

The Higher Education Partnership for Sustainability (HEPS) is a partnership of 18 United Kingdom Higher Education institutions committed to sustainability, involved in a 3-year project coordinated by Forum for the Future, the leading UK sustainable development charity. The mission of HEPS is to establish a pioneering partnership group of Higher Education institutions (HEIs) that are seen to be achieving strategic objectives through positive engagement with the sustainable development agenda and to generate the transferable tools, guidance and the inspiration that will encourage the rest of the sector to do likewise.

HEPS has come to the end of its first fully operational year. Throughout 2001 we have been recruiting partners, carrying out opening sustainability reviews, preparing for a series of partnership wide seminars in the autumn term and undertaking individual work with partners.

HEPS does not prescribe a model of a sustainable university and recognises that every institution has its own unique character. In pursuit of real, long term change driven from within, the partnership identifies specific objectives and helps the institutions achieve them in the most sustainable way. Enabling partners to be leaders in the field is given a high priority by this initiative, but so too is sharing the learning and experience of HEPS within – and beyond – the HE sector.

HEPS builds especially on good practice data accumulated by the HE21 project, a Forum- led project aimed at accumulating best practice in the Higher Education sector. Partner institutions were consulted on a number of issues including biodiversity, resource efficiency, community learning, waste minimisation, purchasing, transport and environmental management systems. A series of best practice bulletins were produced (available to download at and two major conferences were held to showcase best practice and build partnerships for the future.

Forum for the Future also works in partnership with decision-makers in business and local and regional government and HEPS draws upon the experiences and expertise of colleagues working in these partnerships. HEPS has links with the construction sector through Forum’s Business Programme, and has used culture change techniques developed by Forum’s Local and Regional Government Programme.

Forum for the Future’s Masters in Leadership for Sustainable Development is a one-year full time masters course, which emphasises work-based, experiential learning as well as reflection and cutting edge sustainability knowledge. Among the core elements of the programme are one month placements in organisations in six key sectors of UK society: an NGO environment or development campaigning organisation; local or regional government; UK or European politics; a leading business; a regulatory or financial institution and the media. HEPS draws on the learning techniques and experiences gained from the placements so far in over 130 organisations in these six sectors. In particular this provides insight into graduate skills needed by employers as well as first hand up to date experience of how these key sectors are contributing towards sustainable development.

What are the key objectives of HEPS?
The following are the key objectives of the partnership, against which progress is measured throughout the course of the programme:

  • To embed a strategic approach to sus- tainable development into partner institutions.
  • To create a sense of common purpose and leadership amongst the partner institutions, to better influence the sector-wide change.
  • To design a web-based system for Sustainability Reporting for HEIs that has broad support in the sector and is consistent with best practice within the sector (e.g., HE Sustainability Measures) and beyond it (e.g., Global Reporting Initiative for business). It will also be consonant with government policy (e.g. Sustainability Indicators).
  • To leave senior management in partner institutions with the knowledge, motivation and skills to structure sustainability into the university’s strategic and operational planning processes, research policies, and curriculum planning.
  • To build similar capacity in the HEI stakeholder community – business partners, local and regional government, funding councils and other associated organisations, research councils, students, suppliers.
  • To complete a number of innovative partner-designated initiatives that drive forward the agenda, demonstrating clear benefits.
  • To develop materials and processes which are communicated and shared with partners and others.

What institutions are involved?
HEPS is a partnership between the following 18 universities and colleges and Forum for the Future:

  • Cardiff University
  • City University
  • College of St Mark & St John
  • Heriot-Watt University
  • Liverpool John Moores University
  • Loughborough University
  • Middlesex University
  • Queens University, Belfast
  • Sheffield Hallam University
  • The Surrey Institute of Art & Design
  • University of Aberdeen
  • University of Birmingham
  • University of Brighton
  • University of Cambridge
  • University of Newcastle
  • University of Salford
  • University of St Andrews
  • University of Stirling

HEPS is supported by the Funding Councils of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The funds being made available over three years total over £750,000. Each participating institution is contracted to bring to the partnership ‘in-kind’ contributions amounting to at least £10,000 per year. This includes staff time and the use of facilities for meetings and events. This brings the total value of the scheme to over £1.47 million.

How does HEPS work in practice?
The partnership is steered by a group of representatives from universities, funding councils, the national student body, the private sector, regional government and Forum for the Future. Commitment to active engagement in the universities is agreed at the Vice-Chancellor or Principal level, with overall management residing with a member of the senior management team.

HEPS has two strategies to promote sector wide change by working closely with the institutions to help them achieve their objectives in a sustainable way and also to influence a broad spectrum of other key stakeholders:

A- Driving change from within
The programme for each partner institution begins with an Opening Sustainability Review to assess expectations about the partnership in order to design a work programme tailored to the strategic objectives of the institution. Representatives from the senior management team, operational staff, academics and students attend this one-day event. The review reflects on the role of universities and colleges as:

  • institutions which form and inform tomorrow’s (and today’s) leaders and decision-makers through teaching and research agendas;
  • managers of major businesses where prudent use of resources not only saves money but safeguards reputations;
  • important actors in local communities and regional development – as employer, purchaser, service user and provider.

The work programme is then delivered through three types of activities:

  • Individual Work Programmes – Individual initiatives are identified by each institution and the HEPS team helps facilitate these through background research, networking, report writing and visits to the institution.
  • Partnership Wide Initiatives – The HEPS partners identify a number of key themes to be addressed by all. For each theme HEPS undertakes research, holds workshops for the partners, organises seminars for the sector and other key players and finally produces appropriate guidance to accelerate sector wide change.
  • Sustainability Reporting – HEPS is developing a framework and process for tracking progress and communicating outcomes on key sustainability issues. This will enable each institution to measure and communicate its own progress towards sustainability. Research and seminars will be held in 2002 to develop this area of work with the intention of a web-based sustainability reporting system to be available by the end of 2003.

B- Influencing the external forces
HEPS has identified several key external players including funding councils, other arms of government, Professional Associations, Trade Unions, research councils and other funders, auditors and assessors. The HEPS team is building up a bank of key contacts within each of these organisations to monitor their activities, involve them in the partnership where appropriate and influence policy where possible. A recent outcome of this is HEPS involvement in developing a framework for the new sustainable development strategy group, which the Professional Associations for Higher Education have agreed to set up.

What has HEPS achieved so far?
Opening Sustainability Reviews
A day has been spent in all 18 partner institutions with representatives from senior management, estates, academic and administrative arms to introduce the concept of sustainable development, identify the institution’s key drivers and barriers to incorporating sustainability and highlight potential areas of work with HEPS.

Individual work programmes
Each institution has selected a few key themes to develop individually through HEPS. In areas of common interest, clusters are forming to share experiences across the partnership. City University, Middlesex University and the Surrey Institute of Art and Design (all located in the South East of England) recently convened to share their experiences of using various techniques to embed sustainable development into their strategic planning processes. Partners have also expressed interest in forming clusters to work on staff development, waste management and identifying the key drivers for a university or college to contribute to sustainable development.

Partnership wide initiatives
Sustainable procurement, construction and travel were given particular attention in 2001 (see Table 1). The events listed in Table 1 were attended by approximately 200 delegates from the HEPS partners (with representatives from senior management, estates, academics, administration, students and local communities), other Higher Education Institutions, funding councils, local government, business, experts in the field, consultants, practitioners and others.

Table 1: Partnership wide initiatives in 2001.

Theme Research Outcomes Future Work
Construction Desk research of partners and regulators policies and practices 2 workshops for HEPS partners, 2 seminars for wider audience Developing guidance on sustainable construction for new buildings and refurbishment; considering position statement to build consensus on the issues
Travel Quesionnaires completed by partners to identify policy and practice 2 workshops for HEPS partners, 2 seminars with exhibitions for wider audience Developing guidance on how to promote sustainable travel across an institution with future integration into Resource Management initiative
Procurement Telephone interviews undertaken Workshop for HEPS partners procurement officers Developing guidelines for sustainable procurement and future integration into Finance initiative

Plans for 2002
The individual work programmes will continue in each institution with a greater degree of ‘clustering.’ Major themes to be addressed partnership wide are sustainable resource management, finance, communication and sustainability reporting. (Details of these initiatives will be posted on in January 2002.)

The greatest challenge so far in making the Higher Education Partnership for Sustainability a success is the lack of available resources within each institution to move initiatives forward. Hence there is a continual emphasis on helping partner institutions achieve their existing strategic objectives in the most efficient way using existing infrastructure and staff. The most successful aspect of the programme to date is the momentum gained through sharing and consensus building across the partnership and beyond.

For more information, go to www.heps. or;
Forum for the Future, 227a City Road, London EC1V 1JT, United Kingdom.

Heloise Buckland and Fiona Brookes are HEPS project coordinators. Ms. Buckland can be reached at h.buckland@; Tel: 44-207-477-7712; Fax: 44-207-251-6268.

Deborah Seddon has lead responsibility for the Masters/Scholarship Programme in Leadership for Sustainable Development.

Dr. Andy Johnston is the Assistant Director of the Higher Education Partnership for Sustainability.

Sara Parkin is one of Forum’s founding Programme Directors and has set up the Forum’s Leadership for Sustainability Masters Programme and its Directory of Sustainability in Practice.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.