The girls and boys who run People & Planet have always tended to take themselves rather too seriously, falling into the trap of thinking that their Green League has had far more influence than it really has; they have also been far too self-satisfied with the methods used. Anyway, they are now on their high horses over UK universities' concerns about the methods used, and hence the validity of data, and are threatening to trash the furniture.
Institutional frustration and disgruntlement became so bad that, at the end of July, AUDE (Association of University Directors of Estates) and EAUC (Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges) got together to write to P & P with sector-wide concerns about how the green league table has been operated. Even those who always do well under the current dispensation joined in; as good an example of solidarity as you'd like to find. Their letter begins ...
Joint statement on behalf of EAUC and AUDE Memberships
Dear People and Planet,
The EAUC and AUDE are committed to promoting sustainability within the education sector, and seek to consistently raise the standards adhered to by universities in order to build on the excellent work to date. We believe the sector has a unique and powerful contribution to make to society, and we value the Green League’s role in helping us account for and improve performance.
While we do not want to see or do anything that will damage the progress made through the Green League, both the EAUC and AUDE have serious concerns over the 2014 survey; particularly on the grounds of the timings given to universities, and changes to the survey which are perceived as time-consuming and detrimental to the credibility of the results. Additionally, we do not believe that the three-week extension communicated on July 31st will address these concerns.
We are disappointed that our comments have not been incorporated, to the detriment of this process. We are concerned that the Green League 2014 will not drive the innovative and positive change it used to, and risks reducing sustainability to a narrowly and prescriptively defined tick box agenda.
Therefore, we are asking People and Planet to defer this year’s Green League and to work openly and collaboratively with AUDE and the EAUC to improve the process for next year. We do support the decision of those universities who have already chosen, or will choose to defer from participating in this year’s Green League. This is a decision for each institution to make individually.
For the 2015 survey, we request in particular that the timings of the survey are more considerate of the numerous demands on university staff, particularly around busy building periods and students returning to university. ...
You can read the full letter here, see P&P's sniffy response here, and find the Green League methodology here – just in case you want to make up your own mind (Thanks to the assiduous David Somervell for providing easy access to these links).
The tensions and difficulties in all this are evident in the letter that DS sent to colleagues via the EAUC member list in the middle of August:
Dear colleagues and friends across the sector
Ever since this ruction blew up I have been considering what our best way forward is – and I feel on balance that it is in our interests for Universities to respond to the request for information in good faith.
Dozens of us have participated in the Green League Oversight Group these past years and one thing that has been asked for is a broadening of the Education for Sustainable Development theme and more on wider Sustainability issues. The evolution has been at a snail’s pace with tiny incremental changes. Even this year the main new item relates to tracking our beneficial impact.
Considering that we are collectively in receipt of billions of public funding – and that this request comes from representatives [albeit edgy ones] of our main beneficiaries asking for us to share what we are doing – is it good practice to effectively boycott the process?
Like many others who have kept silent so far the University of Edinburgh currently intends to make a return as we have in past years. I hope others will carefully weigh up the appropriateness of withdrawing from the process.
Our submission form has already been partially completed automatically with last year’s return and we are using the opportunity with our other stakeholders across the University to review where progress has been made and reflect on what more can be done in the coming year. ...
So, some will respond to the data request, and others (maybe more than usual) will not, and P&P will use FOI requests more aggressively. Not a happy state of affairs. Meanwhile, some innocents will continue to deplore the whole idea of a league table and look back to that golden age before they emerged. Happy daze ...