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Senior leadership for Responsible Futures: UCEM Responsible Futures host partnership webinar

Sonya Peres
April 13, 2021

Last month, UCEM facilitated a webinar onSenior Leadership – sharing the importance of senior leadership support andtop-down change to advance sustainability learning across a whole institutionand exploring what impactful senior leadership looks like.

UCEM Principal Ashley Wheaton began the webinar discussing his support forEducation for Sustainable Development and Responsible Futures, emphasizingthat, “There is noroom in the [senior leadership] agenda for a sense of complacency” towards theclimate crisis. “Everywhere you look there is an appetite to do more… what itneeds is commitment from the top of the organisation downwards”.

Indemonstration of the partnership approach embedded in the Responsible Futuresframework , following Ashley’s calls to action, Antonia Lindsay (UCEM SustainabilityOfficer) emphasized the need for a team effort to drive this work forwardthrough collaboration for sustainability to maintain momentum and achieve a whole-institutionapproach. This is a key part of the UCEM sustainability strategy, which wasborn out of the commitment from senior leadership and UCEM’s ambition to becomethe world’s most sustainable institution. As pivotal stakeholders at theinstitution, UCEM student ambassadors Vicki Grimshaw and James Doyle were a keypart of the event, shedding light on “the learner voice” and its role engagingwith senior leadership. On the benefits of partnership working throughResponsible Futures, James highlighted that “crucially, [Responsible Futures]gave me direct access to senior leadership and showed the senior leadershipteam’s commitment to opening itself up to its students”.

Somefruitful discussions took place amongst webinar attendees, exploring barriersto engaging with senior leadership teams and consideration of what good seniorleadership support looks like. Groups touched on difficulties includingconflicting or competing priorities from senior management, lack of cohesionwithin institutions on taking climate action, lack of follow through on action,and ensuring the student voice is included in senior leadership decisionmaking. Another challenge faced by a number of participants was ensuring seniorleadership teams fully understand the breadth and complex nuances ofsustainability, not just a snapshot.

Good seniorleadership was highlighted as: trusting the opinions, ideas and experiences ofstudents and staff on taking climate action, accurately and transparentlymeasuring progress and communicating progress to students, staff and localcommunities and also not just building back better from Covid-19, but takingthe opportunity to restructure many systems and values in place that may be harmfulto environmental and social justice.

The breakout room discussions demonstrated that getting buy-in from senior leadershipcan be tricky - but Ashley Wheaton wrapped up the event reminding participants tocontinue taking action against the climate crisis and to “push really hard” formeaningful change, saying “I would askyou all to be really demanding of you senior leadership teams and to push yourinstitution as hard as you can for it to do as much as it can” in responseto the climate emergency. As a senior leader himself, Ashley emphasized the importance of bravery and courage needed at alllevels of an institution to make sustainable decisions and to think about long-termbenefit over short-term gain.

Thank you UCEM staff and students for planning and delivering this webinar.

This year, students and staff fromResponsible Futures Host Partnerships, De Montfort University and Students’Union and University College of Estate Management are sharing their learningand experiences with the Responsible Futures cohort through webinars andsupport days.  Previously, the 2020-21Host Partnerships have facilitated discussion on whole-institution approaches toESD and social justice through sharing learnings from delivering “DecolonisingDMU” as well as bottom-up change through a student-led webinar onstudent leadership for Educationfor Sustainable Development.

Change at every level is valuable andcontributes to the wider goal of safeguarding environmental and socialwellbeing now and for future generations. That’s why ResponsibleFutures facilitates partnership working amongst institutions andtheir students’ union or association to embed sustainability holistically informal and informal learning from the top-down, bottom-up, and middle-out.

Interestedin Responsible Futures? Learn more about the accreditation here.

Sign up for our next national support afternoon,Tuesday 20th April, co-hosted by SOS-UK and DMU/DSU here.