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Friday, 8 January 2016

Leadership for Green and High Performing Universities


Dr. Albert Schram
Papua New Guinea University of Technology


Universities are complex organizations with a triple mission: teaching, research and outreach (or the third mission). Their operations dimension can have a considerable environmental impact depending on the number of students and staff, whether they manage residential campuses or not. Their economic impact regionally or even nationally can be substantial, in terms of generation of employment and their need to utilize a wide range of suppliers. In this article, we try to shed light on the question whether for universities better environmental performance is an optional element of their strategy, or is it linked to overall performance?

Universities often teach about the environment, and students in particular expect them to practice what they preach. Universities with efficient operations will quite naturally reduce their cost of their inputs (power, water, other resources), and disposing of their outputs (solid and liquid waste streams). Moreover, most universities by law they are forced to comply with environmental legislation.

Lately, many universities have undertaken efforts to improve their environmental performance beyond efficiency and compliance, sometimes driven by concerns for pressure by students or other stakeholders, or in order position themselves more competitively in a service sector which is becoming more global in nature.

Just like other organizations, universities' performance with respect to their triple mission is determined to a large extent by how well its management systems are capable of controlling internal processes. More control will lead it towards quicker achievement of their strategic objectives. From this perspective, better environmental performance could be expected from better performing universities. However, this is not necessarily the case if universities simply would choose to ignore the environmental performance, which is not mission critical. Those universities with good environmental performance would not be the ones with good overall performance, and vice-versa.

In this article, we test the hypothesis whether in fact environmental performance is related to overall performance. First we will present the methods in this article, which due to limited availability of data are admittedly rather crude. Second, we describe the results and present our main findings. Third, we discuss the limitation of this research, some implications for further research and future data collection efforts, and the implications of our findings for the leadership of universities.

Theoretical Background and Methodology

The size of private returns on pollution control investments have been a lively debated topic in economics and management sciences. Many economists believe that an extra constraint on a production function can never lead to higher profits, while other authors approaching the matter from business strategy perspective believe there can be substantial private returns.  The latter approach has been named the Porter hypothesis (Porter 1991). Improving environmental performance under certain conditions can create a competitive advantage depending on the type of environmental innovation occurs.

In a broader sense, the Porter hypothesis is about whether improving environmental performance happens at the expense of overall performance, whether these improvements are driven by voluntarily initiative or through binding environmental regulation. In this sense, the hypothesis can be applied to not for profit organizations, like universities.

For environmental performance of universities, we used the latest GreenMetric ranking. The ranking itself was launched in 2010, and now has ranked 361 universities from over 61 countries around the world. It uses the following criteria:

  1. Setting and infrastructure (15%)
  2. Energy and climate change (21%)
  3. Waste (18%)
  4. Water (10%)
  5. Transportation (18%)
  6. Education (18%)

For overall performance we used the QS ranking of universities, which lists 700 universities. Other rankings such as the Times higher 
  1. Academic reputation (40%)
  2. Employer reputation (10%)
  3. Student-to-faculty ratio (20%)
  4. Citations per faculty (20%)
  5. International faculty ratio (5%) &
  6. International student ratio (5%)

QS also provides an App which allows to change the weighing criteria, and produce different rankings by subject or by region.


We can now inquire whether more highly ranked universities in the Greenmetric ranking, also more highly ranked in the QS ranking? In order to answer this question we decided to divide the universities for each ranking into 5 categories, labeled A to E for the QS performance ranking, and a to e for the Greenmetric ranking. In this manner, we were able to consider not only the 400 QS scored universities, but also the 300 which have not been scored and are instead lumped together in broader categories, such as 601-650. Not all universities ranked in the Greenmetric ranking are ranked in the QS ranking.

We found indeed a large number of highest ranked universities in both rankings. In fact for the 2 highest ranked environmental performance categories a and b, we found a substantial number of universities in the 3 highest performance categories A, B, C.

In order to determine whether there is a degree of dependency of environemntal performance and overall performance we performed a Chi squate test of indepedence. The results show that the environmental and overall performance are dependent at the 5% significance level.

Environmental Performance Category

Row Totals
Performance Category
14  (7.38)  [5.93]
3  (5.23)  [0.95]
1  (3.69)  [1.96]
2  (2.46)  [0.09]
0  (1.23)  [1.23]
13  (13.66)  [0.03]
13  (9.68)  [1.14]
6  (6.83)  [0.10]
5  (4.55)  [0.04]
0  (2.28)  [2.28]
10  (9.97)  [0.00]
9  (7.06)  [0.53]
4  (4.98)  [0.19]
2  (3.32)  [0.53]
2  (1.66)  [0.07]
7  (9.60)  [0.70]
6  (6.80)  [0.09]
5  (4.80)  [0.01]
5  (3.20)  [1.01]
3  (1.60)  [1.22]
4  (7.38)  [1.55]
3  (5.23)  [0.95]
8  (3.69)  [5.03]
2  (2.46)  [0.09]
3  (1.23)  [2.54]
Column Totals
130  (Grand Total)
The contingency table provides the following information: the observed cell totals, (the expected cell totals) and [the chi-square statistic for each cell]. The chi-square statistic is 28.2776. The p-value is .029288. The result is significant at p < .05.


As such things go, there is much discussion about the validity and reliability of the QS university league tables. This ranking, however, has matured and has been slowly improved. Most universities participate in the surveys, although some object to the reputation survey. This objection has also beeen raised for the Times higher Education ranking.

The Greenmetric ranking is much less well known and mature. Its validity could suffer from a selection bias. Not all universities will be participating in the survey. Nevertheless, it is the best measure available.

Final Remarks

The results show that universities which perform well in term of reducing the environmental impact of their operations, devote time and resources to teaching and research on the environment, and are actively raising awareness about environmental issues (outreach), are the ones that perform well overall.

For the leadership of universities, this means that environmental performance can not be seen as a stand alone item, or a dimension that can be ignored. Rather the effectiveness of management systems that drive performance in mission critical dimensions - teaching, research and outreach - will should also drive better environmental performance. Failing to manage environmental performance can produce significant regulatory risk, but also reputation risk through activism of students and Faculty. As a leader, and as a university practicing what you preach seems to be a mantra for effective leadership.

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