– Guest post by Mike Lizotte, University Sustainability Officer at UNC Charlotte
The University of North Carolina Charlotte has published its first sustainability report, entitled “Thrive”. INSS is featured in the section referred to as our “Social Stake” (picking up on the forward-looking university tagline “Stake Your Claim”). The report can be viewed at: http://issuu.com/unc_charlotte/docs/thrive-sustainability-magazine/1 .
As the cognizant officer overseeing the report and a co-author of some of the articles, I can share some of our thoughts with respect to social sustainability reporting.
The main challenge was how to highlight social sustainability and while demonstrating a holistic approach. A simple answer was to designate stories with obvious contributions and links to social issues. In our case the standouts included in the “Social Stake” include: student teamwork on advanced housing design, service clubs, and overseas projects; a new building to increase access and outreach to our community, and establishing INSS.
But the task was complicated because the “Social Stake” had the most candidate stories, as other sections of the report appear equally dependent on social sustainability. Our “Regional Stake” covers a social research institute, outreach programs in our community, and transit projects that improve access. Our “Ecological Stake” covers a student-led zero-waste project that depends on volunteerism; gardens that provide beauty and peacefulness as well botanical education; and a climate action plan that hinges on leadership, governance and social acceptance. Our “Economic Stake” describes how research centers and academic programs are developing talent in sustainable technologies.
This may be a result of using a format predicated on social utility and acceptance. We chose to tell stories rather than provide data, in hope of reaching the widest audience possible. Stories, as opposed to descriptions, beg for characters, direction, and resolution. They pull the reader in, to be part of the story or at least generate their own means of relating to it.
To bring resolution to this story, the moral is that communicating through stories will elevate social aspects of sustainability. As a natural scientist, I was trained to place emphasis on data and evidence. I haven’t abandoned those standards. But I now see benefits in storytelling to broaden my audience and discuss values and ideas that are not (yet, or ever) data-driven.