When I think about sustainability, what immediately comes to mind is green.  Green — as a concept and not just a color — dominates every conversation.  

As I specifically consider leadership of a theological school, Green raises so many questions. 

Questions about ecology and the environment: Is my campus kind to the environment? Are our buildings green or at least getting greener? Are our behaviors on campus environmentally responsible? At the very least, do we recycle?

And always, questions about money: Are our budgets balanced and our financial forecasts realistic? Where does our current financial path lead? Is our cash flow sufficient? How sustainable are our finances?

As leaders, we need our institutions to be sustainable, both financially sustainable and environmentally sustainable.

However, in order for an institution to have a truly effective sustainability plan in place, we must expand our definitions of sustainability: sustainability cannot be solely about the green. We must take into account other assets and issues as well.

In articles published in Duke University’s Faith & Leadership blog, Laura Nichol and L. Gregory Jones offer compelling arguments for institutional strategy regarding long-term sustainability. In addition to financial capital, Nichol argues that three other forms of capital — network, service, and intellectual capital — are vital as well. Jones adds a fifth form of capital to Nichol's list: human capital.

If we use Nicol's and Jones' ideas as we consider our institution’s long-term sustainability, we must think beyond the green (financial capital), and consider the following as well:

  • Our personnel and our leadership (human capital)
  • Our networks and partners (network capital)
  • Our institution's intelligence and innovation (intellectual capital)
  • Our service and our programs (service capital)

These areas represent "capital assets" that a school brings to the table when sustainability is discussed. So make your sustainability plan green, but not just green. 

For more information:

If you are affiliated with an In Trust Center member institution, sign in and read this In Trust article from Summer 2007: "Sustainability and Theological Education."

For more information about sustainable design for institutions, see Duke University’s Faith & Leadership website, specifically "How to Design a Sustainable Institution," by L. Gregory Jones, and Laura Nicol's "Rethinking capital--it's more than money."


Image credit: Matt Forster