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Sustainability in the workplace: it’s everybody’s job

Prof. Nick Braithwaite, Executive Dean, STEM Faculty and Vice-Chancellor’s Executive Sponsor for Sustainability shares what sustainability means for The Open University (OU).

How can we learn to thrive in the workplace whilst ensuring our actions contribute to a safe and just planet?

Having been The Open University’s VCE sponsor for Sustainability for the last year, with Covid and COP26 featuring in the national and international news, it has been interesting to see the OU – and society at large – shift to an understanding that Sustainability is something we must all concern ourselves with, and is therefore, everybody's job.

As many of us spend significant amounts of our life in paid employment, it is critical that we consider the workplace as a key foundation for delivering sustainability.

The Open University promotes principles of sustainability allied to environmental and social justice. We interpret sustainability as meeting our needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.

Embedding sustainability in everything we do

At the OU we are committed to working together to identify the sustainability impacts of our work and to prioritise activities that will have the greatest positive impact.

Our new strategy, “Learn & Live”, includes a sustainability goal demonstrating our commitment to social and environmental justice. This aims to embed sustainability through all that we do.

Over the next five years, we aim to explore and add to our collective understanding of what it means to work sustainably. How can the OU ensure organisational longevity whilst meeting the needs of our current workforce? How can our response to the emerging post-pandemic world of work create opportunities for us to deliver our mission in a socially and environmentally sustainable way, which benefits current and future employees?

The world of work is being radically disrupted by technological and social innovations and the recent pandemic has accelerated some of the existing underlying trends: hybrid working; cross-boundary collaboration; disruption and change. We aim to learn how our workplace and our working practices can evolve to be fit for a sustainable future. We need to get this right to ensure the credibility of the Sustainability messages in our influential educational activities.

Integrating sustainability into working practices

To achieve this, we will utilise an Environmental Management System and address sustainability in unit planning and decision making at all levels. A Sustainability Steering group and a Sustainability Coordination group have recently been set up, and our sustainability network will expand over the coming months to include representation from across the OU so that we can successfully embed sustainable practices into our ways of working.

Sustainability connects to, and can be woven into, all our different roles, areas, and disciplines. No matter what an employee’s role or status, we can collaborate to challenge the status quo – sustainability is everybody's job, and every team can identify something they can do to create a more just society and safeguard our extraordinary environment.

Prof. Nick Braithwaite
Executive Dean, STEM Faculty and Vice-Chancellor's Executive Sponsor for Sustainability


Our role as a learning partner

The Open University works with more than 2,800 organisations to deliver learning to upskill and reskill staff.

The challenge of Sustainability in the workplace is a challenge shared by our employer partners, and business change requires new skills and new ways of thinking. Many of our programmes help employees learn the skills to help their organisations transition to more sustainable practices – and the flexibility of our learning allows this to be done with minimal disruption to work and personal lives.

One example is our Climate Change: Transforming your Organisation for Sustainability microcredential.

Starting 28 March, learners will gain skills and tools to be a catalyst for change to transform your organisation for sustainability.

Delivered completely online, via our social learning platform FutureLearn, the 10-week course will help employees develop the knowledge, skills, and confidence to lead change for sustainability in your organisation. By the end they will be able to:

  • Add sustainability know-how to their skills set
  • Gain practical skills to transform your organisation’s response to the climate and ecological crisis, whatever their level, role, or sector
  • Learn how to influence others and identify quick wins for transformative change
  • Develop a sustainability action plan to reimagine and transform an aspect of your organisation for sustainability

Contact the BDU team


What are microcredentials?

Open University microcredentials are professional development short courses designed by world-class OU academics to help learners quickly build in-demand skills and knowledge to stay up to date with relevant and emerging practices in growing industries.  

Completed in just 10-12 weeks, they provide a perfect balance of academic excellence and workplace relevance, with a strong focus on immediate skills application. With more than 20 courses to choose from spanning subjects including business and leadership, computing and digital technologies and online teaching, they can support workforces of any size around the globe to upskill or reskill, adapt to modern day challenges, and ultimately help your organisation get ahead.

Find out more 

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