Sustainability: definitions and scope in this research

Sustainability has been an important driver in the strategy of organizations to improve the way they do business and to make a positive change for society. This is also the case for the Heijendaal living lab, where different actors aim to improve their way of collaborating to improve the livability and sustainability of the campus. However, there is often confusion around what sustainability actually is. In this chapter we elaborate on this issue, and show how Heijendaal aims to work on a variety of sustainability related topics.


Sustainability and organizations

As organizations continue to grow their business and look for opportunities for collaboration in this current day and age, they increasingly require to integrate sustainability in their way of doing business. This is important to tackle large societal issues such as climate change or improving the livability of our cities. Stakeholders have to start working towards these long term goals, and have to think about the role they play in these societal transformations. This change can be initiated from within organizations when organizations intrinsically value sustainability, but can also be demanded by external stakeholders, for example, suppliers, customers or municipalities who require their partners to be more responsible in their operations. Sustainability involves taking up responsibility as a collective.

What is sustainability?

However, the term sustainability is often used liberally, relating to different things to different stakeholders, often making it difficult to grasp what it is and especially what stakeholders can do to achieve it. When people talk about sustainability, they often think about the environment: for example reducing carbon emissions and reducing climate change. In this handbook, sustainability comprises of three different elements, namely environmental, social and economic values. Collectively, these three values ensure to create a healthy environment for conducting business in the long term, and simultaneously making a societal impact. We will briefly discuss some examples of these three values.

Sustainability has to be pursued within organizations, that traditionally aim to pursue economic values, i.e. maximizing profits while reducing costs and mitigating risk. In the past this meant there was little to no room for investments in environmental and/or social sustainability, as this did not reflect on these goals. However, although it is true that organizations must pursue a healthy financial environment, organizations increasingly see opportunities in combining for example economic and environmental values without losing on profitability.

The environmental value is most commonly linked to urgent global and regional issues we collectively have to address such as climate change and designing livable cities. The main objective is to reduce carbon emission being released into the atmosphere, and for organizations to improve their (raw) material use to become more efficient and reduce waste. Organizations can for example reduce their raw material use, increase their recycling efforts by reusing materials, reduce and/or optimize their transportation or implement sustainable production processes.

Finally, and often underexposed, there is the social element to sustainability, which focusses on the different stakeholders and especially the people involved in organizations. This involves a wide variety of different topics such as creating a safe working environment for your employees, promoting ethical and transparent behavior with and from partners or investing in individual development. In the end it’s all about empowering people along the supply chain, and creating better conditions for people to work and live.

Sustainability at Campus Heijendaal

After Radboud University, Radboudumc and HAN had oriented themselves on the possibilities of creating and developing a living lab, it became clear that there was a lot of potential to increase the sustainable impact of the campus. Some of which was already clear from the beginning, and some benefits would become clear as the living lab would be initiated. Sustainability has been a key driver for fostering the collaboration between the three institutions, as well as to reach out to new and existing partners such as suppliers or the hub. This meant not only economic values were to be taken into consideration, but also the environmental and social values.

An important element of initiating and developing the lab was to fairly distribute the costs and benefits from such a collaboration to promote long-term profitability. One of the main economic values that was included in developing the lab, was the potential to decrease the overall costs of the deliveries to the campus. If the volumes to the hub could be bundled, this would result in less half full trucks and hence increased efficiency, i.e. a reduction in cost. The latter, at least in theory, can be fairly distributed between the institutions, suppliers and hub to improve the long term profitability of deliveries in collaboration with new and existing partners.

At the same time, the environmental impact could be addressed. If goods are bundled, less trucks are required to transport towards and from the campus. This can lead to a sizable reduction of carbon emissions in and around the campus. This is also a perfect example of how both economic and environmental values can be combined. The transportation itself is also an important element to facilitate environmental impact. For example, by electric trucks or city bikes to reduce carbon emissions on the campus. Large amounts of products and services are used each day at the campus, resulting in waste. The packaging waste flow has been examined to determine if and how packaging can be recycled or reused, or how to prevent packaging at all. Addressing these flows and making them more environmentally friendly can therefore make a significant impact in reducing carbon emissions and more efficient material use.

In the context of the Heijendaal living lab, also attention has been paid to the social element. For example by addressing the congestion of trucks going to the campus, they also create a safer environment for the thousands of students, employees and patients visiting the campus by bike, car or on foot. Moreover, this also reduces the amount of noise at the campus, which can have a big impact for those visiting the campus frequently. The lab also aimed to empower stakeholders from the campus, for example students who do research into the living lab, or looking for ways to improve the sustainable purchasing behavior of employees.   

From an “either/or” to a “both/and” mindset

Sustainability is no longer something that “costs money”. It’s about looking for opportunities to fairly distribute both financial and non-financial benefits to those stakeholders involved. By combining and integrating economic, environmental and social values in organizational strategy making across different disciplines, we can start looking for synergies between previously opposing ways of thinking, and including all relevant stakeholders in the process. This way the campus can ensure that all stakeholders involved pay or receive a fair price for their services, while at the same time they can make a substantial impact on the environmental and social efforts towards the Heijendaal living