Faculty Blog


What gets measured, gets managed

“What gets measured, gets managed” is a quote I’m sure many of you who are in business, finance, and management have heard before (and quite possibly to the point of nausea).  As trite and too oft-used as some of us may hold this phrase, we must admit there is a large element of truth to it.  Sure, there are complex concepts that really can’t be quantified - such as love or a zeal for learning - but hard numbers and comprehensive benchmarking are one of the most effective starts to understanding how a person or organization is grappling with a new initiative or project.  From this data, we can start to tease out the patterns and nuances that will inform us how to change and improve distinct actions; we might even develop a greater appreciation of some things that can’t be measured. 

Believe it or not, I’m not talking about academic grades and in-class evaluations - I’m talking about environmental, economic, and social sustainability.

For so many decades, the environmental and conservation movements have been rooted in the wish to live lightly, or to do less harm, or to value nature.  The first Earth Days and Arbor Days did much to raise awareness and rally those already on board with living more sustainably.  Yet these lovely and earnest ideals are also unfortunately nebulous, and seem to have proven ineffective in recent years as we advocate for changes in collective behaviors, policies, and knowledge needed for avoiding energy and ecological systems failures.  Something else is required to push good intentions into realistic, meaningful actions.  That something else, for the modern sustainability movement, has been numbers and data.  Through research, trends, and modeling, sustainability practitioners and scientists have been able to measure and then prove how resource conservation and protection, realigned economic and governance systems, and community collaboration can benefit this world in the long-run.   

One of the things I love about working at Fenn is that this institution values, at its very core, doing the right thing.  My fellow faculty and staff know what’s just and fair, and behave accordingly without set policies or directives.  Talk about nebulous and immeasurable - in a good way!  When it comes to acting sustainably and responsibly, Fenn has been doing a lot of great things over the years.  From purchasing EcoLogo-certified cleaning and paper products to managing the wetland habitats on our campus to fostering a sense of place and stewardship in class and through community service, Fenn has long known what it takes to live more responsibly on this planet.  And now, it’s time to measure and track those behaviors, so we can celebrate our good deeds and plan for future improvements.

Beginning in the summer of 2014, Fenn began a sustainability self-assessment using the recently-released Protostar measurement tool.  Protostar is a rating tool that is modeled after the STARS assessment, which is used by nearly 700 colleges and universities throughout the world to track their sustainable behaviors; a number of faculty from NAIS member schools (most notably Berkshire and Hotchkiss) took the STARS framework and modified it to be more applicable to secondary and middle schools and useful to both boarding and day schools.  Protostar asks a participating school to evaluate the presence of sustainability in actions and policies in the realms of education (both formal and co-curricular), campus operations, and administration/strategy/planning.  Based on the number of efforts and the degree to which a school acts in those efforts, a school is given both an aggregate score and subscores for each of the three main areas.  

With the help of the Academic Department Chairs, many members of the Business Office, the Facilities crew, the Admissions folks, the Technology Department, our Service Learning guru, and the Diversity team, Fenn has nearly completed its data collecting phase.  This truly was a campus-wide effort, and I’d like to thank my colleagues for digging into this so readily.  We are really proud of the results so far, and we look forward to gaining recognition for those last few credits we have yet to calculate!  Already, some areas for quick and easy improvements have made themselves clear.  The areas that are going to be more complex and take more time to address have already gotten a few of us asking both high-level and very specific questions; the conversations that have been generated by this process are most impressive and very exciting.  After all, the quote is “what gets measured, gets managed”, not “measure for measurement’s sake."  What we do with our data and numbers in the coming years is the important part.

Stay tuned for more detailed information in the spring, when the report is verified and released.  We look forward to sharing our learnings and numbers with the greater Fenn community and with the broader independent school world, as we strive to solve ecological problems together and seek collective understanding of our natural world.

Posted by in Cameren Cousins on Wednesday February, 25, 2015


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