Sustainability and Operations Management: Warrabura State School, Education Queensland

Waraburra State School is a primary school located in Gracemere in Central Queensland Region.  The school is serving children from Prep to Year 6 and has been operational for three decades now.  Sustainability is critical to the future of the school and the relevant stakeholders but the institution has not initiated a comprehensive sustainability program/framework within the school.  Leonard (2018) defines operational sustainability as “a method of evaluating whether a business can maintain existing practices without placing future resources at risk.”  Waraburra State School has made some steps towards sustainability by being part of the Green Lane Diary which is an education program, aligned to the national curriculum for years 3-7 (Green Cross Australia, 2018).  The program entails use of diaries by children to record action such as biodiversity, energy, water, waste among others and implement practical actions towards conserving the environment.  Despite these efforts, the school needs a sustainability program to ensure security of the future. The school does not have a sustainability program which validates the McKinsey survey that only 30% of organizations actively seek opportunities to invest in sustainability (Bonini, Görner & Jones, 2010). Waburra State School needs to identify the barriers to implementation of a sustainability program and identify ways of overcoming these barriers.

There are a number of reasons why the school has not adopted a comprehensive sustainability program/framework even after 30 years of existence.  Firstly, there is lack of collaboration between Waraburra State School and other organizations.  Solving the social and environment sustainability issues cannot be solved by the institution acting alone.  There are numerous benefits associated with partnership or collaboration with other organization that include innovation, achievement of sustainability goals, gaining of skills and resources and additional credibility (Gray & Stites, 2013).  The school has failed to foster any formidable partnership that would compel and assist in achieving sustainability and developing a sustainability framework.  The school needs a transformative partnership where they aim at empowering the members of the society and meeting the objectives of all the partners. 

Cost is the second impediment to the school’s adoption of a sustainability framework/program.  Any institution aims at reducing its operational costs and introducing a sustainability program would go against this principle.  The issue of costs can be looked at various angles.  In the internal capital allocation decisions, the institution lacks the proper mechanisms to value the benefits of sustainability (Perera & Putt del Pino, 2013).  The school is unable to quantify the cost of water risks or energy on its supply chain.  On the other hand, the school does not have the metrics to compute the external environmental costs thus omitting it all together in decision making.  The situation is accentuated by the budget constraints the school has to manage to provide the children with quality education. 

The third impediment to the school’s adoption of a sustainability framework/program is lack of an effective system design.  Andersson, Crafoord, Nauclér & Rosenfield, (2017) noted that the key driver of growth for any offering is when an institution has “the right design, at the right price point, that is driving sustainability and customer experience in a demonstrable way.” The only way of building operational sustainability is thinking of the future and having the capability to innovate. Kilian, Sarrazin & Seitz (2016) notes there is power in design thinking which builds customer experience which in turn creates value for the business. Waraburra State School does not have the internal capacity to develop a sustainable system design, neither has the institution procured an external vendor to assist in developing a sustainable framework.  There is a challenge of identifying the appropriate suppliers that match the institution needs that will ensure sustainability as this is cumbersome and also costly. 

Sustainability is viewed from three facets: economic, social and environmental, which are commonly referred to as the three pillars of sustainability or the triple bottom line (Lemons, Westra & Goodland, 2013). Economic sustainability is the ability of an economy or an organization to produce a particular level of production indefinitely. Environmental sustainability is the ability of an organization to maintain a particular level of natural resource extraction rates and environmental quality indefinitely.  Social sustainability is the capacity of a social system such as an organization to function at a specified level of harmony and social wellbeing indefinitely.  Sustainability is very important across all industries and sustainability concerns have been a major driver for global organizations.  Sustainable operation management is critical is the development of sustainable global supply chains to meet the needs of stakeholders in terms of responsiveness and cost (Gunasekaran & Irani, 2014).  Previous research has found the importance of teaching the ethics of sustainability in schools as this was critical in their careers and provided a framework for thinking about sustainable practices in both their personal and professional lives (Biedenweg, Monroe & Oxarart, 2013).  The primary importance behind sustainability is to secure the future economically, environmentally and socially.  Education for sustainable development (ESD) in schools has increased academic performance in Australia and other countries compared to schools without and also increases the relevant of learning content for the schools with ESD (Laurie, Nonoyama-Tarumi, Mckeown & Hopkins, 2016).  The improved academic performance is associated with assisting the students in recognizing their roles in the society and more engagement with the current global conditions. 

Waraburra State School needs to adjust their operations to enhance the implementation of a sustainable program or framework.  First is to deal with the challenges of service design or unavailability of a partner/supplier. One of the valuable vendors is McKinsey who can provide the appropriate design for the school to achieve a sustainable framework. McKinsey employs evidence-based practices to develop innovative and sustainable ways of approaching operations. For instance, the organization can assist in proper waste management that will ensure minimum impact on the environment as well as cost reduction. According to Education Queensland, the proper procurement process needs to be followed when outside vendors are sought for any services in the schools. The basic requirements of engaging any contractors for the schools in Queensland is that there should be a formal contract and there needs to be a supplier panel (Queensland Government, n.d.a). The Queensland education department has set the procurement process in such a way that the schools in the region get value for money. The criteria set aside by the government of Queensland in screening the suppliers is adequate for procuring the desired vendor or partner such as McKinsey. 

In order for the school to adopt a sustainable program for the school, they need to have a high risk appetite. As noted earlier, Waraburra State School has not adopted a sustainability due to its inability to quantify sustainability associated with society or environment.  Notes that according the enterprise risk management framework, the benefits of having a high risk appetite is the ability to pursue innovative initiatives that come with benefits such as better/improved student outcomes (Queensland Government n.d.b).  The innovations adopted as a way of ensuring sustainability provide outcomes that are better than the status quo.  The school needs to adopt the enterprise risk management framework that constitutes: targeting the risks emerging from the operation environments, use of structured processes to assess the risks, identification of the trend for the risks and opportunities, provision of risk assurance, governing the risks and finally assess the risk appetite to determine what can be accepted or not. 

The adoption of the performance improvement and accountability framework will assist the institution to adopt a sustainable program. Queensland Government (n.d.c) noted that “all staff are accountable for performance improvement and the framework is designed to help staff better understand how their work contributes to student and customer outcomes.  The framework only asks for action as lack of it would lead to no change.  Waraburra State School, has previously engaged in activities that are meant to conserve the environment but more needs to be done, especially on programs that educate the children on sustainability.  Better sustainability children outcomes can be achieved through continuous improvement, performance and accountability. Accountability is the most important aspect for developing a sustainability program as all the personnel in the institution are responsible of ensuring there is a sustainability and its implemented as opposed to leaving the decision to the c-suite.  There needs to be a culture shift for the school personnel by instilling a sense of accountability.

Waraburra State School needs to implement the evidence framework as evidence is critical in making insightful decisions.  Queensland Government (n.d.d) developed the process of building better evidence that includes practice and innovation, evaluation, data and analysis and research. Sustainability programs cannot be approached blindly and therefore it is necessary to have innovation that will generate reliable evidence.  Use of ad hoc sustainable programs are bound to fail as they lack statistics to back their suitability.  Queensland Government (n.d.e) went further to note that better performance insights such as individual data are critical to improvement in early years’ outcomes.  Proper and adequate assessment of information collected from the field needs to be carried out to determine the best teaching practices of the subject matter. 

A value stream map is an essential tool that can be used by Warrabura State School in ensuring sustainability of the financial operations. Through the use of Value Stream Mapping (VSM), the school can identify the flow of financial information and processes which will enable to organization to see the delays and laws in the financial processes. There are three ideas from lean manufacturing field that are helpful in reducing waste and improving efficiency: “focusing on external customers, exploiting chain reactions, and drilling down to expose the root causes of problems” (Dobbs, Pohl & Wolff, 2006). The school can employ the principles of lean manufacturing in developing the value stream map for the finance department. For instance, the school can assess the account receivable lifecycle and improve all the relevant processes such as customer payment, payment receipt and invoicing. Areas of strengths and weakness need to be identified for improvement purposes. The account receivable processes can be automated which can result to reduction of lead times, work consistency and saving for the school.

Lastly, the department of education in Queensland provides environmental sustainability that basically involves the management of resources around the school.  The focus on environmental sustainability by Queensland Government is primarily on energy efficiency, water efficiency and waste management (Queensland Government, n.d.f).  Energy efficiency can be achieved through use of efficient lighting such as use of bulbs with lower watts.  The best way to ensure water efficiency is through tracking it in order to determine the points of water wastage and leaks. Smart water meters are essential in ensuring water efficiency.  The school can reduce the cost and environmental impact associated with waste through recycling and reuse. 

All in all, Waraburra State School currently does not have a comprehensive sustainable program/framework.  Compared to other schools across the globe, they have adopted the program in a bid to protect the future through educating the children. Bonini (2011) puts emphasis on the need to understand the impact of their operations to the entire value chain other than on specific parts such as impact on carbon emissions on human rights. The main challenges Waraburra State School face with regard to implementing the sustainable program include lack of collaboration, cost and lack of effective system designs.  Implementation of the sustainable program has benefits in school such as improved outcomes, engagement and participation, preservation of the future and sustainability of the three pillars. All these challenges can be remedied through procuring the services of a reputable firm such as McKinsey, enterprise risk management framework, performance improvement and accountability framework, and evidence framework.

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