Developing Expertise and Skills for Future Environmental Leaders

An increasing number of initiatives and programs have been launched by universities, NGOs, business communities, and research institutes to develop more environmental leaders who can contribute to building sustainable societies. These programs are essentially designed to help students or participants develop (1) scientific expertise, (2) the ability to plan solutions, and (3) skills to steer the implementation process. They also provide a platform for dialogues with leading practitioners (MOEJ 2011; CLiGS 2013; Wharton-UPENN 2013). Current understanding of leadership and its relation with environment and sustainability is in the developmental stage and it is inevitable that such understanding will evolve over time (Redekop 2010). Heifetz et al. (2009) assert that leadership needs to be adaptive, and adaptive leadership is crucial for thriving on experimentation and mobilizing people to tackle tough and varying challenges. Various attempts have been made to define environmental leadership or leadership for sustainability, and they can be summed up in the phrase “the ability to mobilize and direct people toward achieving sustainability in a changing world.”

This then leads us to ask what capabilities can be developed to enable people to play a role as environmental leaders. Williams (2010) presents various skills and expertise that qualify people as environmental leaders, such as (1) technical knowledge, (2) facilitation skills, (3) direction setting, (4) securing resources, (5) creativity, (6) developing relationships, (7) making decisions, (8) communication, (9) determination, and (10) mentoring. Thomas (1993) underscores the personal and professional ethics involved in the leadership role in terms of, for example, complying with rules and norms, and putting the public interest first. However, sustainability issues and their management have become so complex that policies and laws cannot necessarily articulate every detail, and the behavior of practitioners can therefore vary. Moral choice constitutes a critical issue, particularly when practitioners encounter situations for which there are no preceding governing norms. It is therefore still a challenge to know how to address ethical, moral, and value judgments in leadership development.

At the Joint Congress of Environmental Leaders Program 2013, the Japanese universities that are currently implementing, or have already implemented, environmental leadership programs at the graduate school level presented their progress and outcomes (Tsukuba University 2013). Representatives of 17 universities in Japan gave presentations, many of which highlighted the features and characteristics of their particular programs. The common elements are summarized as follows:

(1) English language-based, involving non-Japanese students and teaching staff, (2) a cross-sectoral approach addressing the nexus of various interwoven environmental and sustainability issues, (3) an inter-disciplinary curriculum requiring students to learn disciplines other than their major, (4) regional and global features to train students in thinking beyond national borders, (5) development of pragmatic skills, such as communication, writing, and facilitation, (6) internship, (7) partnership with other Japanese and overseas universities, and (8) dialogues with practitioners. The programs are operated primarily with funding from the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), and the Japanese Science and Technology Promotion Agency (JST) for a 5-year duration. Five universities completed their 5-year programs in March 2013. Seven others will complete their programs in March 2014, to be followed by the other five in March 2015. By and large, all the programs are considered to have performed satisfactorily in achieving their stated objective of promoting sustainability science and leadership development in universities.

Nonetheless, it remains a challenge to measure the effectiveness and impacts of such environmental leadership development programs. The universities can of course cite how many students completed their programs and obtained master's or doctoral degrees, and the sectors in which they were employed after graduation. Indeed, such figures are useful indicators of the programs' achievements. However, it will take some time to find out what role the program alumni eventually play as environmental leaders.

The faculty members of universities responsible for the programs are especially concerned about the continuation of the programs, and the associated institutional set-up. All the universities operate under stringent budgets and depend on external resources provided as subsidies by MEXT and JST. Budgets for operating the programs are not yet integrated into universities' core budgets, and it is unlikely that they ever will be. In the past, some universities received subsidies for different but related projects, which took over at least some of the activities in the environmental leadership development program. Many program coordinators in the universities with programs under way or approaching their conclusion are experiencing difficulty in arranging for their programs to be integrated into operations funded by their university's core budget once the 5-year funding by MEXT and JST ceases. It therefore remains to be seen over the coming years where future environmental leadership development programs will take place and how they will evolve. It is undoubtedly a challenge for many universities to find a way of integrating these programs' activities into operations funded by core budgets, or to secure alternative sources of funding for their continuation.

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