THE FIVE FACES OF SUSTAINABILITY

Financial Sustainability. The concept of financial sustainability is obvious: you need financial fuel to keep the engine running. You may need money to keep certain project aspects going, such as travel to service sites, medical supplies for patients, training materials for attendees, and incentives for research participants. Multiple financial sustainability options exist and include, but are not limited to, special events, fee-for-service, membership fees, grants, direct mail, planned giving, investment income, and phone-a-thons.

Structural Sustainability. Structural sustainability borrows the notion from engineering that projects should be rooted in permanence. When applied to grant projects, this means that infrastructure, systems, and procedures must be in place in order for services to be delivered and received in a particular setting. In some instances, you will already have these elements in place, such as access to the target population, service sites in the community, a means for communicating regularly with stakeholders, institutional policies to guide training in research conduct, an established database, validated survey instruments, processes for collecting data, a ready supply of volunteers, and laboratory equipment. In other cases, you will need to develop these elements so that the project can be implemented as planned. Regardless of whether the elements came into existence before or during the granting period, structural sustainability means describing the extent to which they will exist beyond the conclusion of the grant.

Social Sustainability. Social sustainability focuses on people, examining the humanistic benefits that will continue to accrue beyond the end of the granting period. Benefits may extend to direct and indirect audiences and vary by type of grant (e.g., research, service delivery, training). For instance, longer-term benefits experienced by a direct audience of scholarship/fellowship winners may include acceptance into highly competitive graduate schools and career placements. International travel grantees may increase appreciation for other cultures and for their place as global citizens. Families in sub-Saharan Africa may gain long-lasting insecticide treated nets for malaria prevention.

Technological Sustainability. For some grant projects it may be necessary to purchase technology to implement and monitor proposed activities. Technological sustainability describes the extent to which technology—such as equipment, instrumentation, smart TVs, laptops, tablets, software, databases, and apps—will continue to be used, maintained, repaired, and replaced after the grant ends. Imaginably, once a conduct database has been purchased, it will become the institution’s principal management tool for administrators and officers to use for collecting and reporting data on stalking, threats, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and physical violence. To further strengthen students’ research and writing skills, perhaps use of laptops will be expanded to additional sections of 6th grade English as well as to all sections of 7th grade English. Maybe plans are in place for the confocal laser scanning microscope to be used in the future by other researchers in the chemistry department as well as disciplinary colleagues in biology, geology, and materials science, and with opportunities for inter-institutional collaboration with scientific counterparts at nearby universities.

Environmental Sustainability. Environmental sustainability considers long-term impacts to your natural surroundings, including the land, water, and air. Methodological choices during the grant period can influence the sustainability of our natural environmental in subtle and in significant ways. For instance, a construction project may install large windows to allow in plenty of natural light and install special roofing to reduce internal heating and cooling loads. A research project may use ground penetrating radar to map archaeological features rather than physically disturbing a historical site. A service delivery project might collect gently-used professional attire to redistribute to jobseekers from disadvantaged backgrounds, thus diverting tons of clothing from landfills. An outreach initiative might recruit citizen scientists to help preserve ash trees by running an emerald ash borer trapping program. As part of an educational program that promotes healthy lifestyles, children might learn to get outside, grow their own garden, and eat fresh fruits and vegetables. A training program might show farmers best management practices to reduce soil erosion.

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