Sustainability… not just about recycling!

By Darcie Folsom, Senior Trainer 


If you’re anything like me, you hear the word ‘sustainability’ and you probably think of recycling, renewable energy, and saving the world. And although that’s all true, now, when I think about sustainability, I’m thinking about it through the lens of bystander intervention and resetting social norms. So, I guess the ‘saving the world’ part still holds true.

When gearing up to implement any kind of prevention program, we have to plan for sustainability and not leave it as an afterthought. It’s no secret that programs come and go because lack of interest, resources, or accountability and being forethoughtful instead of reactionary can increase the likelihood of our success.

In Is Sustainability Possible? A review and commentary on empirical studies of program sustainability, Mary Ann Scheirer shares that there are five important factors that can influence sustainability of a program:

  1. A program can be modified over time
  2. A “champion” is present to foster continuation
  3. A program fits with its organization’s mission and procedures
  4. Benefits to participants are readily perceived
  5. Stakeholders in other organization provide support1

All of these factors are essential. Our prevention programs should evolve and grow; this is why adaptation and tailoring is so crucial to ensure everyone feels like they can be a part of this movement. The idea of a champion being present showcases why having a team approach is key; if a particular person who is spearheading the program leaves an organization, there will always be another champion to continue the work. It’s probably no surprise that if a program aligns with an organization’s/institution’s/school’s/community’s mission AND people can see the benefits, it’s easier to sustain the level of commitment from key stakeholders. Lastly, if those key stakeholders are involved and providing support, they lend credence to the program and they model behavior for the whole community, emphasizing that truly no one has to do everything but everyone can do something.

Every program has a shelf-life which is why sustainability is vital. Building infrastructure like new policies, new traditions, and strong social norms that say violence will not be tolerated and everyone has to do their part is what has the lasting impact. It’s not about recycling old ideas, but renewing the investment in our efforts and thinking about permanent change.

Because let’s be honest, we want new social norms to stick around… that’s how we are going to change culture.



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