Best Practices for Designing an Institution's Sustainability Website

Best Practices for Designing an Institution's Sustainability Website

This page provides guidance in creating or redesigning an institution's sustainability website. It is based upon examination of over a hundred sites, and was prepared in response to inquiries from our members and others. We welcome comments and feedback.

10 Tips

  1. Select a top-level domain that is easy to remember - ex: http://www.duke.edu/sustainability
  2. Provide users with the ability to search the site.
  3. Provide a navigation pathway at the top of every page, showing each step back to the home page (like the light blue bar near the top of this page)
  4. Avoid using high-level links for topics that fit under another category; i.e., maintain a simple, logical hierarchy. The key to a successful, user-friendly website is a clear, well-organized navigation system.
  5. If information fits in multiple categories, link to it from multiple pages.
  6. A sustainability website should incorporate information about more than just the "environment"; you might include, for example, activities related to diversity, campus labor rights, and policies related to manufacturing of apparel bearing the institution's logo.
  7. If the site offers resources, don't spend time reinventing the wheel - link to existing resource sites wherever possible.
  8. Include links to sustainability-related sites maintained by other campus offices (e.g., facilities, transportation); link directly to their sustainability pages.
  9. Headers and navigation link titles should be as clear as possible so users can easily understand where a link will take them.
  10. Include contact names and information for key sustainability people responsible for the website and/or each sustainability initiative listed.

Page Navigation

To achieve a clear, well-organized navigation system, AASHE recommends using some combination of the top-level navigation links listed below.

  • About - can contain information about who maintains the sustainability website (usually a sustainability committee or office); definition(s) of sustainability; programs administered by the sustainability committee or office; sustainability committee members and/or staff; sustainability committee meeting minutes; etc.

  • News & Events - can include a calendar of sustainability related activities on campus; links to press releases and news stories about the institution's sustainability initiatives; and other news postings.

  • Governance - may contain an introductory letter or statement from the president, chancellor, or provost describing the institution's commitment to sustainability; information about how sustainability is incorporated into the institution's major guiding documents such as its mission statement, strategic plan and master plan; campus policies and statements related to sustainability; and other items related to university governance and decision-making.

  • Academics - contains a description of the institution's academic programs, courses, major research efforts, and centers related to sustainability as well as information about sustainability across the curriculum initiatives. May be called "Education and Research."

  • Operations - can contain descriptions of campus sustainability initiatives related to: energy, waste, transportation, dining, procurement, social responsibility, building, water, cleaning, investment, land use, etc. Each page should include information on past achievements as well as projects currently underway and future goals. To the extent possible, provide a contact person for each topic or activity.

  • Campus Culture - contains a description of non-formal education initiatives to create a culture of sustainability on campus. Example topics include student life initiatives; behavior change initiatives; Eco-Reps and similar outreach programs; sustainability pledges; etc.

  • Community - example topics in this category include community partnerships; service-learning; extension programs; public outreach initiatives; and other information about the institution's efforts to benefit its community.

  • Publications- may include campus sustainability assessments; sustainability committee annual reports; newsletter archives; student papers related to campus sustainability; other publications.

  • Get Involved - contains information on student organizations related to sustainability; how to join the campus sustainability committee and other related committees; campus listserves on sustainability; tips for sustainable living; and any other information for how people can get involved in sustainability on campus.

  • Links - link to relevant campus sustainability organizations and resources

  • Contact- include contact information for the individuals who maintain the website, including full mailing address, email, and phone. You might also provide contact information for key sustainability officers and/or other leaders on campus.

The above top-level navigation links are broad enough to cover just about everything you'd want to include in an institution's sustainability website. Institutions whose sustainability offices administer many programs may wish to add an additional top-level heading for Programs.

Example Websites

  • University of Florida - http://www.sustainability.ufl.edu
    This site uses top-level navigation links very similar to those suggested above. In addition, the site is located at a high-level domain and includes a search function. Full contact information is provided on each page

  • Duke University - http://sustainability.duke.edu/
    This site uses easy to follow top-level navigation links and includes a navigation pathway above each page. The site also has a search function and provides full contact information on every page.

  • University at Buffalo - http://buffalo.edu/sustainability
    UB offers a great example methodology for designing your site. To develop the "UB Green" sustainability portal, staff began by identifying the needs of different audience types, inventorying their existing content to develop a comprehensive information architecture, and developing a content strategy that informed the building and design of the site. The site was built using a content management system that empowers staff, with only a few hours of training, to change and update content. The site then stays fresh and dynamic to ensure that visitors are receiving the most up to date news and information, and that the university’s sustainability message is always current.

For other examples, please see AASHE's comprehensive list of over 200 campus sustainability websites (AASHE members-only): http://www.aashe.org/resources/campus_links.php