Dave Gorman

Dave Gorman is the first-ever Director for Social Responsibility and Sustainability at The University of Edinburgh, a post he has held for 9 years.

Dave and his team support the University to deliver on its commitment to make a positive impact on the world, meet climate targets, consider human rights in activities, and innovate to generate positive social and environmental change in society.

Big Idea(s) for Advancing Sustainability in Higher Education

We have all had to adjust to how we are working over the last two years – any insights that are game changers for you?

I think the last two years of dealing with Covid has taught me three things:

Firstly, that whilst we can indeed work 100% remote and virtual, we shouldn’t. Universities are places for ideas and innovation; those ideas flow many times from the serendipitous conversations and can be hard to replicate if life is a series of Teams calls.

Secondly, I learned what a fundamentally important role Universities can play in society and during crises. Our university was doing everything from fundamental vaccine and virus research, to 3-D printing of scarce masks, to emergency community grants, to diverting surplus iPads and laptops to families in need to allow education to continue remotely.

Finally, I learned, just like after the 2008 financial crash – that we can pivot very quickly when we need to and when an emergency is in front of us – so how can we use that knowledge to make the same case for the climate crisis?

Leadership and Inspiration

What does excellent leadership look like to you?

For me, an excellent leader knows and understands the context they work in. That means actively scanning the horizon for emerging issues, knowing their organisation inside out, and understanding their local area and the key stakeholders. A leader has a vision of where we need to go and a sense of how to get there. They know how organisational change happens, and how to communicate well and persuade. They own decisions but share the credit and support their staff fully whilst expecting high standards and strong performance.

Sustainability leaders need to create spaces for people to innovate and collaborate, and to ensure they have a measure of resilience – change is hard! Finally, an excellent leader has a certain humility, knowing their limits, sharing praise widely, admitting when they don’t know, and they must always keep on learning…

Tenacity and Perseverance

The Climate Emergency we face feels like the greatest challenge of our lifetime – what keeps you inspired to keep working at it?

It can be hard to keep trying – I’ve been trying to alert society to the urgency of climate change for 30 years, and the IPCC reports just keep coming and emissions keep on rising. But there are plenty of signs of hope. Most people do want to tackle climate change, technology and innovation are moving apace, and as the IPCC says, we have all the tools we need to tackle this crisis.

More fundamentally for me, it’s about more than technology and policies, it’s about values and fairness. I have children, I want a better world for them. I don’t want to be the generation that knew but did nothing. I know that climate change is fundamentally an issue of justice, I believe we owe nature the right to exist, and it’s abundantly clear those most affected by climate did the least to cause it. So, when I am struggling, I think of my children, I think about nature, I think about fairness, and I think about the legacy I want to leave – and I go again.

Fun Fact

What is your favourite activity in your spare time?

I love nature and the outdoors and living in Scotland there is plenty to see though I often don’t make the time for it that I should. I did my first ever solo wild camping at the age of 52 last summer – I learned that I love it, that 40 pounds on a backpack for 16 miles is hard work and I especially learned why it is that most others I saw were under 40 years of age! This summer I will return with lighter gear and a little more humility.