Earth Day and Sustainability News

Ashley Thorne

Tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, and colleges are pulling out the stops in celebration. The University of Florida even observed a Lent-like "40 Days of Change" leading up to Earth Day. NAS has been following the rise of the "sustainability" movement on college campuses for the past several years. We’ve found that while “sustainability” sounds like environmental stewardship alone, it in fact encompasses broad political and economic agendas, and is an ideology that is quickly overwhelming higher education. Our writings on the movement can be found in the sustainability section of our website.

To keep our readers up-to-date with current sustainability developments, we regularly round up articles of interest on sustainability in higher education. Not all of the following articles deal strictly with higher ed, but they give a flavor for the mindset among today's "sustainatopians." This week's selection includes news stories on sustainability college rankings, a new master's degree in sustainability, Earth Day's embrace by college students, how schools push students into eco-activism, and 10 tips for reducing your pet's carbon pawprint.

  1. Earth Day Turns 40, Reason
    Ronald Bailey takes a retrospective look at the history of Earth Day, conceived by Sen. Gaylord Nelson:

Obviously, Nelson’s dour pollution predictions did not materialize. We don’t wear gas masks or live in domed cities. Since 1980, ambient concentrations of the six major regulated air pollutants have dropped by 54 percent, while U.S. population grew 34 percent, energy use increased 32 percent, automobile miles nearly doubled, and GDP rose by 126 percent. Specifically, ambient carbon monoxide is down 79 percent; ozone down 25 percent; nitrogen dioxide down 46 percent; sulfur dioxide down 56 percent, particulates down 68 percent.

Of note, one of Nelson’s nine goals for the environmental movement was to “Establish a national environmental education program encompassing pre-school through college.”

  1. For Earth Day, 7 New Rules to Live By, New York Times
    "Technological progress, not nostalgia or asceticism, is the only reliable way for greens’ visions of ‘sustainability’ to be sustained,” writes John Tierney.
  1. As Earth Day Turns 40, Environmental Movement Focuses on Practical Solutions, AZ Central
    Excerpts (emphasis mine):

If anyone is stoking the green fires right now, it's the under-40 crowd, young people, including many high-school and college students, for whom Earth Day has become as much a fixture as Memorial Day.


What's changing are the expectations. For many of these young Americans, the question about whether to protect the environment has been answered. They see it as their obligation to the future, starting with their own. Many don't consider themselves activists. They want real-world ideas, practical solutions that produce results. And growing numbers are choosing career paths based on their beliefs.

"We want to demonstrate that our generation is not going to go away," said Will Greene, a sophomore at Arizona State University who gave up a shot at playing college baseball to pursue a degree in sustainability. "We don't want our future compromised."


Schools are helping steer more young people toward environmental issues, sometimes individually, as with Credo and Greene, and sometimes in more familiar group settings, such as the Envirothon, a national competition that looks a little like a science fair but with a greener tinge. It offers scholarships and prize money to teams that take on contemporary environmental issues.


Green My Parents urges kids to learn about the benefits of Earth-friendly changes, such as switching to low-energy lightbulbs or growing vegetables in a garden. Given those ideas - and a guide to how much money could be saved - the kids can help parents produce results.


Donofrio, the ASU senior, said the core purpose behind Earth Day has evolved from telling people about environmental problems to helping them find ways to take action as a citizen.

  1. Easy Being Green for Students with List of Eco-Friendly Colleges, USA Today
    Princeton Review publishes its 2010-2011 Guide to Green Colleges as prospective students feel they should consider colleges’ commitments to sustainability:

Students today are "sustainability natives" who instinctively make greener choices, says Rachel Gutter, director for the Center for Green Schools at the Green Building Council. They realize the environmental problems they are inheriting and feel empowered to make a change, she says.


College campuses are "poised and positioned" to tackle sustainability because it requires integration of multiple stakeholders, she adds. "There's a kind of integration already on campuses because they're self-contained little cities."

  1. Frustration with Green Rankings Pushes Colleges to Develop Their Own, Chronicle of Higher Education
    Feeling that the documentation process for Sierra magazine’s “Cool Schools” ranking is too time-consuming and arbitrary, sustainability administrators are turning to AASHE’s (the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education) STARS metric system, which allows each college to set its own goals.
  1. An Inconvenient Inventory, Inside Higher Ed, Getting to Green
    A sustainability administrator blogs about how his college is having trouble fulfilling its obligations under the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). He says the greenhouse gas inventory for the campus will show higher numbers for 2009 than it did in 2007. “The simple fact of the matter is that you can't grow your way to zero.” His sentiments resonate with the current “de-growth” idea that we should “find ways to shrink the overall size economy” in the interest of sustainability.
  1. A Decade of Sustainability and Environmentalism on Campus, The Campanil
    Mills College former Recycling Manager Heidi Obermeit: “I would like to see students step up and really make change happen. Students often don’t realize just how much power they have to make a concrete difference on their campus. If students make their voice heard and push for environmental change they can really have a huge impact on environmental policy at Mills."
  1. Master’s in Sustainability Coming to the Midwest, Mother Nature Network
    “Thanks to a $5 million grant, Saint Louis University will be the first school in the Midwest to offer a master's degree in sustainability.”
  2. Business Students to Promote Sustainability, The Crimson White
    Today is Sustainability Day at the University of Alabama. “When people think of going green, they don’t necessarily think of the business school,” Sutton said. “A lot more people have the idea of ‘tree hugger’, which is great in some areas, but at the same time, sustainability is not just for one type of person.”
  1. 10 Simple Steps to Reduce Your Pet’s Carbon Pawprint, RIS Media
    “Use natural and organic pet food” and “eco-friendly cat-litter” among PETCO’s tips for helping your cats and dogs do their part for the environment. After all, we’re all Earthlings.
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