Sustainability News: September 2010

Ashley Thorne

“The university's philosophy has really been focused on sustainability,” Wake Forest’s residence life dean Donna McGalliard recently said. “And that it's not just a fad or a trend.” An Arizona State University reporter echoed her: “The sustainability slogans and ‘green’ behaviors of today are not a fad, but rather a way of life that is becoming part of the collective social consciousness.”

Is sustainability just a fad? Or has it become ingrained in our culture? Take a look at these 14 recent articles on sustainability in higher education and judge for yourself.

This issue includes the following: 

  • The Illinois governor’s declaration that “green” thinking and acting are “what universities and community colleges are all about”
  •  Wake Forest’s public monitoring of students’ energy and water consumption
  • Recurring insistence that sustainability is not a fad
  • A new liberal arts/sustainability degree at ASU
  • Indiana University’s fall semester sustainability theme
  • Dartmouth College’s failure to retain sustainability directors
  • Arguments over what “sustainable agriculture” means 

For context on the sustainability movement in higher education, read about NAS’s research at the bottom of this page.

  1. Quinn, UI Sign Sustainability Agreement, The News-Gazette
    The University of Illinois and Governor Pat Quinn At the signing: "I think this is the challenge of our time," Quinn said, "to have a 'green' way of thinking and a 'green' way of acting. And that's what universities and community colleges are all about."
  2. UI Works Towards Increasing Academic Sustainability, The Daily Iowan
    The University of Iowa’s certificate of sustainability is in its second year; its sustainability “living-learning community” is just starting out, aiming to make sure students can “define what it means to be a sustainable student and citizen.”
  3. New South Hall on Campus Uses Latest Technology in “Sustainability”, Winston-Salem Journal
    The newest dorm building at Wake Forest projects students’ energy use on large monitors. The residence life staff will do “educational programming in the building to discuss and suggest ways to reduce consumption in every day routines such as unplugging cell phone chargers when not in use, turning out lights when leaving a room, and not running water while brushing teeth.” 

    Residence life dean Donna McGalliard: “Sustainability is not just a fad or passing trend.” 
  1. New environmental studies degree marries liberal arts with science, ASU News
    Arizona State University will offer a new B.A. degree in Earth and Environmental Studies. The article’s author writes, “The sustainability slogans and ‘green’ behaviors of today are not a fad, but rather a way of life that is becoming part of the collective social consciousness.”  

    “We know there is a demand for this,” said Kelin Whipple, professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, who lead [sic] the charge to pass the new degree. 
  1. IU Campus Improves Carbon Footprint, Indiana Daily Student
    Indiana University’s College of Arts and Sciences fall theme is “Sustainability: Thriving on a Small Planet,” which aims to “expose all students and faculty to the idea.”  
  1. New Resource: Teaching the Concepts of Sustainable Building to All Students, AASHE
    Second Nature and the U.S. Green Building Council have a new publication, “Advancing Education for Sustainability: Teaching the Concepts of Sustainable Building to All Students,” which “provides a set of core sustainable building concepts, examples of institutions that are successfully teaching their students about sustainability, and recommends steps that higher education institutions could take to provide all students with the knowledge and skills to create a just and sustainable future.” 
  1. SOU Takes Sustainability to Another Level, Ashland Daily Tidings
    Southern Oregon University opts to measure itself using the STARS rating system. See “Dancing with the Stars,” at
  2. Office of the Provost Invites Applications for the Fellow of Sustainability Studies Position, GMU
    George Mason University is seeking a tenured faculty member to be a sustainability fellow who will help implement sustainability programs into majors, minors, certificates, and general education. 
  1. Unable to Sustain Sustainability, Dartblog
    Dartmouth College looks to hire yet another sustainability director. Couldn’t the money be better spent? Is this just an effort on the part of the College to “be fashionable”? 
  1. Rating America’s Greenest Colleges, Fast Company
    Schools at the top of sustainability rankings have three things in common: “an overall commitment to environmental issues, a sustainability-minded curriculum, and students that are dedicated to all things green.”
  2. News on College Sustainability Efforts, The Energy Collective
    An update on 10 colleges’ environmental efforts over the summer. 
  1. Colleges Investing Heavily in Solar,
    “Sustainability is an important selling point for colleges and universities. Students are not only demanding educational programs around renewable energy, they're encouraging their own institutions to ‘walk the walk,’ and install systems on campus.” 
  1. ‘Green’ Careers Offered Through USF School of Sustainability, Tampa Bay Online
    Students at the University of Southern Florida can now get a degree in “Global Sustainability” and prepare for “green collar” jobs. 
  1. Unhappiness Continues at Iowa State’s Sustainable-Agriculture Center, Chronicle of Higher Education
    The agriculture world is distracted by arguments over interpretations of “sustainable.”  

Background: When NAS began examining the rise of the “sustainability” movement on college campuses several years ago, we wanted to understand two things: what sustainability is and what it means for higher education. We learned that sustainability is a benign-sounding term that seems to mean environmental stewardship but piggybacks on multiple non-environmental ideas such as population control, affirmative action, gay rights, and anti-capitalism.   

For colleges and universities, commitment to “sustainability” has become a matter of competition (especially now that Princeton Review has come out with a “Top Green Colleges” rating) similar to yesteryear’s race for campus diversity. Colleges have embraced sustainability’s multi-faceted meaning. In 2007 the University of Delaware  conducted a curricular residence life program to correct the attitudes of first-year students in regard to race, sexuality, and American society. It turned out that the program billed itself as an education in “sustainability” and “citizenship.” One curricular document said that “sustainability provides a viable conduit for citizenship education and the development of a particular values system.” Imparting such a “particular values system” so that students reject traditional American values and assume a politically correct worldview is the goal of sustainability education. Planting trees and turning off lights on campus is only one part of it. 

As of today, 674 institutions have signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), which requires signatory colleges to “make climate neutrality and sustainability a part of the curriculum and other educational experience for all students.”  

 In order to keep a finger on the pulse of this movement in its manifestations in higher education, NAS has begun posting regular reports like this one, with 10-20 links to sustainability news stories. We have also launched a new monthly email newsletter specifically for such news. Sign up here to receive the sustainability news report.  

To learn more about the key players—people, programs, groups, books, media—in the campus sustainability movement, check out NAS’s frequently updated Encyclopedia of Sustainability.

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