Sustainability News 8-3-10

Ashley Thorne

This edition of sustainability-in-higher-ed news includes the University of Toledo’s new curricular residence life programs in sustainability; UNC’s workshop to help participants explore oppression and injustice; the growing trend of campus gardens; the University of Chicago’s anxious efforts to “catch up”; and strategic questions for identifying eco-friendly colleges.

Two NAS articles are listed here. One explores the new ethical dimensions of sustainability and how even preserving the environment can be termed “vulgar” if done for the “wrong” reasons. The second is a response to criticism from a contributor to NAS’s sustainability issue of Academic Questions.

These 14 articles were chosen because they illustrate the growing influence of the sustainability movement in higher education. For context, read about NAS’s research on the movement at the bottom of this page.

  1. How to Find an Eco-Friendly Campus, Green Student U
    Interested students should ask:
    ·         Has the college signed the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment?
    ·         Are they completing or have they completed a carbon inventory?
    ·         Have they developed an actionable sustainability plan?
    ·         Does the school have any achievements or recognizable qualities for environmental commitment?
    “Making sure your university is a green university will not only help your generation take what they were given and turn it into something better, but make a mark for future generations to enjoy Mother Earth.” 
  1. Event – Justice: Racial, Social, Environmental & Food, UNC Sustainability Update
    On August 4-5, this $295 workshop will help participants “dismantle barriers and assumptions [they] may have arrived with,” and promises to “explore feelings of oppression, identify systemic practices that perpetuate inequality, and observe injustice as it relates to food, culture, class and environment.” According to UNC, “there is no sustainability without justice.” At NAS we call this concept “justainability.”  
  1. New Living Learning Communities Offer Environmental Sustainability, Scholastic Options, University of Toledo News
    This fall the University of Toledo will offer residence accommodations for first-year students interested in sustainability. There will also be a dorm curriculum: “Plans are under way to have a First-Year Experience course related to environmental sustainability taught at the residence hall, as well as a film series, community garden plot and more. Students who live there also could get involved with events for Earth Day or RecycleMania.”  

    (Remember that the ideological reeducation program at the University of Delaware was also a curricular “sustainability” program.) 
  1. For Goodness Sake: Sustainability Ponders Ethics, NAS
    “Being sustainable has become more-or-less synonymous with being good,” two professors write. But even sustainability can be either virtuous or vulgar, depending on your motive.  
  1. The Leadership Factor: Implementing Sustainability in Higher Education, Second Nature
    Glenn Cummings, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, did his doctoral dissertation on sustainability in higher education. He sought to answer ‘what common characteristics and actions were taken by successful university and college leaders in pursuit of sustainability?’ and found 5 common themes.  
  1. Campus Gardens: A “Growing Trend in Campus Sustainability, AASHE
     More than 100 higher education institutions have established community gardens on campus. 
  1. Renewable Debate: Progress vs. Sustainability, NAS
    Philosophy professor Daniel Bonevac responds to a historian's critiques of his AQ article "Is Sustainability Sustainable?
  1. Green Evolution, University of Chicago Magazine
    The author of this history of the expansion of sustainability programs at the University of Chicago worries, “Can the U of C catch up” to other universities in terms of sustainability merit? The article describes sustainability as a moral imperative in terms of “commitment.” It calls energy manager Will Hines “a true believer” and tells how the University's associate provost for faculty and student affairs, “pesters coworkers to switch off their computer monitors, use the recycling bins, and renounce throw-away coffee cups.”  
  1. A Graphic Representation of “The Complex History of Sustainability”, Sustainability History Project
    Portland State University professor James Hillegas draws attention to a chart published in 2008, a timeline of “The Complex History of Sustainability.” Hillegas points out some of the contradictions in the timeline’s accompanying cyclopedia. Bizarrely, the document lists “Eco-fascism/Eco-nazism” as “Extreme right-wing movements that incorporate environmentalist positions into their ideology.”   
  1.  The Digital Cathedral in the Age of Democratic Sustainability, Terrain.org
    This article by Second Nature fellow Peter Bardaglio promotes a movement toward “democratic sustainability” through “a massive change in human consciousness.” Bardaglio explains, “By democratic sustainability I mean a social and political process that engages citizens as active agents of social change in the complex task of balancing economic prosperity, effective environmental stewardship, and social justice.” 
  1. Hiring for Sustainability, Chronicle of Higher Education
    An administrator at Buena Vista University in Iowa says he’s “convinced that the smart money in higher education is on campus-sustainability initiatives,” and not just the environmental ones. He’s looking to hire someone with “real skills in advocacy.” 
  1. The $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Sustainability, MIT
    MIT gives this award to inventors whose inventions improve human development and mitigate human environmental impact. The program assumes, “The sustainability of our planet and its peoples is threatened today by issues including climate change, depletion of natural resources and disease.” 
  1. Career Choices: Why an MBA in Sustainability Does Not Lead to a Sustainability Career, Justmeans.com
    It’s the same reason why philosophy majors don’t go into philosophy – employers value their marketable skills, not their narrow expertise.  
  1. Can Urban University Expansion and Sustainable Development Co-Exist?: A Case Study in Progress on Columbia University, Fordham Urban Law Journal
    Columbia plans to expand out into Manhattan; will its development result in “university creep”? 

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, 673 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 weekly 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 new edition of the Encyclopedia of Sustainability.   

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