Report Shows Campus Sustainability Movement Restricts Debate, Harms College Finances

National Association of Scholars

NEW YORK, MARCH 25, 2015— As United Nations delegates gather this week to negotiate new Sustainable Development Goals, the National Association of Scholars released the first major critical report detailing how the campus sustainability movement harms higher education.

Sustainability: Higher Education’s New Fundamentalism shows that the sustainability movement distorts college curricula and cuts off free inquiry on important questions. The 260-page report also shows that, at a time when tuition and student debt are soaring, colleges are spending lavishly on sustainability programs.

The study shows how the sustainability movement has shut down reasoned debate on campuses by foreclosing open inquiry about climate change. (The report takes no position on global warming itself.) The report criticizes the 685 institutions that have signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment for demanding of students and faculty members “blind obedience” in the place of critical examination of the facts.

The Greening of the Curriculum

Students can now earn credentials in sustainability in 1,438 distinct college programs, ranging from certificates to doctoral degrees. But sustainability is also a theme that has spread across the whole college curriculum, including seemingly unlikely subjects such as English composition, mathematics, and psychology. 

“Harnessing higher education and the liberal arts into the service of sustainability seriously undermines their purpose,” said Peter Wood, co-author of the report and president of the National Association of Scholars. “It treats other disciplines as mere grist for the sustainability mill.” 

What Sustainability Costs

The report examines how much colleges and universities spend to achieve their sustainability goals. Using Middlebury College in Vermont as a case study, the authors find that the costs far outrun the purported savings. Middlebury spends close to $5 million annually on sustainability efforts. The report estimates that American colleges and universities overall spend over $3 billion per year on sustainability-related programs and initiatives.

“Colleges and universities fail any test of transparency on the costs of sustainability,” said Wood. “Colleges routinely boast that their sustainability ‘investments’ save money, but they make these claims behind an opaque wall.”

The Nudge-Culture of Sustainability

Sustainability: Higher Education’s New Fundamentalism shows that many colleges and universities attempt to manipulate students into complying with sustainability goals. Students are not only bombarded with promotional material and pressured by peers, they are also manipulated with sophisticated programs designed by psychologists to “nudge” them into new patterns of behavior.

“The campus sustainability commitment represents a significant shift in higher education, away from giving students access to rational and moral knowledge that prepares them for wise, conscious choices, and towards training operations that elicit automatic responses,” stated Rachelle Peterson, co-author of the report.

Divestment: Sustainability’s Last Frontier

The study examines the growing demands by sustainability advocates for colleges and universities to divest their holdings in carbon-based energy companies. 

“The fossil fuel divestment movement,” said Peterson, “is an exercise in futility. Its leaders fully understand that divestment, even if college trustees went along with it, would have no effect on fossil fuel companies or the environment. The divestment movement is really aimed at reinforcing the loyalty of students to the firebrands of the sustainability cause, who need a mass of followers in order to gain political leverage.”

Note: Media are invited to attend today’s official launch of the report at the ONE UN Millennium Hotel starting at 11:30 am. Lunch will be provided. Additional information on the event can be found at

About the National Association of Scholars

NAS is a network of scholars and citizens united by their commitment to academic freedom, disinterested scholarship, and excellence in American higher education. We uphold the standards of a liberal arts education that fosters intellectual freedom, searches for the truth, and promotes virtuous citizenship.

Contacts: Rachelle Peterson and Peter Wood, [email protected], (646) 502-3565

Image Credit: , cropped.


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