Moving Ahead with Green Practices
Annual meeting attendees who wanted to tame their sustainability monsters had plenty of sessions to choose from in Boston.
Fred Rogers, vice president and treasurer at Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota, shared this statistic: The nearly 650 higher education institutions that have signed on to the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment represent a whopping 5.3 million students. That many young minds working together on our collective global sustainability challenges can certainly create momentum, noted Rogers, who then introduced the all-student panel, “The Sleeping Giant on Campus: Listening and Working With Students to Achieve Sustainability Goals.”
Sarah Brylinsky, a December 2008 graduate of Ithaca College, Ithaca, New York, is using the tools she acquired as a student organizer in her professional role as sustainability education coordinator at Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Her three tips for engaging students: Satisfy their needs (include food at your events), plan do-it-yourself projects in which students actively participate, and incorporate learning days-opportunities to hear experts on specific topics.
As for communication efforts that actually connect with students, use a mix of new and old tactics, suggested Brylinsky. Instant messaging shows you understand how today's students like to receive information, but bathroom flyers are still highly effective.
Foremost, students want integrated lives and to be part of a culture that values their participation and ideas, said Andrew Pittz, a student at Texas A&M University, College Station. “Students want to be engaged. They're looking for volunteer opportunities, not just the job they will get after they graduate.” Carleton College student Katie Blanchard concurred. Her advice included letting students do the heavy lifting of getting sustainability initiatives under way and letting students be the primary conduit for communicating with other students.
Big Sustainability Success With a Small Budget
Unity College, a small (500+ FTE) private institution in rural Unity, Maine, has a very small operating budget but achieves big goals. Led by President Mitchell Thomashow, Unity has incorporated sustainability into every aspect of its mission. In the session “Going Green When the Going Gets Tough,” Thomashow maintained that a sustainable campus has nine elements in three broad categories:
- Infrastructure—energy, materials,and food.
- Community—governance, investment, and wellness.
- Learning—curriculum, interpretation, and aesthetics.
Thomashow challenged the audience to “imagine these categories as dynamic, unfolding, emergent, and intrinsically interconnected.” Any sustainable practice may involve multiple categories.
For example, an energy-efficient LEED Platinum building may reduce a campus
carbon footprint, but if it doesn't also serve an inspirational curricular function, it may not achieve its full educational potential.
Thomashow suggested that the nine elements aren't a checklist, nor are they criteria for measuring success, but rather they are meant to evoke the necessity of envisioning and applying sustainable practices to all aspects of campus life.
“If we can do this in rural Maine where the winters are very long, and at a college that is undeniably 'resource-strapped,'” Thomashow said, “Unity can set an example for any campus anywhere.” He described Unity as “an exemplary learning and living laboratory for a sustainable culture.”
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