Sustainability News: October 2010

Ashley Thorne

“It’s time for us to say that sustainability is no longer a buzz word,” said Laurie Thorp, director of the Residential Initiative on the Study of the Environment at Michigan State University. She means that sustainability has become a mainstream concept; it’s not jargon anymore, and it’s something everyone should know about.

As the sustainability movement grows in normalness—especially on college campuses—we at NAS think it’s important that our readers understand it too. That’s why every month we bring some of the top 10-20 news stories involving sustainability and higher ed, so you can stay up-to-date on this rising academic obsession.

This month’s issue includes the following: 

  • Eerie similarities between sustainability and diversity as campus ideologies
  • A lecture on rape by a “sustainability education” activist
  • Angry rhetoric and violent imagery by some “green” groups
  • Students who feel unfairly taxed by sustainability fees
  • A professor’s argument for “just” distribution of “life chances”
  • Data on federal dollars newly approved for sustainability projects in higher ed
  • Campus Sustainability Day (Oct. 20)
  • Sustainability as a moral obligation 

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

1. From Diversity to Sustainability: How Campus Ideology is Born, The Chronicle of Higher Education
Sustainability, like diversity, subtracts from the better purposes of higher education. Jay P. Greene blogged about this article in “The Sustainability Craze at Universities.”

2. Mandatory Rape Lecture for Male Freshmen at Hamilton College, NAS
Hamilton male freshmen were instructed to attend a required session by "a national leader in social justice and sustainability education."

3. The Angry Face of Global Warming Fanaticism, Baylor Young Conservatives of Texas
Advertisements from organizations such as Greenpeace and10:10 use polarizing, angry rhetoric and frightening imagery. *WARNING: the video “No Pressure” embedded in this article is extremely violent and disturbing.

4. Please Sustain Us in Our Time of Need, Dartblog
Dartmouth hires a new sustainability director, whose salary will be more than that of some tenure-track professors.

5. Students Protest the Sustainability Fund Initiative, Western Herald
The Young Americans for Liberty at Western Michigan University took issue with the $8 sustainability fee that all students must pay, which goes to support sustainability programs on campus. The protesters felt it was unfair for all students to be required to “buy in” to projects they don’t necessarily agree with. One student said, “Students shouldn’t have to compromise their beliefs to attend a public university.”

6. Green Pledge, The Cavalier Daily
UVA has instituted a Sustainability Pledge that it’s encouraging all members of the campus community to take. Taking it means vowing to change your lifestyle to reflect more environment-friendly behavior. The pledge is:

I pledge to consider the social, economic and environmental impacts of my habits and to explore ways to foster a sustainable environment during my time here at U.Va. and beyond.

The author of this article thinks this is a good step, but it’s just a nominal commitment, and it’s not enough. Minding the Campus also has a blog post on UVA’s pledge here.

7. Will You Be Sustainable When No One is Watching? Huffington Post
“It's easier to be green when everyone is watching. Genuine environmental leadership involves what you do when no one is watching...Point your moral compass in the right direction, but be sure to stay the course. We're in it for the long haul.”

8. MSU Receives Sustainability Grant, The State News
Michigan State University has received a $628,000 federal grant to begin a sustainability specialization.
“Sustainability isn’t just about the environment anymore, Thorp said. Instead, the environment is one of the three main tiers of the concept — the others being economic vitality and social equity.
‘It’s time for us to say that sustainability is no longer a buzz word,’ she said. ‘We have to get over trying to define it and look at what’s necessary to sustain the planet.’”

9. Yale Unveils Detailed 3-Year Sustainability Plan, The Chronicle of Higher Education
Yale hopes to persuade employees and students to drive less, use less energy, paper, and chemical-laced cleaning supplies.

10. Steps to Improve Campus Sustainability, Environmental Leader
“I’ve seen schools that are willing to do whatever it takes to go green (rare) and I’ve also seen the kind of political in-fighting and/or limited resources that hold schools back (far more common).” The author urges sustainability employees, among other things, to find “compatriots” who agree with them and build a network.

AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education) Conference, October 9-11, Denver, CO

11. ‘Just’ Sustainability, PowerPoint presentation delivered by Julian Agyeman
Agyeman, professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University, argues that we should move from environmental sustainability to just sustainability (What’s indicated here is an all-encompassing schema that calls for the restructuring of society; I call this “justainability”). He defines it “The need to ensure a better quality of life for all, now and into the future, in a just and equitable manner, while living within the limits of supporting ecosystems”. He speaks of a fair “distribution” of “life chances.” He calls on colleges to “Think about your institutional definition of sustainability. Broaden it to include social equity/justice and mean it.”

12. AASHE 2010 Student Summit: A Snapshot of Tomorrow's Sustainability Leaders, Campus Sustainability Perspectives Blog

The Summit energy was infectious and the force of student voices evident. Conversation snippets overheard during the Open Space session:

“Talk to your dining services. Say, ‘hey, we want to lead a campaign to eliminate bottled water.’”

“Most of us wear our seatbelts. Why? Because we’ll get a ticket. It’s the authority issue. It’s expected. How do we apply this way of thought to sustainability efforts to help these become the norm?”

13. Update on Federal Legislation Affecting Sustainability, Campus Sustainability Perspectives Blog
Millions of federal dollars have become available for sustainability projects in higher education.

Campus Sustainability Day

14. Campus Groups Celebrate Sustainability Day, Cornell Daily Sun
“Campus Sustainability Day is a national event, celebrated in universities across the country. The event is held about six months from Earth Day so that there is an Earth-related event in both semesters of the academic year.”

15. Campus Sustainability Day Unknown to Students, Student Life
At Washington University, Campus Sustainability Day isn’t such a big deal because sustainability should be important “365 days a year, not just the one day.”

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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