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Environmental Sustainability at Top Colleges

A recent study by Princeton University shows that colleges are actively taking part in environmental protection by using sustainable means of energy (for example: wind, PV solar, geothermal). In addition, approved environmental friendly projects by students at universities have now surpassed the number of universities. It has also been found that student’s are looking at the environmental friendliness of a university when making applications.

Some of the colleges and universities that have made serious progress in their environmental friendliness include Ball State University which is creating the world’s biggest closed geothermal system, Butte College which is grid positive as a result of its extensive solar power harvesting, Chatham University which has an entire campus dedicated to sustainability and Middlebury College which is using biogas for its energy requirements.

Many universities are now taking the green debate to an actionable level. Recently, Emory College composted almost two tonnes of waste during its orientation ceremony for 1,300 freshmen. The figure represents a near-zero-waste during a freshman orientation. This was achieved by using sustainable methods like locally grown food served on bamboo cutlery.

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Measuring the Green Efforts Up

The green efforts of colleges and universities have inspired businesses and other organizations to look at the sustainability of their practices. Some of the colleges that started early have made stunning strides in their green efforts. However, there’s a lot that still needs to be done. One of the challenges that are facing the green effort is the measuring up of progress. As a starting point, it was agreed that institutions keep track of their emissions and other measure then submit a score card. The problem here is that the institutions are using different methods to keep track of their emissions. This makes it quite difficult to find a universal measure of progress. The good thing though is that most of the institutions that have signed up are submitting their scores cards in time. The second challenge is in the signing of the presidential commitment which aims at zero emission. Colleges like Harvard and Emory which have made huge strides in reducing emissions find that the goal of zero emission is simply not achievable without the use for carbon trading. Now, their concern with carbon trading is that the market is not well set up and there are concerns that trading might in fact lead to more emission rather than reducing it.

The Roots of Sustainability

Sustainability has become so intertwined with higher education, it is now not possible to speak about sustainability without higher education cropping up. The marriage between these two started in the 1960’s with the sustainability movement taking the lines of other social activism movements like Afrocenticity. The movement then moved into universities with environmental sustainability being the new fad. One of the turning points for this union was when Teresa Heinz and John Kerry founded the Second Nature imitative in 1992. The initiative aimed at convincing the heads of institutions of higher learning and senior students with the hope that they in turn would influence the people below them. Second Nature has been criticised for having hat people call ‘narrow model’ in that they only focus on the small side of enlightening leaders then hope that the information will trickle down to the students and others. This has led to every new employee looking for that green credential since it might be the key to a promotion. Therefore, sustainability in higher education has taken a diversion from being an issue of global importance to being a ticket to relevance in professional circles. That said, there are proponents of higher education as being the key to the sustainability worldwide like David Orr. Orr is of the view that the educated people will have to take it upon them to educate the rest on the issues of conservation since they are in a better position, information wise. He is of the view that eh education movement can transcend other routes and ultimately help bring sustainable living into worldwide adoption. Other proponents like Freeman Dyson are concerned about the religious overtones that the environmental cause has become. People are subscribing to the belief that global warming is the biggest villain and this is clouding thinking in more objective and scientific ways of looking at sustainability. He and those who share his point of view feel that the movement needs to be grounded in scientific fact rather than mass ‘radicalisation’. This way, academia will lead the way and not social movements or political correctness.

Ways of Achieving Sustainability in Campuses

Sustainability can either be achieved from the top-down, vice versa or in totally different ways. The top-down method is something that Second Nature is doing; informing the leaders and then letting then inform those below them. The reverse involves starting with informing the masses and hoping that they put pressure on top leadership to buy onto their ideology. Other ways depend on the social organization and specific programmes within campuses.


In 1990, Higher education launched what is called the Taillores Declaration. The declaration is one that requires HE to adopt an academic model of informing students on sustainability. This is done by aligning the curriculum wit environmental material. The declaration has had mixed success since there is no way t truly measure its success. Other challenges with this is unwillingness to cooperate and the feeling that it is interfering with the existing efforts and programmes that individual colleges have put in place as a way towards sustainability.

An Integrated Approach to Campus Sustainability: The Current Methods and Practices

One of the ways that colleges are approaching sustainability is by making changes in the curriculum. The other way is by research and development where they are looking for more sustainable ways to do things. The third is by encouraging and facilitating public participation and partnership within their respective communities and areas. The fourth is by holding workshops and seminars to help further the sharing of information on sustainability.

The Political Angle in Campus Sustainability

Sustainability has become very popular and it’s of little wonder that institutions want to flaunt their progress. This is either through their green courses, campuses and curriculum or through their research and development of better models and better ways of living. The politics of relevance and competition n to be the most sustainable has led to what is being called greenwashing. Universities are almost obsessive over their emissions and sustainability credentials. Experts worry that the focus has changed form a genuine effort by higher education to be greener to being a metric for popularity and bragging rights that may unfortunately be grounded in populist views rather than proper science.


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