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Advancing collegiate sustainability in Northeast Ohio

David Beach  |  01/17/11 @ 3:25pm

In recent years it's been encouraging to see Northeast Ohio's colleges and universities step up to the challenge of sustainability. While Oberlin College is often at the top of national rankings of green campuses, other local institutions are coming on strong.

I had a behind-the-scenes perspective on these advances while serving as an advisor to the Collegiate Sustainable Practices Consortium (CSPC). The consortium brought together representatives from six Northeast Ohio colleges and universities from October 2009 to June 2010 to share experiences about campus sustainability. The six participating institutions were Baldwin-Wallace College, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland State University, Cuyahoga Community College, John Carroll University, and Oberlin College. The consortium was organized by Prof. David Krueger of Baldwin-Wallace.

The goals were: (1) to find ways to speed up the adoption of sustainable practices, and (2) to try to identify opportunities to exercise collective leadership in sustainability, not only within the educational sector, but also within the larger region. The meetings of the consortium featured frank and fascinating discussions about the practical realities of sustainability. There were inspiring stories of success, including substantial reductions in energy use, increases in recycling, and increases in the purchase of local food. And there were confessions about the great ideas that have not yet been implemented - and why.

For a summary of the themes and discoveries of CSPC project, go here. Reports on the progress of each campus, are here. My own reflections on the process are here.

Institutions of higher education are well positioned to lead the way toward greater sustainability. Given their mission to educate the next generation, they are inherently focused on shaping the future. Since they are not driven solely by the bottom line, they have greater flexibility to experiment and test new ideas. Since they are rooted permanently in their communities and bioregions, they must care about places over long periods of time. Since their customers (students) are interested in sustainability, such programs are good marketing. And since they are large institutions - with campuses, buildings, energy systems, vehicles, food services, and thousands of people - they must deal with a full range of sustainability issues. They can be laboratories of change for the larger society.

There is a growing sense of urgency for colleges and universities to be leaders in creating a more sustainable society. As CSPC organizer David Krueger writes, "We have entered a century the likes of which humanity has yet to encounter in terms of the ecological challenges that threaten the health and well-being not only of human society, but of the larger community of life on the planet. Our challenge, as academic institutions, is to transform our life and practice before it is too late for those who come after us."

 

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