The campus sustainability initiative grew out of a project with Lehigh University student Victorija Danta, who was working to support climate protection efforts here in Bethlehem. As part of her internship, we created a Climate Protection Agreement for schools (which was adopted by the Bethlehem Area School District in December 2006). As we started looking at what higher education could do, Viki visited a friend at Harvard and was amazed at all they are doing to be more sustainable, including high-performance buildings, energy efficiency, waste reduction, transportation, and local & organic food.
When we researched what other colleges and universities throughout the country were doing, we found that many of them had already taken similar steps, far beyond what we have seen at any of our local institutions. At first, we thought this might be a function of size or the generous endowments enjoyed by some nationally known institutions, but our research showed that it is more a question of awareness than size or endowment. Some Pennsylvania institutions have shown real leadership, including Dickinson, Franklin & Marshall, Penn State, the University of Pennsylvania, and Villanova.
Colleges and universities have a critical role to play, because they are like small cities that generate substantial GHG emissions on their own, and this initiative will help them start or expand their efforts in this area. Their importance goes far beyond this direct role, however, because they also serve as role models and teachers to the community at large and are an important influence on our public schools. Many of our local colleges offer programs in elementary and secondary education that require active involvement with local school systems, and one facet of the campus sustainability initiative is to encourage faculty in these departments to prepare students with an understanding of climate change and concepts of sustainability and help them find ways to incorporate these ideas into the curriculum at all levels.
Perhaps even more important, our colleges and universities help thousands of young men and women prepare for their lives and careers. Are they preparing these young men and women to help create more sustainable communities? Are they preparing them for the sometimes-difficult choices that will have to be made? As the Penn State ‘Green Destiny’ report stated:
“Currently, while universities teach their students that the vital signs of the Earth are in decline, graduates continue to leave college to begin lives that generally contribute to, rather than mitigate, the growing array of environmental and social problems now plaguing us…. the time has come for the concept of sustainability… to become a new central organizing idea for higher education.” —Penn State University Senate committee on university planning
In 2007, we had interns at six local colleges and universities: Bridgette Diaz at Cedar Crest College, Tara Beretsky and Lindsay Chamberlain at Kutztown University, Jennifer Tillman at Lafayette College, Laura Deutsch, Sarah Morgan, and Elizabeth Swiatek at Lehigh University, Elyse Jurgen and Chiu Cheng at Moravian College, and Jessica Saliby, Jacy Good, and Janet Saunders at Muhlenberg College.
In January 2008, President Dan Weiss of Lafayette College signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, the only Lehigh Valley college to do so. Student groups, interns, and the Alliance have asked all our local college and university presidents to sign on to the Presidents Climate Commitment and to the Talloires Declaration from University Leaders for a Sustainable Future.
Help us encourage colleges and universities to model sustainable practices, contact us by email. If you are a student interested in making change at your school, apply for an Alliance internship.
Also see Campus Sustainability – What is it?