by Elyse Jurgen
The campus sustainability initiative encourages and facilitates efforts by Lehigh Valley colleges and universities to become more sustainable in their operations and provide their students with an educational environment that will develop leaders—teachers, political leaders, researchers, land-use planners, architects, business men and women, journalists, artists, etc—who are prepared to address global and local sustainability issues.
What is a sustainable campus? Global climate change is a critical issue, so each school is encouraged to complete a thorough inventory of greenhouse gas emissions and an action plan to reduce emissions; form a sustainability task force composed of enthusiastic students, faculty, staff, and administration to develop various approaches to forming an ecologically literate campus and move towards zero carbon emissions; sign the College and University Presidents Climate Commitment and the Talloires Declaration; and become a member of AASHE—the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.
Our local colleges and universities have already implemented several practical steps towards sustainability by installing energy-saving fluorescent light bulbs, increasing recycling, composting food waste, and ‘greening’ food services. Yet these steps are often taken in isolation, without a clear picture of what it means to be sustainable. The main challenge is to holistically create a sustainable campus, not only in terms of operations, but in the way students are educated. In Sustainability on Campus: Stories and Strategies for Change, Peggy F. Barlett and Geoffrey W. Chase write on the importance of sustainability in educational institutions;
The process of sustainability begins with an awakening to emerging problems caused by conventional norms of behavior (both institutional and personal) and then a discernment of new directions without a specific sustainability checklist… We find that vision, an alternative sense of future, becomes reality through relationship-learning, questioning, trusting, competing, at times coercing, and at times building together. Through individual and collective action, these relationship bring about institutional change, through change does not come easily.
Educational institutions need to prepare students for tomorrow’s jobs and the reality that we are subject to the constraints of the earth’s carrying capacity; today’s students need to pursue careers that improve the quality of all human life, while maintaining the natural functioning of ecosystems. The traditional, largely passive Western educational experience will not develop such leaders; what is needed is a progressive, interactive, ecological educational experience where students and professors are both active learners and agents in the stewardship of the biotic community upon which we depend for survival.
This initiative will be sustained through the energy and vision of interested students on each campus who act as interns for the Alliance for Sustainable Communities as well as the continued support and participation of faculty, staff, and administration.
By Elyse Jurgen
Elyse is a senior at Moravian College studying Environmental Stewardship and is the Lehigh Valley College/University Campus Sustainability Coordinator.
NOTE: In January 2008, Lafayette College President Dan Weiss became the first in the Lehigh Valley to sign the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment.