Final Paper – Sustainability in Higher Education

For my final paper I would like to further explore Colleges and Universities as organizations, and how difficult it is to change them in order to accommodate for new innovations.  More specifically, I plan to look at the effect that the “Green Movement” and sustainability have had on higher education.  The green movement and sustainability are innovations that are sweeping our nation and appearing rapidly in our schools. I am interested to see how, and if, the structure and delegation of tasks within these organizations change.

Sustainability is a complex concept which involves more than installing recycling programs or serving organic foods.  It involves a more complicated integration of environmental concerns and social justice issues.  The AASHE, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, defines sustainability in an inclusive way, encompassing “human and ecological health, social justice, secure livelihoods, and a better world for all generations.” Furthermore, achieving sustainability in higher education is best defined by improving the following areas: leadership, recycling, buildings and grounds, curriculum, energy, food, transportation, and outreach.  These eight areas were defined by the Arnold Creek Production and show how complex the innovation of sustainability is.  There are many reasons why colleges and universities are working towards a sustainable future, including economical, competitive, and moral/ethical reasons.  However, I wish to look past why they are interested in sustainability, and concentrate on how they are implementing the new methods with those that already exist.

Like big operations everywhere, campuses are plagued by divisions. The lack of coordination between students, faculty, and the various administrative departments is an issue when trying to introduce a new campus-wide innovation.  Schools have to figure out how to integrate technical climate plans with institutional practices, governance structures, financial decision-making processes, and campus culture.  Revamping energy-guzzling buildings, selling new food, and changing the curriculum are just three areas that will involve time, money, and coordination of administrators, faculty, and students.  There is also a question of leadership and who will take charge of the new implementation or any issues that may arise. While some schools have hired sustainability coordinators, others find current staff members to head the challenge.

These are just a few ideas that I have been looking at when it comes to sustainability and higher education. I also wish to look at social movements as a whole and what changes they bring in the past, present, and future.  Hopefully these ideas will tie together in my research paper and provide an interesting piece for a higher education audience.

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4 Responses

  1. That would be very interesting since every college/university take on ‘being green’ is different. it would be interesting to see which institutions are the innovators.

  2. Here is a video that shows how the University of Delaware implemented new methods to get across ideas about sustainability to all students:

    Here are more details about the program, from me: http://www.thefire.org/index.php/article/9865.html

    Here are the full details, including documents that list the learning outcomes that were made mandatory for all students in the residence halls there: http://www.thefire.org/index.php/case/752.html

    I hope this provides some insight for your paper regarding the challenges and limits involved in trying to mandate change.

    In general, you should take a look at the documents of the ACPA Sustainability Taskforce online because this group seems to have been interested in the same issues that interest you for your paper.

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