To gear up for our meetings this fall, the Sustainability Commission is reading The Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus by Mitchell Thomashow. Share your thoughts in the comment section!
When we make this shift from grassroots to institutional change, there is a critical step that, if we skip, could lead to failure before we even start. The critical step is asking a simple question: What is the problem? Defining the problem is usually harder than coming up with solutions, but without a clearly defined problem, it is impossible to get buy in on a large scale.
I was also drawn to Thomashow's question: "Why is a college campus the ideal setting for exploring, constructing, and practicing [sustainability]?" His answer delves into not just why is it ideal, by why colleges and universities have an obligation to explore, construct, and practice sustainability. His fifth reason is the one that hits at the heart of all those working in Higher Education: "Colleges and universities have an educational responsibility to address the most important issues of the times." It reminded me of a recent AAC&U publication entitled "Creating the Connected Institution: Toward Realizing Benjamin Franklin and Ernest Boyer's Revolutionary Vision for American Higher Education" by Ira Harkavy. In it, Harkavy states: "That core idea [of Franklin's and Boyer's work], simply put, is this: This primary purpose of higher education is service to society for the progressive betterment of the human condition."
College campuses often feel like a bubble, where we are so involved in the day-to-day that we forget a world outside exists, is changing, and needs involvement from us. If the campus is insular and isolated, if we do not stray outside our field of expertise, if we do not look for connections outside the college, we are not serving society and we are not fostering students, faculty, and staff to positively influence the world. That is a problem and it is problem to which Sustainability is an answer.
[N.B. One of the new JADE certificate workshops is aimed at defining this seemingly straightforward question (http://geneseosustainability.blogspot.com/ and http://gold.geneseo.edu/index.php?pg=jade) is called, "If Sustainability is the solution, What's the Problem?" Check it out!]