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The Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus

The Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus

Mitchell Thomashow
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    The Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus
    Book Description:

    A college campus offers an ideal setting for exploring and practicing sustainability. Colleges and universities offer our best hope for raising awareness about the climate crisis and the dire threat it poses to the planet. They provide opportunities for both research and implementation; they have the capacity to engage students, staff, and faculty in collaborative enterprises that inspire campus transformation; they take the idea of legacy seriously. But most college and university administrations need guidance on the path to sustainability. InThe Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus, Mitchell Thomashow, a former college president, provides just that. When Thomashow became president of Unity College, a small environment-focused college in Maine, in 2006, he decided to focus his leadership on sustainability. Drawing on his experiences at Unity, Thomashow identifies nine elements for organizing a sustainability agenda: energy, food, and materials (aspects of infrastructure); governance, investment, and wellness (aspects of community); and curriculum, interpretation, and aesthetics (aspects of learning). Thomashow describes, among other things, how Unity built the first platinum LEED-certified college president's residence in North America; installed solar panels, wind turbines, and other renewable energy generators all over the campus; became a center for local food growing; reconsidered the college's capital assets and investment strategy in light of sustainability; revitalized the curriculum; and made the entire campus a canvas for sustainability-inspired public art. Connecting his experiences to broader concerns, Thomashow links the campus to the planet, reminding us that local efforts, taken together, can have a global impact.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-32157-0
    Subjects: Education, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction: Sustainability Leadership and Higher Education
    (pp. 1-20)

    When I arrived at Unity College in July of 2006 as the new president, I was green in two ways. First, I was naive. I had never been the chief executive of an organization, and I had never worked with undergraduate students or with a board of trustees. I didn’t have a sense of the scope of the challenge I had signed on for. Second, I had long been an advocate of environmental studies.

    The college, located in Unity, Maine and founded in 1965, was a small one with a great deal of heart and grit, interesting students (560 in...

  5. 1 Energy
    (pp. 21-42)

    Northern New England is a diverse landscape, with vast forests, fields, and wetlands. There are villages, farming communities, and nineteenth-century mill towns in the mountains, in the valleys, and on the seacoast. There are small cities with thriving enterprises (Portland, Portsmouth, Burlington) and older cities that are striving to find appropriate prosperity (Bangor, Manchester, Rutland). There is an interesting mix of natural-resource-extraction industries, small-scale farming, colleges and universities, alternative energy providers, information-based businesses, affluent resorts, and rural poverty. What is most surprising about northern New England is the number of remote communities that are only half a day’s drive from...

  6. 2 Food
    (pp. 43-58)

    For a cold place with a relatively short growing season, northern New England has a surprisingly robust network of local agriculture and organic farms. The Maine town of Unity is an active participant in that network. The Maine Organic Farm and Growers Association holds its annual Common Ground fair in Unity.¹ It is a remarkable gathering of organic agriculturalists, craftspeople, vendors of renewable energy, and sustainability advocates. Unity College’s proximity to the fairgrounds provided an outstanding educational resource. The local-food movement is growing in rural Maine, and its relative availability is a great asset for the college and the community....

  7. 3 Materials
    (pp. 59-74)

    On my strolls around the Unity College campus, I sometimes struck up conversations with people I didn’t ordinarily encounter in meetings. I made it a point to check in with employees of the public safety and facilities departments and the cafeteria. The conversations would always start innocently, usually with our observations regarding the weather, or the Red Sox, or what was happening on campus. Although employees treated me differently because of my position, I did what I could to break through such barriers. Over time, people opened up, and would offer their opinions on just about anything related to Unity...

  8. 4 Governance
    (pp. 75-100)

    Unity College’s trustees had the good sense to send me to the Harvard Seminar for New Presidents just a week before I started my position. Of the many great lectures, activities, and discussions, one stands out. Called the “inbox activity,” it was our very first assignment. The activity simulated the long list of tasks, expectations, and appointments awaiting a president first thing in the morning. Many of the messages were labeled urgent or had notes attached emphasizing their importance. This was a challenging exercise in time management and priority setting. There was no way one could fit everything into the...

  9. 5 Investment
    (pp. 101-124)

    Similar to many other small colleges and universities, Unity College was just several poor enrollment cycles removed from severe austerity. Like many presidents, I worked closely with the senior team to improve our recruitment and retention efforts. We “tracked the numbers” weekly so as to be able to plan a realistic budget. When we were meeting our targets, everyone breathed a sigh of relief. If the numbers appeared to be down, we had to make some difficult budget decisions. It was always amazing to me to observe how the weekly admissions reports could affect the moods and confidence of an...

  10. 6 Wellness
    (pp. 125-148)

    To stay in good physical shape, and to rejuvenate my energy, I always take a mid-day exercise break. When I was at Unity College, I enjoyed taking a lunchtime bicycle ride. For the first few weeks I went solo. Several of my senior staffers noticed and they asked if they could join me. Before long, we had a cohort of riders, including students, staffers, and faculty members. I’d send an e-mail message to the extended cohort each morning announcing the time and place for the daily ride. This became a wonderful routine. I had some of my best meetings while...

  11. 7 Curriculum
    (pp. 149-172)

    The first time I ever looked at a college’s course catalog was in the mid 1960s. I was thoroughly bored with high school and I couldn’t wait to explore what colleges had to offer. I received many catalogs in the mail. I loved flipping through the pages, contemplating the courses I might take, the majors I could pursue, and the books I would read. Those catalogs seemed to embody all of the world’s knowledge, and I was thrilled at the prospect of having access to it.

    Many years later, when I was teaching environmental studies programs and courses, I wrote...

  12. 8 Interpretation
    (pp. 173-190)

    Even in rural Maine, a college campus receives scores of visitors every day. There are admissions tours, parents and siblings, vendors, community members, gatherings and conferences, or people just passing through. I enjoyed meeting everybody because it gave me a chance to usher a warm welcome while briefly pointing out some of our sustainability initiatives. Whether I was speaking with a small group of prospective students and their families or hosting a gubernatorial primary debate, I cherished these meet and greet opportunities. Of course I got to meet only a small percentage of the many visitors. I wanted to make...

  13. 9 Aesthetics
    (pp. 191-210)

    In the autumn of 2008, Unity College invited sixty artists, sustainability practitioners, students, humanists, and scientists to a small conference. It was a cool, rainy, windswept November day. The participants were crammed into the public living space of Unity House, the LEED platinum president’s residence. We opened the program with a challenge: How can we turn Unity College into a campus canvas for art that conveys, expresses, and inspires ideas about sustainability, stewardship, and ecology? After some brief opening comments, we immediately engaged the participants in a series of workshops. First we encouraged them to develop a portfolio of possibilities...

  14. Afterword
    (pp. 211-214)
    Anthony Cortese

    Humanity is at a crossroads without historical precedent. As a result of the extraordinary and exponential growth of populations and the expansive dynamic of industrial capitalism, humans are a pervasive and dominant force in the health and well-being of Earth and its inhabitants. Humans are now a planetary force comparable in disruptive power to an Ice Age or an asteroid collision. There is great progress in environmental protection, yet all living systems are in long-term decline and are declining at an increasing rate. We are severely disrupting climate stability. There are huge worldwide social, economic, and public-health challenges, and 25...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 215-226)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 227-232)
  17. Index
    (pp. 233-236)