Resilience vs. Campus Sustainability?
The below is an excerpt from Dave Newport's Department of Change blog.
Director of the Environmental Center
University of Colorado-Boulder
The transition from an exploitive business plan for the planet to a sustainable one has gone through a few iterations—and we are definitely not there yet—but we keep trying.
In the 1950s public health concerns on the heels of the Donora, PA et al air pollution incidents aroused enough angst to pass the first federal laws protective of air quality. The 1960s were marked by Rachel Carson-induced endangered species protections. The 1970s spawned “past sins” Superfund legislation to begin cleaning up/preventing the Love Canals of the world. In the 1980s we fixed the ozone hole. And in the 1990s, “sustainability” began creeping into our lexicon.
Along the way we chased trends and words like Kyoto, Agenda 21, Corporate Social Responsibility, Triple Bottom Line, Eco Efficiency, Socially Responsible Investing, Biomimicry, Industrial Ecology, Renewable Portfolio Standards, Transition, Permaculture, Adaptation, etcetera… and lately: Resilience.
The history lesson is meant to remind us that it is normal to morph our approaches as we get smarter. So the idea of moving past sustainability isn’t radical or anti-environment. On the contrary, we have a need for “new and improved.”
So now what? Is it time for the Next Big Thing? Has “sustainability” run its course? Before we think about that, what has sustainability accomplished?
Well, on campuses at least, there are more courses, majors, schools, colleges and certificates in sustainability than ever; fairly rapid growth because many students want to learn about it. More campuses are offering sustainability curricula. More students are signing up for these classes. This is no small feat and a very hopeful sign.
Likewise, campus carbon emissions are moderating or even going down. Green buildings are going up. Zero waste efforts are also on the rise. Local food programs/campus gardens are taking root. Renewable energy is up. And we are getting better at measuring all these impacts (STARS!). Great environmental improvements.
Yet missing from the list of sustainability’s accomplishments are two important categories: fiscal equity and social justice.
In terms of finance, sustainability programs are still woefully underinvested. More importantly, campuses are still investing in exploitive enterprises. The recent fossil fuel divestment campaign makes this point very clear. While Unity College is leading the divestment effort, they are a lone voice so far. Indeed, the Chronicle last year reported socially responsible investing on campuses was decreasing despite a growth in that industry and demonstrably more favorable returns on investment.
As for social justice, only a little progress targeting sustainability’s benefits towards those in the most need is reported. And while I don’t have any data, I am going to bet that even the rapid expansion of sustainability curriculum nationwide has disproportionately targeted richer, white students. For instance, despite a couple notable exceptions, there has been disappointing growth of sustainability coursework in the HBCUs. There is a reason: sustainability’s unifying theme and beneficial impacts don’t default to the breadth of society—only the privileged classes.
Read the full column here.
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