3. Prioritizing Education, Research, and Public Engagement
3.1 Climate Change and Sustainability in the Curriculum
The world faces not only a climate change crisis but also threats to sustainability on all fronts. Thus, it is essential that colleges and universities formally acknowledge these transcendent problems and reorient academic programs to be relevant to the challenges all future graduates will face. Higher education has an obligation to lead in creating a healthy, just, and sustainable society.
It is essential that campus climate action plans address the curricular component of this problem by making climate change and sustainability a part of the curriculum and other educational experience for all students. Curriculum changes should involve all students given the critical nature of the climate and sustainability challenges we face and the urgent need for future professionals, leaders and citizens in all disciplines to be engaged and part of the solution to these problems.
To assist colleges and universities to do this, the ACUPCC is preparing Education for Climate Neutrality and Sustainability: Academic Guidance for ACUPCC Institutions (April 2009), a guide which can be used by all schools irrespective of their involvement with the ACUPCC. This chapter is draws heavily from the ACUPCC guide.
This guide recommends action and change in three areas:
- The Content of Learning -- to reflect interdisciplinary systems thinking, dynamics and analysis for all majors and disciplines with the same lateral rigor across the disciplines as there is vertical rigor within them
- The Context of Learning -- to make human/environment interdependence, values and ethics a seamless and central part of teaching of all the disciplines, rather than isolated as a special course or module in programs for specialists
- The Process of Education -- to emphasize active, experiential, inquiry-based learning and real-world problem solving on the campus and in the larger community
Content of Learning – What do we want students to learn?
An excellent set of content recommendations for sustainability education was contained in the Essex Report, a 1995 document presented to President Bill Clinton’s Council on Sustainable Development. In that report, education leaders recommended teaching and learning experiences that enable students to understand:
- How the natural world works
- The interdependence of humans and the environment
- How to assess the effects on humans and on the biosphere of human population dynamics; energy extraction, production and use; and other human activities such as agriculture, manufacturing, transportation, building and recreation
- The relationship of population, consumption, culture, social equity and the environment
- How to apply principles of sustainable development in the context of their professional activities
- Technical, design, scientific and institutional strategies and techniques that foster sustainable development, promote energy and natural resource efficiency and conservation, prevent and control the generation of pollution and waste, remediate environmental problems, and preserve biological diversity
- Social, cultural, legal and governmental frameworks for guiding environmental management and sustainable development
- Strategies to motivate environmentally just and sustainable behavior by individuals and institutions.
To that list of educational outcomes can be added specific knowledge and understanding about global climate change:
- The causes and consequences of climate change
- Its severity and urgency
- The key role played by energy policy and practice
- Behavioral, technological, policy, and political solutions
- The role of institutions, businesses, governments, citizen and professional organizations, and individuals to address this problem
- Personal empowerment to become a change agent
The Context of Learning -- What are the avenues available to academics for educating students about sustainability?
There are a variety of opportunities to introduce and address sustainability and climate change in the academic context. Some of these opportunities are course and program-specific while others infuse eco-literacy across the curriculum and in other student learning opportunities. These opportunities include:
- Freshmen orientation
- Requiring students to take courses introducing these concepts
- Providing elective courses on these concepts to all students
- Integrating these concepts into existing courses
- Offering existing courses to more students
- Creating new multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary courses
- New programs, institutes, and colleges
- Integration across the curriculum
The Process of Education -- What are the pedagogical methods for teaching systems thinking and the interdisciplinary concepts of climate change and sustainability?
Possible pedagogical methods include:
- Active, experiential, inquiry-based learning
- Student-based campus projects
- Outreach partnerships with local nonprofits and the community
A variety of strategies can be used to develop the capacity to launch and undertake these changes:
- Broad administration support (e.g., integral to mission, rewards/incentives for faculty, putting someone in charge of coordination) for this intellectual direction
- Broad involvement of faculty across the arts, sciences, humanities, social sciences, engineering and graduate professional schools
- Involvement of key staff members, e.g. facilities staff who can provide “campus as learning lab” experiences for students
- Faculty and staff development workshops
- Strong connection of formal education to practice of sustainability on the campus and with local and regional communities
- Strong student support and involvement and encouragement for student-based initiatives
- Ongoing attention, measurement of progress and re-adjustment
Here are some other specific ideas for greening academics:
- Establish a sustainability graduation requirement
- Include students and faculty on design committees for new buildings (or research projects intended to look at alternatives to new construction)
- Conduct your greenhouse gas inventory or campus environmental audit as a student or class project
- Develop student-faculty-facilities teams to research “deep efficiency” for existing buildings and renewable energy applications on campus
- Invite students and faculty to join and fully participate in campus sustainability committees as well as CAP committees and sub-committees.
- Participate in national climate change awareness raising and action initiatives like “Focus the Nation” and the “National Teach-In on Global Warming”
- Encourage and empower student environmental activism and clubs
- Organize an annual campus climate summit
- Invite nationally renowned expert speakers on climate change and sustainability to your campus
- Create Student Life residential environmental education initiatives such as “Eco-Reps,” on-campus sustainable living opportunities, etc.
For campus examples and more discussion, see the ACUPCC's Academics page and the Curriculum section of AASHE's Resource Center.
3.2 Climate Change and Sustainability Research
Another avenue for addressing climate change on campus is research. ACUPCC institutions agree to develop climate action plans that expand research and other activities that will address climate change. Other schools may want to expand research in this area as well.
Refocusing research on campus is a tall order since faculty research is driven by not only institutional priorities but also by the research interests of existing faculty (and they know their research interests and generally don’t take kindly to others telling them what they should be interested in) and the availability of research dollars. Fortunately, identifying new faculty with an interest in climate change-related research is probably going to get easier now that awareness of and concern about the climate change problem is becoming the norm in the U.S. Also, with the new Obama Administration it is clear that climate change is going to be dealt with seriously. Thus, even in the context of the current economic meltdown and unprecedented federal budget deficits, it is likely that much more money will be available for research in this critically important area.
Here are some possibilities for increasing on-campus research on climate change, drawn from the ACUPCC Implementation Guide and elsewhere:
- Identify climate change research as a major institutional priority
- Create new major research initiatives and academic centers in the area of climate change and sustainability
- Make a priority commitment to hire new faculty with expertise and interest in climate change and sustainability
- Establish fellowships or other financial support mechanisms for research related to climate change and sustainability
- Provide climate change and sustainability oriented research for students
- Connect research initiatives to the challenges faced in the operations components of the climate action plan, such as the development of renewable energy technologies and local sources of biofuels, carbon neutral engine technologies for autos and aircraft, hyper-efficient building systems to make GHG-neutral, net-energy producing buildings the norm rather than a rare exception, etc.
- Celebrate, reward, and publicize research on climate change and sustainability
For campus examples, see the Research section of AASHE's Resource Center.
3.3 Public Engagement on Climate Change
Here are some possibilities for increasing your school’s public engagement on climate change, as drawn from the ACUPCC Implementation Guide and elsewhere:
- Create a collaborative of local and regional colleges and universities working together to encourage, help and support each other achieve GHG emissions reduction goals
- Initiate service-learning and community service activities for students related to climate change and sustainability
- Encourage faculty to participate in public service activities that assist local governments, community organizations, businesses, and institutions to reduce GHG emissions and address climate change – and reward those activities. when considering promotions or tenure
- Convene an annual regional climate change summit
- Develop town-gown community climate partnerships or initiatives to mobilize community leaders and use campus intellectual, financial and leadership resources to move the surrounding community to address greenhouse gas emissions and sustainability
- Engage in the public policy process to lobby for policies at all levels of government that will make it easier for campuses to achieve their climate goals since deep cuts in GHG emissions will not be possible on or off campus unless there are broader societal shifts
- Develop programs to assist students, faculty and staff to upgrade their own residences through improved energy efficiency and better utilization of solar energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
- Create a regional clean energy demonstration and resource center to inspire, educate, and assist members of the wider community to use conservation, efficiency, and solar energy to improve energy affordability and comfort while reducing greenhouse gas emissions
- While avoiding green-washing and exaggeration, widely publicize campus climate protection activities and success stories to motivate other community actors to get involved addressing climate change
And don’t forget:
- Try to make all outreach events and activities climate neutral and as sustainable as possible, and publicize your efforts in this area to encourage others to organize green events and activities as well
Conferences and meetings can be carbon-free by locating them convenient to public transit, maximizing the use of teleconferencing, reducing on-site energy use and carbon emitting behavior, and then purchasing carbon offsets for remaining GHG emissions. See TerraPass’ Event and Conference Carbon Footprint Calculator for an easy way to calculate these emissions.
Many sustainable event planning manuals are available on-line. For examples, see:
There are many such manuals though the latter one from Monash University in Australia is somewhat unique in encouraging vegetarian food. See the "Food Service and Food Choices" section for information on the significance of livestock production and diet in causing GHG emissions.