Sustainability Curriculum in Higher Education: A Call to Action (ACUPCC)

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paul.rowland@aashe.org's picture
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This post is related to the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC).

Relevant Department:
Academic Affairs
President's Office
Student Affairs

AASHE has released Sustainability Curriculum in Higher Education: A Call to Action (http://www.aashe.org/files/A_Call_to_Action_final%282%29.pdf ). As a follow-up to the AASHE Summit on Sustainability in the Curriculum held in San Diego in February, the Call to Action lays out nearly forty recommendations for action and four major strategic initiatives including establishing a faculty fellows program, developing regional centers, leveraging assessment requirements, and creating a Collaborative for Sustainability Curriculum Change.
Now what? A number of the recommendation can be carried out by individuals and groups on a campus and they should be moved forward as soon as possible. At AASHE we are actively discussing what actions we should undertake and how to do so. Reports of campus successes, lessons learned, and ideas for action are all welcome in this thread as we move the conversation forward to action.
 

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 The recently released ‘Call to Action’ for Higher Ed sparked good conversation for our office here at Texas A&M University. One was the question as to how the accrediting organizations for Higher Ed consider the importance of sustainability. I reviewed our accrediting agency website (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)) and noticed that while SACS makes no specific mention of sustainability, several schools are including sustainability initiatives in their Quality Enhancement Plans (QEPs).

It seems that as sustainability professionals continue the journey to institutionalize sustainability, having accrediting organizations acknowledge/encourage sustainability may be a tremendously beneficial tool for many campuses across the U.S. Do you know if this is a conversation that AASHE or other partner organizations have considered? If so, I would be interested in learning more.
 

paul.rowland@aashe.org's picture
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At the Summit, that preceded the Call to Action, Ralph Wolfe of the Western Association of Colleges and Universities talked about how colleges and universities could use the accreditation processes to have their efforts in sustainability recognized. Ralph and his staff also focused the WASC-ARC annual meeting around the theme of sustainability (http://2010.wascarc.org/ ).

My understanding of the discussion is that each institution has the option of selecting a focus (the QEP mentioned by Kelly for SACS) for that institution and it is a good place for campus sustainability advocates to get a toe-hold in the accreditation process.

Although it may seem attractive to some to have the accreditors require institutions to address sustainability, it is unlikely to occur unless there is a groundswell of support for this from the institutional representatives to the regional accreditors. If there is some way that AASHE can help that discussion move forward let me know.
 

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Please check out the Open Critique of NAAB's 2009 Conditions for Accreditation (elsewhere on this Curriculum Forum), to get another slant on the issues.

It's the outcome that curricula need to be designed to meet, and most schools are hamstrung by the very real and very understandable resistance to change by faculty whose entire syllabi might need revising. Furthermore, if a curriculum were seriously aiming at educating their graduates so that they could immediately contribute to the design of a carbon neutral or zero net energy building, multi-disciplinary studios would need to become the universal norm from day one through thesis.

That's a tall order for any school to meet, but that is the outcome that the professions of the building sector all need from their educational institutions (not just architecture schools). The first schools which can actually claim such an outcome for all their graduates will attract flocks of the next cohort of professionals, who are so very willing and anxious to learn the new tools, skills, methods and mindsets necessary to engage in climate change mitigation rather than aggravation.

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AASHE's Call to Action is most timely, and identifies many of the critical areas where there are opportunities for targeted sustainability efforts, perhaps the most important being contained in item 3. of recommended activities (p. 6), namely "student learning outcomes".

Climate change has changed all the rules of human enterprise, especially for the building sector professionals who play so major a role in climate change mitigation. The focus of all education stakeholders should appropriately be the outcome for graduates of the diverse professional education programs. That seems to call for substantially altering entire curricula (more on the subject can be found elsewhere on this Curriculum Forum under Open Critique of NAAB's 2009 Conditions for Accreditation).

One very important stakeholder group that is omitted from the p.6 list are the trustees of institutions (the holder of pursestrings!). If they don't understand the importance of the outcome for which the administration and faculty design curricula, the practicalities of curriuculum change difficulties (very real) will undermine any concerted effort to provide the full education that graduates need. The fresh cohort of building sector professionals needs to be ecologically literate as well as competent to design carbon neutral or zero net energy buildings, perhaps the revitalization of neighborhoods or even the design of new cities, not to mention their real-life involvement with their childrens' schools or their local communities' civic structures.

If trustees duck this responsibility, the practicalities of curriculum change will result in the failure to meet the ultimate objective that climate change now demands of building sector professionals. Trustees and institutional fiduciaries have a very important role to play by setting up performance criteria that curricula need to meet, leaving it up to the collective wisdom of faculty and administration and students to develop such curricula that meet the challenges of climate change.

 

 

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Dear colleagues:

I was fortunate to attend the “Living” certification of the Omega Center for Sustainable Living (OCSL) this past weekend, and feel I have seen one aspect of the future of building sector professionalism - a very important and superbly idealistic one, indeed, but nevertheless still one amongst several, since its focus is total water recirculation.

To receive Living certification, the International Living Building Institute requires that a project be Socially Just, Culturally Rich and Ecologically Benign, and meet as many as 20 imperatives in the seven performance areas (or “petals”) of Site, Water, Energy, Health, Materials, Equity, Beauty. Their challenge is summarized by the question they ask: “What if every single act of design and construction made the world a better place?”

The latest article on the subject in Architectural Record underscores this by spelling out in no uncertain terms what Sustainable Design actually involves henceforth.

AIA COTE lists the following Definitions of Sustainability, and introduces its definitions as follows:

“Sustainability envisions the enduring prosperity of all living things.
“Sustainable design seeks to create communities, buildings, and products that contribute to this vision.
“Ten Measures of Sustainable Design”.

The performance criteria from the World Architecture Network (WAN) via their newly-instituted WAN Awards 2010 are further proof of the changes that our related professions are undergoing. They use the following criteria to evaluate building effectiveness:

- SOCIAL (how has the building impacted its environment / community)
- TECHNOLOGICAL (how the building typology has improved)
- ECONOMIC (how has the building contributed to the local economy)
- ENVIRONMENTAL (sustainability criteria)
- PRODUCTIVITY (has the building increased, staff / user outputs)

It is significant that the outcomes of various sustainable design aspirations are the criteria being used to evaluate projects, leaving it open to the design teams to meet them. Predictably, outcomes which are aimed at making the world a better place will involve the bioregional fits of any project, which implies that the need for administrative mechanisms will need to be created if they don’t already exist, or if they do exist, will need to be synchronized (e.g. economic and physical planning, and green codes).

What is being asked of professional teams, and what the next cadre of building sector professionals of all stripes need to learn, is how to apply the traditional and new concepts, tools, skills and methods of the various disciplines so that the outcomes of the projects are likely to perform according to these evaluation criteria. By focusing on outcomes, paradigm shifts in design education are becoming necessary. Such paradigm shifts have profound implications for both the course development and the curriculum changes being contemplated at many of our educational institutions.

The three challenges facing forward-looking educators:

1. Bringing together the interdisciplinary teams - both instructors as well as student professionals - so that the multi- and trans-disciplinary educational training can take place - one which is aimed at making the world a better place. This is a complex task, but once expressed, can be broken down into achievable steps ... just like the John F. Kennedy commitment to put a man on the moon by the end of a decade without initially having any idea of how to accomplish said challenge.

2. How to balance the practical knowledge of building sector professionalism with the broader mindset that aims at having each project perform so as to indeed “make the world a better place”, and

3. How to cram all of these into the available credit hours for the various building sector professional degrees.

Peter

PS:  For anybody who requests it from papesch@mac.com, I can send a version containing the links to the various organizations or materials mentioned above.

Peter Papesch, AIA
Chair, BSA Sustainability Education Committee
Former (founding) chair and current member, USGBC Massachusetts Education Committee
Co-chair, Back Bay Green Initiative
Member, BSA COTE
617 267-6598

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Thanks to Niles Barnes, I've learned to add links to these posts. So here are a few for the items mentioned in the previous post:

 

International Living Building Institute's Living Building Challenge:   ilbi.org/lbc/version-2-0

OCSL: eomega.org/omega/about/ocsl/

AIA COTE definitions (scroll down on page):  www.aia.org/practicing/groups/kc/AIAS074684

WAN (World Architecture News [note correction of name]):  www.worldarchitecturenews.com/index.php

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One more reference: to the Architectural Record article titled Live | Build | Sustain:

http://continuingeducation.construction.com/article.php?L=5&C=705

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As much as I appreciate the call to action and specific recommendations, I also think it is important to dig deeper into our core values as sustainability educators.  This blog post begins to examine this important issue.  Please read:

http://world.edu/content/sustainability/

John Gerber

 

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A colleague on two of the BSA committees I regularly attend (COTE and Sustainability Education), Bill Grover, recently challenged us to create a vision before setting about defining a mission. This is presumably similar to John's call for discovering core values of sustainability educators.

Bill suggests we dream of a day some 25 to 50 years ahead, and what we would like the world be for our child or grandchild on that day. It is such distant goal - the more idealistic, the more powerful - that will inform the specific actions we can commit to personally, and which will strengthen our resolve as we get buffeted by the details and minutiae of our daily lives.

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Joined: Nov 24 2009

A colleague on two of the BSA committees I regularly attend (COTE and Sustainability Education), Bill Grover, recently challenged us to create a vision before setting about defining a mission. This is presumably similar to John's call for discovering core values of sustainability educators.

Bill suggests we dream of a day some 25 to 50 years ahead, and what we would like the world be for our child or grandchild on that day. It is such distant goal - the more idealistic, the more powerful - that will inform the specific actions we can commit to personally, and which will strengthen our resolve as we get buffeted by the details and minutiae of our daily lives.