Educating For the Environment

For the past ten years I have taught a course called "The Campus and the Biosphere" in which students researched various aspects of campus resource flows and connections to the local watershed. From the evidence gathered on this and other campuses, it is clear that colleges and universities can reduce environmental impacts, improve services, reduce costs of campus operations, and do so in a way that is an educational asset. There are 3700 institutions of higher education with 14,000,000 students, annual budgets over $150 billion, and endowments in excess of $100 billion in the United States. We could make long strides toward sustainability if even a fraction of these were to adopt operational guidelines to:

1. Reduce institutional use of fossil fuels by 50% by the year 2010.

2. Become entirely powered by solar and renewable energy technologies by the year 2020.

3. Purchase materials with low environmental impacts, low embodied energy, giving preference to those that are manufactured or grown using practices that are certified as environmentally sustainable.

4. Eliminate all use of toxic chemicals.

5. Adopt environmentally sound land management procedures.

6. Eliminate discharge of all wastes by recycling, composting, and ecological engineering.

7. Buy from local farms, giving priority to those implementing sustainable practices.

8. Reduce automobile use on campus by 50%.

9. Establish funding mechanisms to promote enhanced environmental performance.

10. Set a pay-back horizon of not less than 10 years (7%/year) for all environment related investment.

11. Assess the life-cycle costs of all major purchases including buildings.

12. Create an endowed fund to promote sustainability in the local economy.

13. Screen institutional investments for adverse environmental impacts, particularly those having to do with CO2 emissions and biological diversity.

14. Set academic standards for ecological literacy comparable, say, to those for computer or numerical literacy.

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