Web cast highlights sustainability issues on college campuses

On October 24, TCNJ students, faculty, and staff joined counterparts from more than 300 other colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada by taking part in the fifth annual Campus Sustainability Day Web cast.

The online forum highlighted the achievements and challenges for the tens of thousands of students, faculty, and staff working to instill sustainability principles in higher education institutions and their surrounding communities.

The year’s Web cast featured presentations by author Bill McKibben; Norm Christopher, director of sustainability for Grand Valley State University; and Debra Rowe, president of the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development.

McKibben is the author of The End of Nature, thought by many to be the first publicly accessible book about global warming, and Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future. During the October 24 event, he discussed the “Step it Up” grassroots campaign, which has unified campuses and communities to address issues of global warming. One of the main objectives of the campaign, which began last year, is to lobby Congress to enact cuts on carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050. Additionally, the campaign proposes several initiatives for college campuses, including depending on locally grown produce rather than importing, redistributing fluorescent light bulbs, and lowering thermostats during winter months.

McKibben reported that, so far, “Step it Up” has gained widespread support from a variety of environmental, student, and religious groups nationwide. He said the campaign, which has borne more than 1,400 separate rallies nationwide, is the largest movement of young people since protests of the Vietnam War.

Pressing for “real and systemic change,” the campaign is inciting a “profound difference and not just changes around the margin,” McKibben said.

“Certainly there are many opportunities for learning, research, and creative work across all our disciplines—ways that we can invite thoughtful and creative response as we address the bigger questions of sustainability,” said Dean Susan Albertine.

Christopher spoke about the Community Sustainability Partnership (CSP), which joins Grand Valley State University with the city of Grand Rapids in a collaborative effort to build a more sustainable community. The partnership focuses on raising awareness, setting goals, and organizing activities toward sustainability.

“Sharing knowledge, working together, building relationships, and making a difference” are the primary objectives of the partnership, Christopher said.

Rowe, spoke on the important role that college campuses play in setting a national precedent in taking initiatives toward sustainability, urging for initiatives that can advance the movement from a campus trend to a “societal trend.” She believes it is necessary for initiatives on college campuses to be “student-run and student-generated,” and that they must reach out to media to raise awareness and legislatures to enact change.

“It’s okay to make big steps,” urged Rowe.

The Web cast was sponsored nationally by The Society for College and University Planning, an organization that, according to its Web site, is “dedicated to sharing, learning, and teaching best practices in planning for colleges and universities.”

Dean of the School of Culture and Society Susan Albertine was instrumental in bringing the event to TCNJ’s campus this year. She pointed out that the Web cast proposed a number of feasible suggestions for students, faculty, staff, and the local community to consider in working toward a sustainable campus at TCNJ.

“As a dean, I am interested in ways that the academic programs and disciplines welcome real-world problem-solving and applied work as part of our ever-evolving curriculum,” Albertine said. “Certainly there are many opportunities for learning, research, and creative work across all our disciplines—ways that we can invite thoughtful and creative response as we address the bigger questions of sustainability.”

TCNJ’s participation in the Campus Sustainability Day Web cast follows on the heels of President Gitenstein signing the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment last spring. That commitment pledged that TCNJ would immediately begin working toward neutralizing its global warming emissions. As part of the commitment, the College must also begin to infuse its curriculum with research, discussions, and lessons in climate neutrality and sustainability.

Joe Garavente ’08

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