Integrating Sustainability into College Curricula

As a college professor, an English professor at that, I often struggle over how I can bring sustainability into the classes I teach without actually “preaching” the concept outside of my courses’ contexts. Now, I’ve got some models…

From St. Olaf News via Vivus Architecture + Design, an announcement that this small liberal arts college in Minnesota will use sustainability as it’s main academic theme this school year. The college has a wealth of activities planned to highlight sustainability, including a survey of students to “gauge their environmental values and ecological literacy,” as well as tours of campus facilities that already integrate sustainable practices. Professors across the curriculum will integrate the theme into their course syllabi.

In India, a recent one-day conference addressed methods of popularizing renewable energy practices, including granting accreditation “to those higher learning institutions which derive at least 30 per cent of their power requirement from renewable sources,” and encouraging that “renewable energy curriculum be made a part of the syllabus at every level of higher education.”

With issues such as climate change and peak oil staring us right in the face, we in higher ed. (as well as primary and secondary schools) need to work sustainability into our teaching. The models are there — how do we encourage adoption of such ideas short of a top-down mandate (which, in my experience, is not the best way to get faculty on board)? I remember Joel Makower’s challenge from last Spring, and I think issuing such challenges is a place to start, especially with those of us who are already concerned. How do we convince our less-interested colleagues, though, especially those in fields that don’t seem immediately relevant? Finally, how do we get the institutions themselves to realize that a recycling program is not the end-all of sustainable practices on campus?

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