Sustainability as a Way of Life on Campus

Though I’ve expressed much excitement over sustainability measures being implemented at college campuses across the US, I have also wondered if this isn’t a short-term trend or even a fad. Not so, according to this article from Durham, NC’s Herald-Sun:

Although a buzzword of sorts, “sustainability” isn’t likely to fade away as a passing fad. Universities across the nation have spent the last several years becoming more environmentally friendly in their construction, landscaping and the like.

Among them is Duke University. For example, Duke recently opened a new engineering and research facility that, through a number of new conservation measures, has reduced water use by 53 percent.

For Cynthia Shea, sustainability has become a way of life.

As [the University of North Carolina‘s] sustainability coordinator, Shea oversees a small staff and a $70,000 budget — which doesn’t sound like much money for an office charged with promoting the new concept.

But Shea’s job isn’t to fund sustainability directly. It’s to get people on campus to act in a more socially responsible way.

“If universities can’t address pressing issues in their research and educating of students, who else is going to take the lead?” Shea said.

Universities should be natural places to get this movement going, and many are doing so not only in terms of discussing the subject, but putting serious money behind sustainable development on campus. That’s the key for me: I’ve been at enough schools to know that funding is the real measure of commitment to an idea (though I suppose that’s true most places). I’m also encouraged to see that this attention to sustainability is arising generally within student populations. This really creates a sort of “perfect storm”: students will often be the ones vocalizing support for progressive measures on campus, often with the backing of sympathetic and even committed faculty. As you might imagine, though, adminstrators and board members tend to be a bit more conservative with a university’s funds. If these various groups of stakeholders are finding common purpose by addressing sustainability on campus, that’s a tribute to the concept itself.

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