In the Classroom:
Restructuring Formal Education
Formal classroom education plays a primary role in shaping the minds of
our nation's youth -- the next generation of leaders, activists,
managers, parents, and government officials. As America participates in
an increasingly interdependent and resource-demanding world, educators
must find ways to prepare students to meet the challenges created by
rapidly changing global situations and conditions.
In particular, education for sustainability must counteract the long
tradition of splintering knowledge into smaller and smaller pieces.
Education for sustainability is not an add-on curriculum -- that is, it
is not a new core subject like math or science. Instead, it involves an
understanding of how each subject relates to environmental, economic,
and social issues. Further, educating for sustainability promotes both
high standards of achievement in all academic disciplines as well as an
understanding of how these disciplines relate to each other and to the
concepts of environmental quality, economic prosperity, and social
up 20 percent of the population, but 100 percent of the future.
-- Richard Riley, Secretary
U.S. Department of Education
Confronting the challenges of a new century will require a purposeful
refocusing of the nation's education system into a more hands-on,
interdisciplinary learning experience. Principles of sustainability can
be used as a catalyst for innovation and restructuring of educational
institutions, curricula, and teacher training efforts.
POLICY RECOMMENDATION 1
Encourage changes in the formal education system to help all students
(kindergarten through higher education), educators, and education
administrators learn about the environment, the economy, and social
equity as they relate to all academic disciplines and to their daily
Four actions are proposed to implement this recommendation:
- defining the essential learnings and skills needed for understanding
- emphasizing interdisciplinary learning and systems-oriented thinking,
- expanding pre-service and in-service professional training for
- having educational institutions serve as models for sustainability in
Defining Essential Learnings
Action 1. Parents and representatives from states, schools,
educational organizations, community groups, businesses, and other
education stakeholders should identify the essential skills and
knowledge that all students should have at specified benchmark grades
for a basic understanding of the interrelationships among
environmental, economic, and social equity issues. This could serve as a
model for states and communities to use in setting their own
requirements for academic performance.
Education is not the filling of a bucket
but the lighting of a fire.
-- William Butler Yeats
|A Nation at Risk, a 1983
report commissioned by the
U.S. Department of Education and authored by the National Commission on
Excellence in Education, galvanized the country with its findings on the
inadequacy of public schools in preparing the nation's youth. The report
led many state and local leaders to make school reform a top priority;
it also spurred bipartisan support to enact Goals 2000: Educate America
Act (P.L. 103-227).|
This 1994 law aimed at improving the quality of
learning and teaching in the classroom and workplace. Its principles
include high expectations for all students; full participation by
parents, educators, and communities; quality teaching; increased
graduation rates; effective use of technology in learning; adult
literacy and lifelong learning; safe and drug-free schools; and
hands-on, experiential learning.
These principles are compatible with educating for sustainability.
Educating students for high standards in basic skills across the
curriculum will enable them to participate productively as members of
the community and the workforce. Continuing educational opportunities
throughout people's lives, both in formal and nonformal learning
situations, will enable them to adapt to changing economic conditions
and respond to the need for environmental protection. Building knowledge
of the interdependence among economic prosperity, environmental
protection, and social equity will help citizens understand,
communicate, and participate in the decisions that affect their lives.
This reorientation to an integrated, interdisciplinary approach will
succeed only if standards are established to ensure that sustainability
education achieves high levels of quality and performance. Standards
have been set for disciplines such as math, science, and geography.
Additionally, educators have long recognized the need for a set of
standards for environmental education. Organizations and businesses that
fund environmental education projects also have called for a set of
widely accepted materials standards that could be used in curriculum
selection. To date, 19 states have adopted legislation mandating
environmental education and 33 have enacted formal guidelines. Without a
peer-reviewed framework of essential standards, however, implementation
and evaluation of programs will be difficult. Education for
sustainability requires connections to be made across all the standards
and that environmental, equity, and economic issues be a part of each
Various organizations have focused on developing a set of consensus
standards for environmental education.
- Environmental Education Standards. In 1990, the National Science
Teachers Association adopted a set of general "criteria for excellence
in environmental education." More recently, the North American
Association for Environmental Education has been collaborating with the
World Resources Institute and members of the Public Linkage, Dialogue,
and Education Task Force (PLTF) to develop a set of learning standards
for environmental education that can be used at the state level, by
school districts, or by individual schools as guidelines for curriculum
benchmarks at various grade levels. These standards cover such areas as
the importance of ecological and sociopolitical knowledge, appreciation
of the interdependence of all life forms, concern for human impacts,
problem-solving skills, knowledge of citizen action strategies, and
respect for different perspectives and values. The standards
development process involves opportunities for review, application to
the National Education Goals Panel for certification, and dissemination
to curriculum teams that are drafting statewide learning standards.
Educators -- working in partnership with communities, businesses, and
other stakeholders -- can make education for sustainability a reality.
Specifically, for various levels of formal education, they can define
the skills and knowledge students will need in order to understand how
various human actions affect the environment, economy, and equity.
Students who meet performance standards on the principles of
sustainability will be better prepared for emerging job opportunities in
a global and dynamic economy. They also will be better prepared to
become responsible citizens. Defining standards for a core of basic
knowledge about sustainability will accelerate the infusion of these
concepts throughout the nation's educational system. The standards also
can serve as a resource for media strategies and other venues for
nonformal education about sustainability.
Many states have already begun to address the changes needed to ensure
that an informed citizenry has the awareness, understanding, behavior
and skills necessary for a sustainable future.
- New Jersey Environmental Education Plan of Action. In New
Jersey, legislation was passed in 1996 to create a permanent
Environmental Education Commission to implement a Plan of Action which
addresses the basic principles of sustainability. All citizens of New
Jersey are responsible for gaining the knowledge, attitudes and values,
skills and behaviors that ensure sustainability for future generations.
New Jersey hopes to accomplish this through many venues and -- in
particular -- by establishing a New Jersey Environmental Education
Network, a New Jersey Global Forum, and an annual Environmental
Education/Earth Week celebration. This Plan of Action has been acclaimed
by leaders in the field of environmental education as a template for
living in the Western Hemisphere.
Friends of the Future|
Sixth through 12th grade students from the St. Francis of Assisi School
in Louisville, Kentucky, have created a voice for themselves and other
youth in the state by forming Friends of the Future (FoF). With their
teacher, Sheila Yule -- who, according to one student, "pulls everything
together and is the core of the group" -- Friends of the Future members
have set an ambitious local, state, and international agenda.
- Locally, they are examining what they can do as individuals and as a
group to protect and enhance the environment and their community.
Students regularly conduct environmental testing and have alerted the
city council to a variety of water quality problems in their community;
in fact, they have helped prompt legislative changes to address the
- Across the state, FoF members are working in partnership with a
consortium of schools and universities, state agencies, and students from
other environmental groups to develop strategies to better organize and
incorporate environmental and sustainable development education into the
Kentucky school curriculum.
- FoF's international mission is to raise awareness of the United
Nations' Agenda 21 and of the role youth need to play in the discussion
on sustainable development. With the sponsorship and support of the U.N.
Environment Programme, FoF published the book We Got the Whole World in
Our Hands: A Youth Interpretation of Agenda 21, which documents the
proceedings of the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and
The book puts Agenda 21 into simple language -- easy for younger readers
to understand. The students presented their version at the National Earth
Summit in Louisville in May 1993.
Emphasizing Interdisciplinary Learning
Action 2. State officials, school administrators, and other educators
and stakeholders should continue to support education reform; emphasize
systems thinking and interdisciplinary approaches; and pursue
experiential, hands-on learning at all levels, from elementary and
secondary schools to universities, colleges, community colleges, and
Equipping today's students for tomorrow's decisions means that educators
must promote long-term thinking and planning in conjunction with
interdisciplinary, systemic learning. This shift will require new
methods of teaching as well as new curriculum content. It will require
that educators work with communities, businesses, and organizations to
develop materials that expose students to local, national, and global
issues. It means ensuring that issues and ideas from a variety of
cultures and disciplines are represented in the classroom. Building a
knowledge of the interdependence among economic prosperity,
environmental protection, and social equity will help students become
responsible citizens and understand, communicate, and participate in the
decisions that affect their lives.
Education for sustainability will . . . connect disciplines as well as
disparate parts of the personality: intellect, hands, and heart.
-- David Orr, Chair
The time is ripe for making education for sustainability -- and its
requisite interdisciplinary approach -- a focal point of reinvention
efforts in educational institutions. There are already groups, locally
and abroad, that are leading the way:
- Through Goals 2000, the U.S. Department of Education is supporting
state and local restructuring efforts.
- Countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, are
using sustainability concepts to help guide their educational programs.
If the nation's elementary, secondary, and higher education schools are
to infuse sustainability concepts into their curricula and offer
separate courses in issues related to sustainability, universities and
colleges will need to take the lead in reorienting education's approach
from compartmentalization to integration.
More courses that support interdisciplinary approaches need to be
offered and existing courses need to be refocused to include
- Sustainability in the Curriculum. The Kellogg School at
Northwestern University sponsors an elective course that involves a
spring-break trip to Costa Rica to research such initiatives as the
ecotourism industry and paper production from the waste products of
banana processing. The Crouse School of Management at Syracuse
University has a mandatory course focusing on what business students
need to know about the environment and sustainability; it also offers
courses on land development law and environmental law as part of the
business school curriculum.
Widener University offers a Sustainability and the Law course which
has three themes: the role of law in achieving sustainability,
sustainability as a basis for evaluating laws, and the potential
effectiveness of different types of legal instruments in achieving
sustainability. The course materials, which include an interdisciplinary
bibliography, focus on topics including fisheries; business and
manufacturing; biodiversity and climate; international, national, and
local communities; and consumption and population.
Additionally, a wide variety of university programs focusing on
sustainability and interdisciplinary study opportunities are emerging
across the nation.
- Columbian International Center. This graduate studies program of
the American Institute for Urban and Regional Affairs in Washington,
D.C., is accredited to offer the first master's and scholar-practitioner
doctorate degrees in sustainable development. Both degrees are in
accordance with requirements established by the World Council on
Sustainable Development. These programs (1) are interdisciplinary; (2)
incorporate a global awareness of social, economic, technological, and
environmental change and the resulting impacts on society; (3) foster
integration of theory, research, and professional practice; and (4)
require effective teamwork, cooperation, management, and leadership. The
degree programs are an international, off-campus curriculum for practicing
- Center for Sustainable Technology. The Georgia Institute of
Technology's Center for Sustainable Technology was created in
collaboration with the World Engineering Partnership for Sustainable
Development. This partnership was itself established in 1992 to unify
the global engineering community to implement sustainable development
initiatives. Recently, the center was awarded a $925,000 grant by the
General Electric Foundation; it will use the grant to develop an
educational program in sustainable development and technology that cuts
across all engineering disciplines.
- The Randolph G. Pack Environmental Institute. In 1996, The SUNY
College of Environmental Science and Forestry launched the Randolph G.
Pack Environmental Institute to promote the philosophy of sustainable
development. The Institute focuses on such topics as democratic
processes, environmental decision making, public participation,
environmental equity, and sustainable development. Interest in these
areas will be promoted through research and service activity in
community, state, national, and international venues.
- The University of Louisville Institute for the Environment and
Sustainable Development (IESD). IESD was established to promote
multidisciplinary analysis and research on the needs, causes, and
consequences of development. It seeks to expand knowledge on the
environment and economic development while providing an effective
interface between scientific inquiry and the policy-making process.
Conferences, such as a series held in 1995 on promoting sustainable
communities, are part of IESD efforts to educate and engage the public
in a dialogue on sustainability.
- Institute for a Sustainable Environment. In 1994, the
University of Oregon chartered its Institute for a Sustainable
Environment, which is particularly interested in encouraging
cross-disciplinary environmental research, education, and public service.
The institute is also focused on working with the community on
sustainability projects. Recent collaborations include Oregon
Benchmarks, Quality of Life Indicators for Coos County, and a
sustainable forestry plan for 64,000 acres of forest land of the
Caquelle Native American Tribe.
- Center for Sustainable Communities. This is one of three
centers at the University of Washington's Cascadia Community and
Environment Institute. The institute's emphasis is on interdisciplinary
activity to address regional priorities while providing students with
practical education and training experiences. The center seeks to
transfer knowledge, experience, and services between the academic
setting and communities through training, research, and direct
involvement with students. The center is a source of information for
many areas of sustainability from environmental design to sustainable
building practices to community planning.
- Tahoe Center for a Sustainable Future. This center is working in
collaboration with a variety of partners including the University of
California at Davis and the Sierra Nevada College, as well as teachers
and business, environmental and community leaders to develop a
sustainable development curriculum for the Tahoe-Truckee Region. The
effort's overall mission is to develop a model process for environmental
education teachers and K-12 students that will focus on promoting a
healthy environment and developing an adequate standard of living for
all community members.
To ensure that the momentum to develop programs on sustainability
continues, universities need to work with federal, state, and local
agencies to shift funding priorities toward interdisciplinary research.
At present, fewer than two percent of federal funding to universities
supports research related to environmental subjects, including the human
causes of environmental change.2
Too often, interdisciplinary research
is regarded as "soft science" which does not advance a faculty member's
professional standing, fulfill publication requirements, or earn tenure.
Consequently, the educational system is not responding as quickly to the
need for information and research on sustainability.
"Countries...could...establish national or regional centers of
excellence in interdisciplinary research and education...Such centers
could be universities..."
-- excerpted from Agenda 21
Rio de Janeiro
Elementary and secondary schools also need to work with other schools
and communities to develop curriculum, deliver information, identify
questions for research, and provide direct services to help solve
community problems. Many elementary and secondary schools are already
making progress in this area. For example, the Community High School
Environmental Research and Field Studies Academy in Jupiter, Florida,
incorporates sustainability concepts into classroom subjects, school
activities, community service projects, and enterprise partnerships.
This gives students an opportunity to share in decisions related to
their school and community to define a more sustainable, equitable, and
Although some educators believe that schools should impart only
knowledge and skills, not foster changes in attitudes or actions, other
educators contend that participation in real-world activities is an
integral component of education.3
Courses in citizenship, for example,
sometimes involve the development of action plans to resolve real-world
environmental problems and the opportunity to implement those plans if
students desire. The Global Rivers Environmental Education Network
(GREEN) initiative is an educational program with a strong focus on
real-world problems and community service. This program is helping
empower students to take community action by providing the tools
necessary to learn about the environmental, economic, and social
conditions in their communities, as well as the global community.
Community service can be a powerful educational tool. Taking young
people out of the classroom has a long, successful tradition in
- Student Volunteers. Since 1957, the Student Conservation
Association has encouraged more than 30,000 student volunteers to
perform conservation work in national parks, national forests, national
wildlife refuges, and other public lands.
- Learning Through Service. In 1990, students at Oglala Lakota
College on the Pine Ridge Native American Reservation in South Dakota
surveyed their community for willingness to recycle. Based on the
overwhelmingly positive response, the students pushed the district
council to build a recycling center.4
Finally, the success of reform efforts will depend heavily on access to
pre- and in-service training for educators and the development of new
materials. Classroom learning can be greatly enhanced by knowledgeable
educators who are supported by recent and accurate materials. Learning
institutions can work collaboratively with organizations and businesses
to develop materials for teaching and learning about sustainability. In
fact, many organizations are already leading the way.
- World Resources Institute (WRI). WRI's Environmental Education
Project has completed a series of teachers' guides with comprehensive
course work focusing on the global environment. Separate units include
sustainable development; watershed pollution; oceans and coasts; energy,
atmosphere, and climate; biodiversity; natural resource economics;
population, poverty, and land degradation; and citizen
To remain competitive in the global marketplace, our nation needs a
workforce knowledgeable about the interdependence among
environmental, economic, and social issues as well as the skills
necessary to apply this knowledge to their everyday lives. It
follows that an educated workforce needs to have access to
programs, training, and curriculum that provide for
interdisciplinary learning opportunities. Many schools are
starting to recognize the benefits of interdisciplinary studies,
and are working collaboratively with students to create their own
programs of study.
Saleem Ali worked with advisors at Tufts and Yale to pioneer his
own interdisciplinary path of study. After completing a bachelor
of science degree in chemistry and environmental studies at Tufts
University, Saleem was accepted to a master's program at the Yale
School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. To buttress his
environmental degrees and his interest in sustainable development,
Saleem took a variety of courses including Industrial Ecology,
Environmental Economics, Quantitative Methods in Decision
Analysis, and Philosophy and Public Policy.
But he knew that coursework alone was not enough: He needed to
couple his academics with hands-on, experiential learning in order
to gain a broader understanding of the interdependence of
environmental, economic, and social issues in a global society.
Saleem set out to gain experience in the business, nonprofit, and
government sectors to broaden his understanding of how each one
operated. He worked for the General Electric Company on
international environmental protocols and environmental auditing;
interned for a year for the British Parliament (House of Commons)
in London conducting research on material for environmental
debates; and worked at the Center for Rainforest Studies in
Australia where he interviewed farmers, conducted analysis on
water and soil samples, and prepared a research report on
reforestation in the Lake Tinaroo Catchment.
Sharing his knowledge with others is a top priority for Saleem. He
has written about his interests and concerns in campus and local
newspapers, including the Yale Herald and Tufts Daily. Plus,
Saleem has lectured in Pakistani schools to promote awareness of
environmental issues. In 1994, he was awarded the Marshall
Hoshhauser Prize for "altruistic community service."
To Saleem Ali, these diverse activities and experiences just made
sense. "In order to be an effective environmental professional, it
is essential to cover a broad disciplinary spectrum because
environmental issues tend to permeate all educational discourse
from humanities to natural sciences. I am particularly interested
in bringing my skills to work for the industrial sector because I
feel a need to bridge the gap between the corporate sector and the
environmental community. This partnership between the for-profit
and nonprofit sectors, I believe, will be the most significant
impetus to environmental reform in coming years."
Classroom Outside the Classroom|
A group of windsurfers on the Huron River became concerned for their
health when they emerged from the water with severe skin rashes. A
few had also contracted Hepatitis A. The students turned to
University of Michigan professors Dale Greiner and William Stapp
for answers. The professors devised nine water quality tests and,
over the next few months and in a variety of weather conditions,
assisted the students in charting the quality of the water. What
they found was that after a heavy rain, there was a dangerously
high fecal coliform count -- at 1,200 parts per million it was not
considered safe for drinking, swimming, or fishing -- caused by
combined sewer overflow. The students told city officials of their
findings and erected a sign to warn others of the potential
dangers of entering the water after a storm.
In 1986, students from 16 high schools near the Rouge River heard about
the Huron River findings and decided to do the same analysis. They were
shocked to find that their river's fecal levels were even higher than in
the Huron study, with counts ranging from 15,000 to 20,000 parts per
million. The students contacted city officials, who were able to attract
financial support from the federal and state governments to build
retention basins that would eliminate the sanitary waste from overflowing
storm pipes. There are now more than 100 schools involved in monitoring
the Rouge River.
These events, and the concern for healthy water systems, launched the
Global Rivers Environmental Education Network (GREEN), a nonprofit
organization whose director, Keith Wheeler, also participates on the
Public Linkage, Dialogue, and Education Task Force. Since 1989, GREEN has
grown to include more than 140 nations.
GREEN's interdisciplinary approach to watershed analysis entails
maintaining a log of scientific data and information, as well as looking
at an area's history and cataloguing its culture and economic status. The
GREEN program also emphasizes that watersheds do not recognize human
boundaries; and encourages communities, states, and nations to work
together to preserve water quality.
For example, high school students in Juarez, Mexico, conducted water
quality tests at their school and discovered high levels of
nitrate. Suspecting that the problem was caused by fertilizers
seeping into community wells, the students made appeals to local
authorities for action. Although their appeals were ignored, the
students posted signs in the community. Public awareness of water
quality issues increased -- as did sales of bottled water. This
project, which came to be known as Project del Rio, now has 24
participating schools in Mexico and 36 in Texas and New Mexico.
Student results are validated by local environmental businesses,
and data are shared via a bilingual computer network.
GREEN participants learn the importance of ensuring a clean and
safe water supply for themselves, their families, and their
communities. The problem-solving skills, knowledge, and
understanding they achieve advance them as responsible citizens.
Expanding Professional Development
Action 3. Colleges and universities should incorporate education
about sustainability into pre-service training and in-service
professional development for educators of all types, at all levels, and
in all institutions.
Educators are the best means for infusing sustainability into formal
learning -- but only if these educators have had relevant high-quality
professional development before and during their tenure in the
classroom. Professional development can bridge the gap between what
educators know now and what they will need to know to prepare the
nation's youth for changes resulting from the global transition to
sustainability. Educators continually need to learn new methods and
techniques for transferring knowledge both inside and outside the
classroom. The challenge is how to best deliver this training so it is
widespread and promotes hands-on, interdisciplinary learning.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that teachers do not feel adequately
prepared to incorporate environmental education, multicultural
perspectives, vocational relevance, and other educational demands that
comprise elements of a sustainability curriculum -- including
stimulating, higher order creative skills -- into their teaching.
Difficulty in accessing different teaching materials are barriers.
- Providing Materials and Access. Surveys in 1992 by the National
Consortium for Environmental Education and Training revealed that
teachers have difficulty finding what will help students. In response,
the consortium produced a teachers' manual, Getting Started; a
toolbox of information on workshops across the country for preparing
teachers for environmental education; and EE-Link, a major source of
K-12 teaching materials on the environment and sustainable development
that can be accessed through sites on the Internet.
Professional training for sustainability poses a number of challenges.
For one thing, teachers in all subject areas will have to acquire some
knowledge and understanding of the principles of sustainability.
Adequate pre-service training will depend on institutions of higher
education adding appropriate courses; in-service professional
development presents the formidable challenge of retraining the 2.8
million teachers in the nation's public and private K-12
schools.6 Meeting these
challenges is an important step in our nation's movement toward
sustainability since educators impart the knowledge that the next
generation of citizens, parents, and workers will use in their daily lives.
Because it is a relatively new concept for teachers as well as students,
education for sustainability needs to be incorporated into teacher
pre-service and in-service education programs. Adequate funding through
legislation or grants is essential for expanding pre-service and
in-service training in sustainability. To ensure adequate financial
support, partnerships among state departments of education, institutions
of higher education, professional societies, and school districts are
critical. Funding for developing, demonstrating, and disseminating
exemplary programs, especially for professors who educate pre-service
teachers, could strongly influence the future of sustainability in the
United States. Where state or federal funding is unavailable, the
private sector can help meet the challenge.
- Federal Support. Two federal agencies, the U.S. Department of
Education and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have
established programs that support professional development for teachers.
The Department of Education, through its Dwight D. Eisenhower
Professional Development Program, provides grant assistance to state and
local education agencies, institutions of higher education, and
nonprofit organizations to ensure that teachers and other staff and
administrators have access to high-quality professional development.
EPA, in addition to providing support to encourage students to pursue
careers in mathematics, science, engineering, and other fields essential
to environmental improvement, helps fund training for educators on how
to increase environmental literacy. Through the 1990 Environmental
Education Act, EPA created a three-year partnership endeavor, the
Environmental Education and Training Project, to fund educators who (1)
need additional training, (2) provide education to underserved
populations, and (3) work with adult learners.
Teachers will need plenty of guidance at the outset, especially in
measuring success. Educators, with the help of academics,
non-governmental organizations, professional societies, and businesses,
can take the lead in developing new materials on sustainability.
Professional development, adequate teaching materials, and evaluations
of success are all necessary prerequisites if educators are to meet the
challenge of preparing students for a new era.
Successful work in this area includes the following:
- Requiring Environmental Education. Of the states that mandate
environmental education, only two -- Maryland and Wisconsin -- also
require pre-service training to prepare teachers for implementing that
mandate. Besides including environmental education objectives in its
pre-service teacher certification programs, Wisconsin also has a large
in-service program in environmental education. Both of these
Wisconsin-based programs have elicited strong support from students,
teachers, and school administrators.7
- Environmental Literacy. The Tufts University Environmental
Literacy Institute provides environmental literacy training to secondary
school teachers and university faculty, helping them weave environmental
themes into their courses. The institute exposes participants to current
educational theory, teaching strategies, assessment techniques, and
information retrieval methods. Its nine-day participatory learning
course covers such topics as life-cycle assessment, design for
environment, cost-benefit analysis, market-driven technological
innovations, and responsible industry practices. The institute's Global
Partners Program promotes interdisciplinary research, information
exchange, and international partnerships. By 1992, 70 faculty members
from schools around the country, in fields ranging from medicine to the
arts, had attended institute workshops. Today, these teachers and
professors -- whether they teach English or engineering -- are
incorporating environmental principles into their courses.8
- Middle Schools. An EPA grant is supporting a two-week summer
training institute for middle school teachers by the Columbia Education
Center in Portland, Oregon. The center also will expand its program to
establish environmental education demonstration sites at public and
private schools in five states.
- Biodiversity Training. The Science Improvement Through
Environmental Studies Program uses an investigative and problem-solving
approach to study the ecological and social principles of biodiversity.
Following summer training, qualified teachers are certified as
state-level volunteer peer leaders to provide in-service programs for
Teaching Teachers and Students About the Environment|
Despite the popular teaching slogan "think globally and act locally," few
high school students graduate with the ability to analyze and assess
global environmental problems. A 1995 study sponsored by the Pew
Charitable Trusts found that global topics such as population change,
ocean pollution, temperate ecology, and land use -- some of the most
pressing problems facing society -- were among the least common subjects
addressed in environmental education classes and teacher training programs.
Although many teachers would like to include global environmental studies
in their courses, they are discouraged by a variety of barriers including
the need for new information, the need for new ways to integrate
information and materials into learning situations, and determining how
to make global issues relevant to students. In addition, teachers worry
about overwhelming students -- either with the somber nature of the
topics or as an addition to an already overcrowded school year.
Most teacher training courses and curriculum materials offer little help.
Training courses tend to focus on local and regional issues. Most
materials are appropriate for elementary and middle schools, but not
sufficiently challenging for high school use.
Overcoming these obstacles is the goal of a recent partnership formed
between the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Global Network of
Environmental Education Centers. By combining their respective strengths
-- teacher training and the production of top-quality curriculum
materials -- they hope to bolster the professional development of
environmental educators nationwide and stimulate the infusion of global
environmental studies into U.S. secondary schools. The plan is to develop
model teacher training courses using WRI's curriculum materials that link
global environment and sustainable development issues with similar concerns.
Serving as Models of Sustainability
Action 4. Schools, colleges, and universities should promote
curriculum and community awareness about sustainable development and
should follow sustainable practices in school and on campus.
The university has all too often geared its research, teaching, and
service to communities in ways that have little relationship to
sustainability. We must change much of our thinking about how to walk
softly upon the planet. To do this will require us to make fundamental
changes in the corporate culture of the university.
--Bunyan Bryant, Professor
University of Michigan
Educational institutions -- from K-12 schools through colleges and
universities -- can and should serve as models for sustainability. As
such, schools at all levels can be potent forces in educating the
communities they serve while reducing their own operating costs and
increasing their efficiency. For students, participating in a school's
conservation efforts is a form of hands-on, experiential learning.
Various forms of community service that get students out of the
classroom, literally or figuratively, can also serve as powerful
educational tools. |
In February 1995, a workshop on the Principles of Sustainability in
Higher Education was held in Essex, Massachusetts, under PLTF auspices.
The workshop was sponsored by Second Nature, a nonprofit organization
dedicated to education for sustainability, and the Secretariat of
University Leaders for a Sustainable Future. One of the workshop's major
conclusions was that the operations of universities and colleges should
be restructured so that they serve as models for sustainability:
- The university is a microcosm of the larger community, and the manner
in which it carries out its daily activities is an important
demonstration of ways to achieve environmentally responsible living. By
focusing on itself, the university can engage students in understanding
the "institutional metabolism" of materials and activities. Students can
be made aware of their "ecological address" and the impact of their
attending school on the natural environment and the community, and they
can be actively engaged in the practice of sustainable living. By using
the campus as a laboratory, students learn to analyze complex
multidisciplinary problems, develop real solutions and focus on their
institution's and their own behavior -- skills that are critical for
the realities of the 21st century. By "practicing what it preaches,"
engaging in environmentally just and sustainable practices in its
operations, purchasing and investments, higher education helps reinforce
desired values and behaviors in all members of the academic community.
Moreover, the annual buying and investment power of the nation's
institutions of higher learning -- $120 billion in purchasing; $75
billion in endowment -- makes them important players in creating market
demand for environmentally just and sustainable goods and services and
in supporting the local communities in which these institutions are
Not only can institutions develop curricula that integrate
sustainability concepts, they can also incorporate these concepts into a
wide range of activities, including research projects, career
counseling, administrative procedures, procurement practices, academic
curricula, and other university services.
The results of practical research or model greening projects conducted
at universities and colleges can be shared with the community and other
school systems. For example:
- Yale University. In response to recommendations made at the
Campus Earth Summit, Yale switched from incandescent to fluorescent
lighting, with projected savings of $3.5 million over the next 10 years.
- University of Arizona. By modifying laboratory procedures in an
introductory chemistry course to eliminate 3,600 gallons of hazardous
waste, savings of more than $12,000 in disposal costs were realized.
- State University of New York. The Stony Brook branch of the
University system instituted conservation measures for its heating and
air conditioning systems that saved 1.53 million gallons of fuel oil,
worth over $1 million.
- Benedict College. Energy-saving practices at Benedict College of
Columbia, South Carolina, initially cost $28,900 but saved more than
$91,400 during the first year.
- University of California. The University of California at San
Francisco uses co-generation to heat its medical center with recovered
steam heat; the initial cost of $247,000 will be amortized quickly
through annual savings of $87,000.10
- Brown and Tufts Universities. Brown University installed
energy-efficient improvements through its Brown Is Green program; Tufts
University did the same through its Tufts Clean! effort.11
Primary and secondary schools can follow suit; in fact, some of the
nation's 80,000 primary and secondary schools have already made great
Higher education institutions bear a profound moral responsibility to
increase the awareness, knowledge, skills and values to create a just
and sustainable future.
--Tony Cortese, CEO
- Chicago Public School System. In an era of tight funding the
Chicago Public School System, in partnership with the Center for
Neighborhood Technology, is planning a novel approach to use energy
efficiency to generate savings and revenue. The city is in the process
of developing a comprehensive energy and environmental evaluation of
public school facilities and transportation systems. The results will be
translated into better resource management, new investment strategies,
and improved education opportunities for students. The plan is being
developed under U.S. EPA's Project XLC ("eXcellence and
Leadership for Communities"). Project XLC assists
communities in the use of creative
approaches to attain greater environmental benefits. In this case, a
provision of the Clean Air Act can provide "pollution credits" to
schools, for reducing emissions through investments in energy
efficiency. The schools can then sell some of the credits -- currently
worth $12,000 to $15,000 per ton reduced -- to firms that are having
difficulty meeting emissions standards. Students and faculty can be
engaged in the effort by incorporating information about energy
reduction into the curriculum and by helping develop new and innovative
ways to reduce energy use and costs, system-wide. This effort builds on
the 1991 American Association of School Administrators "Schoolhouse in
the Red" study, which projected that energy management programs could
cut utility bills 25 percent in the nation's schools -- or approximately
$14 million a year for Chicago. The city schools there hope to serve as
a model which can be replicated by other schools throughout the country.
- New York Healthy Schools Network. This network was created to
bring together the perspectives of over 30 health, environment,
education, and parent groups. The coalition motivated the State Board of
Regents and Education Department to create an "environmental bill of
rights" for schools. The bill encourages schools to serve as role models
of environmental awareness and states that every child and school
employee should have the right to have a safe school that uses its
- Guidance Materials. Brochures, videos, and books like
for a Green School (by the Center for Environmental Education) are
helping school administrators, teachers, maintenance staff, students,
parents, and community leaders create environmentally safe and healthy
school buildings. Blueprint for a Green School is a guide on how to
tackle environmental safety issues and make practical, responsible
decisions about the operation of school buildings and classrooms.
Becoming a model of sustainability is consistent with higher education's
traditional mission of teaching, research, and service. Increasing
awareness, knowledge, and technologies to create a sustainable future is
a key responsibility of schools. Schools educate the leaders, managers,
and visionaries of tomorrow. They train the teachers who educate
children from kindergarten through high school, vocational schools,
colleges, and universities. The school's responsibility is to provide a
quality education and a safe and healthy learning environment.
Institutions of higher education can exert a strong influence on society
by turning out literate citizens who have witnessed first hand the
benefits of sustainability.
Universities and schools nationwide should develop 10- and 20-year plans
to make sustainability a central focus of their operations. Through
their own experiences in becoming more sustainable, universities and
schools can serve as catalysts for encouraging local communities to move
toward a sustainable future. Following are some examples of successful
sustainability efforts and experiments in academia.
- Second Nature. Second Nature, a nonprofit organization
dedicated to education for sustainability, targets its efforts at
colleges, universities, and professional schools as the institutions
responsible for educating future teachers, policy makers, and
managers. Second Nature fosters partnerships such as the 17-member
Environmental Technology Consortium of the Historically Black Colleges
and Universities/Minority Institutions. Another partnership is the
11-member Brazilian Consortium for Environmental Education and Research,
composed of representatives from universities, government, industry, and
non-governmental organizations. Finally, the Montana Consortium is a
four-member group that includes three Native American tribal colleges
and one four-year university. Second Nature provides guidance on how
these groups can work together to incorporate sustainability into their
day-to-day operations, curriculum, and research priorities; it works
with these organizations to make them models of sustainability in
- The High School for Environmental Studies. State-of-the-art
facilities that include a recycling center, roof garden, greenhouse,
composting center, weather station, computerized research library, and
million-dollar media center are a few of the innovations at the High
School for Environmental Studies, a public school in New York City
formed to foster environmental education in an urban setting. The school
was established in 1991 by a partnership between the Surdna Foundation
and the New York Board of Education. A highlight of the school's
curricula is its voluntary internship program that places students in an
environmentally oriented organization for a full academic year.
- University Leaders for a Sustainable Future. In 1990, the
presidents, rectors, and vice chancellors of more than 200 member
institutions in 40 nations formed a Secretariat of University Leaders
for a Sustainable Future to promote university leadership for global
environmental management and sustainable development. The secretariat
supports universal environmental literacy, faculty development, socially
and ecologically responsive research, ecologically sound institutional
practices that minimize environmental impact, and expanded outreach
- Eastern Kentucky University. Paper recycling is a common
project on campuses, but Eastern Kentucky University has involved a new
constituency: cattle. In a program developed by the agricultural
department and the physical plant, paper destined for the recycling bin
is collected and reused as bedding for the school's cattle. When the
bedding has been sufficiently soiled, it is reused as compost in the
fields. According to the university's Sierra Club advisor, Doug Hindman,
more than 30 tons of paper have been "recycled" by the cattle, reducing
the amount of waste exported from the campus by two dump-truck loads.
"Colleges and universities are, for the most part, still educating the
young for an industrial world. But in the much more crowded world of the
21st century those now in school must have the know how and know why to
sharply reduce the amount of land, fossil energy, materials, and water
thought necessary for human life."
-- David W. Orr, Professor and Chair, Department of Environmental
To answer the challenge of educating students for sustainability, Oberlin
College is involving students and faculty, as well as outside consultants
and stakeholders, in developing a 10,000 square foot, zero emissions
Environmental Center. The facility will require the efficient use of
recycled materials, ecological wastewater systems, solar energy, and
ecological landscaping. "We intend for the building to be a crossroads
for interdisciplinary education, research, and action on the complex
array of problems and opportunities facing humankind in the 21st
century," says Orr.
In conjunction with the Environmental Center project, Oberlin College
offers an Ecological Design class. Students in the class meet with
leading practitioners, energy experts, and designers to share and develop
ideas contributing to the building process. In the future, students will
use the building as a living laboratory for discovery and learning.
|Schools as Models of
Some 450 faculty, staff, and student delegates from all 50 states and six
continents convened February 18-20, 1994, at the Campus Earth Summit at
Yale University. The delegates agreed that schools must promote
sustainable development; they gathered their suggestions, input, and
recommendations into the Blueprint for a Green Campus: The Campus Earth
Summit Initiatives for Higher Education.12
The document describes ways to make sustainability a central focus of
education programs and to provide community and regional fora to discuss
sustainability. It is based on the principle that students, as
multi-billion-dollar consumers of higher education's services, have the
power to demand more environmentally responsible campuses and curricula.
The Blueprint's 10 recommendations are as follows:
Integrate environmental knowledge into all relevant disciplines.
Improve undergraduate environmental studies course offerings.
Provide opportunities for students to study campus and local
Conduct a campus environmental audit.
Institute environmentally responsible purchasing policies.
Reduce campus waste.
Maximize energy efficiency.
Make environmental sustainability a top priority in campus land use,
transportation, and building planning.
Establish a student environmental center.
Support students who seek environmentally responsible careers.
Federation Campus Ecology Program|
On Earth Day 1990, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) launched the
Campus Ecology program to help college and university students, staff,
and faculty promote environmental education throughout their campuses and
make campuses more sustainable. The program has involved over one-third
of the institutes of higher learning in the United States.
Campus Ecology's mission is to establish environmentally sound practices
on college campuses by promoting leadership and action within the campus
community. Realizing the importance of diversity, Campus Ecology strives
to include all peoples in working toward environmental solutions, and
encourages joint campus and community projects. Campus Ecology recognizes
the efforts of people who work on outstanding projects by documenting and
publishing their accomplishments.
The program has three main components which have led to its success.
Action is the most essential component. It is necessary to act now for
environmental challenges to be met. Coalition building is also necessary;
this promotes leadership, and should be representative of the country's
diverse cultural heritage. Finally, continuity is crucial. Programs
should be designed with a long-range goal in mind and be in existence
long after students have graduated.
Campus Ecology participants have access to many different resources and
services. These include Ecodemia, a book highlighting how universities
around the country have started to "green" their campuses and the
benefits associated with this greening; project resource packets which
provide an overview of issues and strategies on tackling these issues;
one-on-one consultation; site visits; workshops; NWF campus environmental
yearbook; newsletters; job bank; speaker's bureau; case study
clearinghouse; and a World Wide Web site.
|The George Washington
University: Becoming A Model for Sustainability|
In 1994, the U.S. EPA and The George Washington University (GW) signed a
partnership agreement to work collaboratively to foster and enhance
leadership and stewardship for environmental management and
sustainability. GW is striving to become a model among institutions of
higher learning by embodying a principled ethic for the environment and
sustainability. This effort includes its education and training programs;
research; healthcare, and other services; management of its built and
natural campus environments, and other functions. This holistic approach
implies that GW is in a "...perpetual state of becoming sustainable."
GW has developed a "living" strategic plan which serves as its dynamic
roadmap to a sustainable future. The planning process involved the
participation of internal stakeholders, including students, faculty,
staff, and administrators. External stakeholders also participated --
including representatives of the neighborhoods around its campuses,
vendors and contractors, local, state, and federal government agencies,
and other parties. University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg signed
and committed the plan to action on Earth Day 1995. The comprehensive
plan is available to other interested schools via the National
Environmental Information Resources Center at http://www.gwu.edu/~greenu/.
As an outcome of initial planning efforts, and to institutionalize what
began as a volunteer-driven initiative, President Trachtenberg also
chartered, funded, and staffed an "Institute for the Environment." With a
University-provided base operating budget of about $150K/year (FY95), the
Institute's mission is to facilitate and coordinate sustainability
initiatives across all operating units of the University. Volunteerism
continues to be a vital force in achieving the objectives of GW's plan.
Rosemary Sokas, M.D., directs the Institute and its paid staff and
volunteers, on a part-time basis. She brings a unique perspective to the
job -- as a faculty member who actively practices international
occupational and environmental medicine. Says Dr. Sokas: "GW has already
made healthy returns on its investments." Trachtenberg's
response:"...investing for sustainability is just plain good business."
Enrolling a diverse population of students from all 50 states and more
than 120 countries, GW is the largest institution of higher learning in
the nation's capital. At its main campus, the GW community of faculty,
staff, students, and on-site contractors numbers more than 30,000. GW is
the largest private sector employer in the District of Columbia, with a
regional economic impact estimated at $1.6 billion annually. Its
academic, research, and health care activities extend into over 100
countries. The scale and scope of these activities reflects a remarkable
capability and an enormous capacity to drive widespread, positive change
for sustainability. This ranges from the national and international
influence of its more than 150,000 living alumni, to the leverage it
exerts in the marketplace when specifying and procuring environmentally
preferable goods and services from the 26,000 vendors it uses each year.
GW is working with colleges and universities; business and industry;
federal, state, and local government agencies; and other organizations to
form strategic alliances, advance mutual objectives, and achieve common
goals for a sustainable future.The alliances are operating at four levels
of communities: local, regional, national, and international.
Opportunities which build the intellectual capacity for a sustainable
future, fuel the economy, create new jobs, advance social equity, and
enhance public and environmental health and wellness are among the results.
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