Tag Archives: students

Sustainable Universities

The university system does a lot to shape our world. It molds young people into citizens. The best of universities allow young people to mold themselves within a healthy and supportive environment, but most of them simply engage in indoctrination. I could write quite a long critique regarding that, but it’s not my purpose here,  so I won’t get into it just now.  There are some colleges and universities that have developed a focus on sustainability, but not nearly enough. We need to push for three different areas of change in our university system. This can be done by almost anyone – students, faculty, staff, alumni, prospective students. The areas of change: sustainability of the school itself, courses of study that focus on sustainability and application of knowledge in related areas, like engineering, to problems of sustainability, student organizations and focus groups that engage in discussion and action.

Unless we teach people what it actually means to be sustainable, we can’t attain a level of sustainability that will carry us into the future.

Student body & organizations

Students. The most important part of any school. The raison d’etre of any school. There are so many things that students can do to promote sustainability and to bring the topic into focus for the school’s administration, faculty, and other students. First: make some noise. Start an organization and make yourself noticed. Issue challenges to the entire school and everyone in it, or to other schools, like the “do it in the dark” challenge, in which houses and/or dorms compete for the biggest reduction in energy usage for a month. Have seed-bombing and guerrilla gardening campaigns. Petition the school for an area where you can have a vegetable garden on campus to produce cheap food for students – you can even have a little students-only farmer’s market to raise funds for the organization. Give out free BPA-free water bottles to encourage students not to buy throw-away plastic bottles of water. Ask the school’s bookstore to sell notebooks, flash drives, pens, binders, clothing, etc. made out of recycled and eco-friendly materials. Get involved in boards and committees of the institution in which you have a voice, and can push for change. There are so many things you can do.

Programs of study

This one is trickier. Students, along with staff and faculty with experience in related fields can push for the development of programs focused on sustainability and/or for a focus on sustainability in each related field. It’s really when people come together with experience in different fields and from different parts of the world that we can progress in leaps and bounds and make a huge difference. Look at the programs already available at other universities to see how they’re doing it, and try to improve upon them. If you’re a prospective student, even asking about whether schools have a sustainability program, or have plans to develop one, will help. An increasing interest from the general population can push things in the right direction. If you are a current student, you can aim for this within your own program, and you can encourage all your classmates to study together in the same place, which will collectively reduce the amount of electricity you’ll use by quite a lot over the course of a year. Think of how much more you’d use if you were each studying in a separate room or building all the time.

University & its policies

There are several areas to look at here. Alumni might consider telling your alma mater that you will make donations or donate more if it only makes investments in sustainable businesses and if it implements programs to increase its own sustainability, or you can earmark your donation for sustainability projects, renovations etc. Prospective students should keep this in mind, too. Choose the schools that are most environmentally friendly and that are trying to reduce their carbon footprint. See what you can do in your own department if you’re currently a student. Can you turn in your assignments via email or dropbox rather than on paper? Are all those hand-outs really necessary, or can they be sent to your email or posted on a virtual blackboard? Some students may need a paper copy, but most don’t. Again, there are many things you can do to try to make a difference, especially if your classmates join you.

Advertisements

Sustainable Education

Diminishing returns

I’m not just talking about a curriculum that includes educating students about sustainability, though that’s also important. I’m talking about the system of educational diminishing returns that we’re seeing, especially in the United States. I’ve got a family full of teachers, so I’ve been exposed to the particular challenges they face for my whole life, and I’ve seen first-hand the disgusting lack of support for all teachers, but more specifically for teachers that work with the students that need the most support – children with behavioral disorders, learning styles that are at odds with the current system, language impairments, math-based learning disorders, physical disabilities, and developmental disorders. The recent U.S. Education Sequester has made things worse, disproportionately so for the teachers and kids in special & alternative education programs. Let’s face it – even with the current economic difficulties, this is an incredibly wealthy country. We’re just not using the power of our wealth to back the right horse. And if we don’t start changing things when we can, I think it will eventually lead to a situation where we don’t have the wealth or the skill-set that makes change like this potentially so easy to implement.

Education refugees

knowledge-1052011_640Because of the diminishing returns that are being seen by all students, more of us are looking outside our borders to pursue higher education. “The number of U.S. students at Canadian colleges rose 50 percent in a decade.” And that’s just Canada, one of our closest neighbors. Lots of us are going to other countries where we can get an excellent education for half the cost, or less. I’m an education refugee myself, and I’m in the Netherlands. I took my brains and my work ethic and moved them overseas. Not because I don’t love my country, but because it doesn’t love me. It loves big agra and big pharma and a big military. It certainly wasn’t the easier choice in the short-term, but it’s the more sustainable choice for me, for many reasons, one being that I no longer need a car; I go everywhere by bicycle, train or bus, greatly reducing my personal carbon footprint. Another thing that makes it a more sustainable choice is that I don’t have the crippling student loans I would have had otherwise. I still needed student loans, and they’re still through the US federal government, who’s robbing me blind on interest, but it’s tens of thousands less than it could have been.

learn-793095_640There’s another way to read ‘education refugees.’ Current and potential teachers are making other choices for careers. When I was younger, I wanted to be a teacher because of the inherent ability of the profession to inspire future generations, and the massive contributions teachers make to the general good of society. But that ability is being eroded by increasingly bad policies, like the rise in emphasis on standardized testing which forces them to ‘teach to the test’ instead of accenting critical thinking, research, and interactive learning, all of which engage students. Also eroding that ability is decreasing federal funding. Schools are closing, kids are being shuffled around, teachers are losing their jobs, and the ones remaining have bigger class sizes, more work, and mountains of stress. This is a downward spiral – by nature not sustainable.

Back to being green

Of course, this all has serious ramifications for the overall sustainability movement as well. Everything’s related. If we aren’t inspiring and educating people to be good critical thinkers and inventors, we’ll have a hard time coming up with new technologies that will help move us away from dependence on fossil fuels. Research and development are vital to this process. For example, biotecture wouldn’t be feasible without a really good understanding of how different materials interact with heat, and how to use that knowledge to increase the self-sufficiency of buildings. We’re actually holding back our own scientific development, and increasing the overall danger to the entire world, and that’s just unforgivable.

%d bloggers like this: