A Study in Sustainability: How Schools are Stepping Up

By Rebecca Strong
Posted August 28, 2014 01:00 PM

A study in sustainability: How schools are stepping up.
A study in sustainability: How schools are stepping up.

In the face of ever-increasing concerns about climate change and availability of resources, it has become abundantly clear that society needs to make some significant changes to prevent an environmental as well as an economic crisis. There's no doubt that taking action on these issues is a challenge - but it's one that colleges and universities are embracing in droves. Schools can have a significant impact on the future of our world by instilling green values within their student bodies. As decision-makers realize this truth, many are making sustainability a core strategic mission and key responsibility.

Some institutions are stepping up to the plate by equipping campuses with LEED-certified, energy-efficient buildings. Others are making strides by designing entire degrees around sustainability and environmental research. Between the installation of solar panels to new curricula, though, one thing is clear: Going green is no passing fad, it's a movement that will continue to make an impression on higher education countrywide.

Going Green Outside the Classroom

Other institutions are taking things one step further by giving students green living opportunities. Albright College, a school that has long made sustainability a top priority with the construction of high-performance green buildings, is opening a new housing option for five students who are interested in an environmentally friendly lifestyle, according to Albright College News. While residing at the Sustainability House, students are expected to recycle, keep track of their energy use, waste and water consumption, write a grant application for a capital item for the house, plan a relevant on-campus event for students and maintain a blog about their efforts. There's even a community garden behind the house, at which house residents will help maintain a plot.

Dr. Barty Thompson, associate professor of anthropology and director of the environmental studies program, explained to Albright College News that students will gain course credit for living there. He believes the Sustainability House offers a unique chance for students to apply what they're learning in the classroom to their everyday lives in a meaningful way.

"This incorporates residential life into the curriculum and may serve as a model for future (efforts)," he said, as quoted by the college's news site.

Adding a Competitive Element

One school that is focusing on encouraging students to think creatively about these issues is the Smeal College of Business at the Pennsylvania State University. The college developed a Sustainability Strategic Plan in 2013, which included implementing courses across the curricula emphasizing green practices, Penn State News reported. 

Recently, the institution announced that MBA Students are invited to register for the first Penn State Smeal College of Business MBA Sustainability Case Competition, which offers three prizes that total $17,500. Gerry Susman, Emeritus Klein professor of management at the Smeal College of Business, noted to Penn State News that this initiative will allow students to analyze company sustainability from a new perspective.

Leveraging New Technologies

Other institutions have implemented even more aggressive efforts to transform the way students think about sustainability. The University of California, Irvine, for example, has developed three on-campus solar energy projects and leverages a 19-megawatt turbine cogeneration plant for greater fuel efficiency, according to TakePart. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania's Dickinson College features an on-site organic farm entirely run by students, and University of South Florida possesses the country's first 20,000-watt solar charging station for electric vehicles. Green Mountain College in Vermont takes advantage of numerous clean energy sources, including an electric plant powered by a 150-kilowatt, biomass-fueled steam turbine, and the Georgia Institute of Technology's auto fleet has 150 clean-energy vehicles.

A number of colleges and universities have also generated considerable funds for sustainability programs. Stanford University, which has three environmentally themed student clubs, raised a whopping $430 million for an environmental sustainability initiative, TakePart reported. 

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