A Declaration of Action: Message from the Director

The Declaration, Volume 1, Number 1 : January – April 1996  [Feature]

By Thomas H. Kelly, Ph.D.

With this first issue of The Declaration, the Association of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future (ULSF-formerly the Secretariat of University Presidents for a Sustainable Future) begins a dialogue among a growing membership that includes more than 230 university leaders representing institutions of higher learning in over 40 countries. These leaders share a commitment to global environmental literacy that they have affirmed by signing the Talloires Declaration.

The Talloires Declaration is fundamentally a call to action; the setting for this action is our individual campuses and the communities, regions, and nations in which they are embedded. Accordingly, the dialogue in which we are engaging is a pragmatic one; it is about how internationally accepted principles can and should be manifest in our educational missions, programs and practices. Therefore, it is about problem solving, experimentation, innovation, and collective learning.

The evolving dialogue on environmental literacy is occurring in institutions of higher education across diverse cultural landscapes in every region of the world. While the accompanying action has been taking place for some time, much of it has been happening in institutional or regional isolation and is dependent upon committed individuals or small groups without policies and systems to support their efforts.

Notwithstanding many important accomplishments, global environment and development trends in population, poverty, climate change, urbanization, ecosystem degradation, and threats to human health continue to point to the need for a significant change in the awareness, values, knowledge, and skills of professionals in all fields. The Declaration’s ten-point plan integrates the activities of administrators and staff, lecturers and researchers, students, alumni, and external partners in pursuit of environmental literacy.

The ULSF Secretariat support signatory members in the vigorous implementation of the Talloires Declaration. Much of our initial work has been to heighten awareness, an essential first step in facilitating a change in institutional culture and individual behavior. The challenge is now to animate that awareness with the requisite knowledge, skills, and information that enable institutional policies and practices, and other collective actions that are consistent with the aspirations of sustainable development.

The Talloires Declaration provides a common set of objectives around which experience and accomplishments can be shared and compared, information exchanged, and capacity strengthened. In addition to regular publication of The Declaration, this interaction will take place through a variety of mechanisms including:

  • regional councils
  • university presidents’ convenings
  • environmental literacy institutes
  • institutional ecology conferences
  • an assessment and reporting system
  • “state of the campus” reports
  • a World Wide Web site
  • a discussion paper series

As we celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Talloires Declaration we can cite significant achievement. Our membership has grown ten-fold, from 22 original signatories in 14 countries to 236 signatories representing 43 countries across five continents. The Talloires directives were incorporated in Agenda 21 of the United Nations Conference for Environment and Development (UNCED, 1992). Member institutions around the world are making great strides in their initiatives to support sustainability and achieve global environmental literacy. Highlights of these efforts will be documented in each issue of The Declaration.

We applaud the vision of our signatory presidents and the efforts of their faculty, staff, and students. We extend an invitation to all leaders in higher education to join the ranks of their colleagues in this important international movement. Together we can provide the academic leadership to achieve environmental literacy and foster institutional responsibility by demonstrating the principles of sustainable development in action.

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