The mission of the Association of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future (ULSF) is to support sustainability as a critical focus of teaching, research, operations and outreach at colleges and universities worldwide through publications, research, and assessment.
ULSF also serves as the Secretariat for signatories of the Talloires Declaration, a ten-point action plan committing institutions to sustainability and environmental literacy in teaching and practice. Over 500 university presidents and chancellors in more than 50 countries have signed the Declaration.
In the 1990s, higher education began to recognize the need to reflect the reality that humanity is affecting the environment in ways which are historically unprecedented and which are potentially devastating for both natural ecosystems and ourselves. Since colleges and universities are an integral part of the global economy and since they prepare most of the professionals who develop, manage and teach in society’s public, private and non-governmental institutions, they are uniquely positioned to influence the direction we choose to take as a society. As major contributors to the values, health and well being of society, higher education has a fundamental responsibility to teach, train and do research for sustainability. We believe that the success of higher education in the twenty-first century will be judged by our ability to put forward a bold agenda that makes sustainability and the environment a cornerstone of academic practice.
What do we mean by “sustainability”?
“Sustainability” implies that the critical activities of a higher education institution are ecologically sound, socially just and economically viable, and that they will continue to be so for future generations. A truly sustainable college or university would emphasize these concepts in its curriculum and research, preparing students to contribute as working citizens to an environmentally healthy and equitable society. The institution would function as a sustainable community, embodying responsible consumption of energy, water, and food, and supporting sustainable development in its local community and region.
The Secretariat of University Presidents for a Sustainable Future was founded in 1992 as a direct result of the Talloires Declaration. This historic document was composed in 1990 at an international conference on “The Role of Universities in Environmental Management and Sustainable Development,” held in Talloires, France at the Tufts University European Center. It is the first official statement made by university administrators of a commitment to sustainability in higher education. It includes a concise introduction identifying the urgent need for leadership from higher education and a ten-point action plan for incorporating environmental literacy and sustainability into university teaching and practice. The twenty-two university presidents and chancellors participating in the conference signed the Talloires Declaration at the conclusion of the event and pledged to encourage their colleagues at other institutions to do the same.
The tenth point of action in the Declaration calls for the creation of a Secretariat to continue the momentum, and to “inform and support each other’s efforts in carrying out this declaration.” Tufts University, as initiator of the Talloires conference, offered to host such an office at its Medford, Massachusetts campus in the United States. Thus the Secretariat of University Presidents for a Sustainable Future was inaugurated in 1992 with funding from the MacArthur Foundation.
Tony Cortese, then Dean of Environmental Programs at Tufts, and an organizer of the October 1990 event, had been actively encouraging college and university presidents to endorse the Declaration. Within a year of the creation of the Declaration, about 125 institutions had signed on.
Cortese hired Tom Kelly to direct the new Secretariat. Over the next few years, Kelly continued to cultivate and support a growing Talloires Declaration signatory network and to run the Tufts Environmental Literacy Institute (TELI), an annual faculty development workshop founded by Cortese in 1989. In 1995, Kelly changed the name of the Secretariat to the Association of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future (ULSF), reflecting both a new focus on all levels of leadership within higher education, including senior administrators, faculty, staff and students, and the introduction of a formal membership structure.
Through mid-1997, ULSF maintained an institutional affiliation with Tufts University through the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. In July 1997, ULSF moved to Washington, DC to become the higher education program of the Center for Respect of Life and Environment (CRLE). While continuing to serve as Secretariat for signatories of the Talloires Declaration, ULSF expanded its programs and services after 1997 to include sustainability assessment, research on theoretical models and case studies of sustainability initiatives in higher education, formative evaluation of sustainability initiatives, and forming new international partnerships to advance sustainability in higher education globally.
ULSF became independent of CRLE in 2007, functioning as a virtual organization and maintaining its position as Secretariat for signatories of the Talloires Declaration.
Wynn Calder, Co-Director
Richard M. Clugston, Co-Director
Peter Blaze Corcoran, Senior Fellow in Education for Sustainability
Harold Glasser, Senior Fellow in Education for Sustainability
Debra Rowe, Senior Fellow in Education for Sustainability
Tarah Wright, Senior Fellow in Education for Sustainability