The Declaration, Volume 3, Number 3 : February 2000 [Feature]
A new vision for higher education is required to address the profound challenges that face our society in responding to the unsustainable and environmentally destructive practices of our time. The past two years has seen the evolution of a new network of individuals and organizations, the Higher Education Network for Sustainability and the Environment (HENSE). This network seeks to make education for sustainability and the environment a foundation of all aspects of higher education: teaching, research, operations, purchasing, and collaboration with local communities.
Numerous and diverse groups and individuals in community colleges, liberal arts colleges, universities and professional schools across the nation are currently pursuing innovative strategies in environmental and sustainability education. However, existing efforts too often occur in isolation, remain small scale and provide little opportunity for cross-fertilization. Individual faculty, staff and administrators have no national forum where their work can be reported, reviewed, acknowledged, and advanced.
HENSE has come about through the vision and dedication of many individuals who feel the need for a national, broad-based initiative to coordinate, support, and expand existing efforts to bring sustainability and environmental awareness into every sector of the academy. In January 2000, forty key individuals from colleges and universities, higher education associations, non-governmental organizations and foundations met at Clark Atlanta University and clarified the functions, organization and priority projects of HENSE.
A Brief History
In March 1998, the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) and Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU), supported by a grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation, held a symposium on “Academic Planning in College and University Environmental Programs” on Sanibel Island, Florida. This group of 80 stakeholders in environmental studies, environmental sciences, and environmental education participated in defining the needs of faculty in higher education environmental programs, and higher education’s responsibility in fostering a sustainable world. In October 1998, FGCU convened a 12-member ad hoc planning group on Sanibel to sustain the momentum of the symposium. Here they formed the “Sanibel Group” and proposed the creation of a new national initiative to rapidly accelerate higher education’s critical role in creating a sustainable future.
After careful consideration on the part of many involved in early discussions of the initiative, the name Higher Education Network for Sustainability and the Environment was chosen. A Steering Committee for HENSE was formed in March 1999 to replace the Sanibel Group (see Addendum). With new funding from the Nathan Cummings Foundation, planning began for future meetings, announcements, and a process to gather input on the network design from a wide spectrum of constituents. Both the Sanibel Group and the Steering Committee made particular efforts to be diverse in gender, age, geographic representation, ethnic background, and in comprising individuals from both the environmental and sustainability fields. In May 1999, the HENSE initiative was announced at the “National Town Meeting for a Sustainable America” in Detroit, Michigan, to a large and enthusiastic audience. It was clear that a new network such as HENSE was desirable to many working in higher education.
In late September 1999, the concept of HENSE was presented at Ball State University’s “Greening of the Campus III” conference, and 85 participants filled out a detailed survey on the idea. A large gathering came together on the final day of the conference to discuss HENSE and voice their thoughts and concerns. While people expressed wide-ranging opinion as to the proper functions of such a Network, there was consensus that such an entity was needed. In October, the Northeast Environmental Studies (NEES) group held a meeting and also participated in the HENSE survey. In November, HENSE functions and organizational options were discussed at Second Nature’s Northeast Regional Workshop involving over 60 educators. Earlier that month, the HENSE Steering Committee met in Boston to assess HENSE’s evolution to date and plan for the meeting in Atlanta in early 2000 to further define its functions and structure.
An Organizational Model
In the process of gathering input on HENSE, the Steering Committee took an inventory of the field to identify who is working to develop and promote higher education for sustainability and the environment, and the particular expertise and tasks that various individuals and organizations bring to this effort. After reviewing many organizational models employed by existing professional societies, networks, coalitions, and NGOs, the Committee recommended that HENSE pursue a hybrid organizational structure most consistent with that of a coalition/network comprised of both member organizations and individuals. This concept was considered by the Atlanta participants and, based on these discussions, HENSE’s present form and direction emerged.
As a broad-based and integrating network, HENSE aspires to support and strengthen the various isolated efforts in the field, as well as to inspire and initiate new activities. While HENSE should eventually be incorporated and become a 501(c)(3), it is starting as a “virtual” organization, in which network members assume responsibility for key tasks on behalf of HENSE. Existing organizations, such as NAAEE, NEES, the National Wildlife Federation’s Campus Ecology Program, the World Resources Institute (WRI), Second Nature, ULSF, Northern Arizona University, and Ball State University, are identifying the functions they can best perform for the network. These functions include handling membership, publishing a newsletter, managing a HENSE website, sponsoring faculty development workshops, planning and conducting conferences, and many others.
Fundraising for HENSE will focus on support for the HENSE tasks and projects carried out by the partner organizations, institutions and individuals, and for a HENSE “Secretariat,” located in an organization or university that contributes something to its support. (ULSF is currently the acting Secretariat for HENSE and will receive phone calls and answer inquiries until a permanent Secretariat is chosen – see contact information below.) Initial funding for HENSE will come from both membership (individuals, institutions, and member organizations) and grants.
This organizational structure should convey HENSE’s primary goal: to support, celebrate, and expand existing efforts to promote education for sustainability and the environment. As such, it is meant to ease concerns that HENSE will compete with these efforts. Indeed, a successful HENSE will stimulate new funding and support for existing organizations and new initiatives.
HENSE Funded Projects
The goal of the next phase in HENSE’s evolution is to pursue the most critical initiatives identified in Atlanta, expand the network membership and further develop the organizational structure. With support from the Nathan Cummings Foundation, HENSE will fund the following seven projects (some of which are ongoing) in the next year, to be implemented by various teams who volunteered in Atlanta:
In addition to projects receiving funding from HENSE, participants at the Atlanta gathering committed themselves to many other projects to be undertaken through HENSE. The following projects received particularly strong support. They demonstrate both a deep sense of need for transformation in higher education and the enthusiasm of those working in education for sustainability and the environment.
HENSE seeks to make education for sustainability and the environment a foundation of higher education learning, research, operations and community outreach, and to strengthen environmental degree programs. We believe that a new national network can foster a strategic effort to galvanize institutional change. HENSE will build bridges, coordinate efforts, and create opportunities for synergy by bringing this agenda to a much larger audience.
We invite you to join HENSE and make higher education the leading sector in developing a comprehensive vision of education for sustainability and the environment. This initiative can have a major impact on higher education and on the future if we act now.
The Interim Steering Committee and Contact Information
Following the Atlanta meeting, a new Interim Steering Committee was established to guide HENSE through its next phase. We will be adding new members to ensure broad diversity and commitment from higher education stakeholders. This committee will function as the decision-making body for HENSE until the official governance structure is finalized at the fall 2000 meeting.
ULSF is the “acting” Secretariat for HENSE until a permanent base is established. You can call or email HENSE for information and updates at 202-955-3682 or HENSEinfo@aol.com.
HENSE Interim Steering Committee
Director, University Leaders for a Sustainable Future
President, Second Nature
Assistant Professor, Center for International Education, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Sustainable Development Officer, University of Texas-Houston
Director, U.S. Business Education, World Resources Institute
Dean of Liberal Studies, Northern Arizona University
Director, Center for Environmental Citizenship (student organization)
James L. Elder
Professor of Chemistry and Former Provost, Southern University & A&M College
Academic Program Manager, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Assistant Professor, Environmental Studies Program, Western Michigan University
Acting Executive Director, North American Association for Environmental Education
Director of Environmental Affairs, Middlebury College
Manager, National Wildlife Federation’s Campus Ecology Program
Professor of Environmental Studies, Oberlin College
Na’Taki Y. Osborne
Sustainable Communities Organizer, National Wildlife Federation
Director, Environmental Leadership Program
Lecturer in Environmental Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara
Emeriti Steering Committee Members
Associate Director, Partnerships, Clark Atlanta University
Peter Blaze Corcoran
College of Arts and Sciences, Florida Gulf Coast University
Director of Procurement and Contracting, Rutgers University
Professor of Environmental Science, Allegheny College
The Math Forum, Swarthmore College