Advancing the Movement: The Higher Education Network for Sustainability and the Environment (HENSE)

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:

  1. A seminar for 25-35 key university presidents and trustees on the importance of education for sustainability and the environment will be held at Oberlin College in the early fall of 2000. Leaders: Bob Wilkinson, Associate, RMI; David Orr, Professor, Oberlin College; and Tony Cortese, President, Second Nature.
  2. Faculty development strategies will be designed to support, revitalize and reward faculty who are committed to education for sustainability and the environment, and help others build their commitment. The project team will focus on ways to support institutional change that will encourage interdisciplinary teaching, research and service for sustainability. It will focus on ways to transcend the regional, ethnic, class and disciplinary boundaries in order to form a common language of connection and commitment. These strategies will eventually be disseminated through the HENSE website, newsletter and professional meetings. Leaders: Peggy Barlett, Professor, Emory University; Geoff Chase, Dean of Liberal Studies, Northern Arizona University; and Robert Ford, Professor and former Provost, Southern University.
  3. A HENSE team will complete a comprehensive review of over 250 U.S. campus environmental assessments. The project will produce a) a collection of all extant campus environmental assessments as of February 1, 2000; b) a searchable database that contains up?to?date contact information as well as an overview of each assessment project; c) an evaluation of current “best practices;” d) guidelines and a template for performing exemplary comprehensive campus environmental assessments; e) a review paper summarizing the above research to be published in an accessible, widely circulated journal, such as Industrial Ecology or the International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education. Leaders: Harold Glasser, Professor, Western Michigan University; and Jessica Stine, NWF Campus Ecology Program.
  4. An electronic journal, the Journal of Environmental Studies, will be developed by the Northeast Environmental Studies (NEES) group for innovative teaching and learning strategies for environmental studies faculty and others. A special emphasis will be on service learning, especially work in helping local communities in which the universities are located deal with environmental problems and/or become sustainable communities. This peer-reviewed journal will help spread innovative teaching and learning and provide venues for publication for environmentally interested faculty which will enhance their academic credibility and legitimacy, particularly for tenure and promotion decisions. HENSE will support drawing up guidelines for authors and editors and criteria for journal articles as well as develop the web pages to get the journal up and running. Leaders: David Furmage, Professor, Colby College; and Eric Pallant, Professor, Allegheny College.
  5. Second Nature will establish a HENSE website ( in late spring 2000. The website will include the HENSE mission and background; HENSE governance and structure; current and ongoing projects; contacts, events, and publishing venues; links to databases for higher education stakeholders related to implementing sustainability on campus; and hard links to hundreds of other important sites and databases (such as those of Second Nature, WRI, and NWFs Campus Ecology Program). As other HENSE projects are completed (see below) they will be added to the site. Leader: Kim Shaknis, Second Nature.
  6. ULSF will create a HENSE newsletter and membership strategy. HENSE will strengthen linkages with higher education stakeholders and organizations such as NAAEE, NEES, American Association of Higher Education (AAHE), Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities (AGB), the Association of (College and University) Physical Plant Administrators (APPA), and many others.
  7. HENSE will further develop its organizational structure in preparation for a meeting in fall 2000 at which a larger number of individuals and organizations than the current 40?50 will finalize the governance structure and publicly launch HENSE. Leaders: Geoff Chase, Dean of Liberal Studies, Northern Arizona University; and Wynn Calder, University Leaders for a Sustainable Future.

Other Projects

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.

  • Case Study Project – Developing comprehensive and in-depth case studies of colleges and universities that have successfully transformed curricula, operations, etc., for critical analysis of more and less effective initiatives.
  • K-12 Involvement and Cross-Fertilization – Developing network and programmatic linkages between those working in K-12 and those in higher education.
  • Disciplinary Strategies Working Group – Focused effort to research the needs, language, research agendas, etc. of various fields to determine effective ways of getting sustainability and environment more integrated into those disciplines.
  • Being a Conduit for Educating Foundations – Making foundations aware of the work of HENSE, its participating institutions and individuals, to build interest in funding these activities.
  • Social Marketing Project – Examining new strategies for promoting sustainability in the context of higher education institutions.
  • Making Campuses “Climate-Neutral” – Working with colleges and universities willing to become climate-neutral in a specified time period, and fundraising for this project under the HENSE name.
  • Government, Industry & Academic Relations – Exploring how to build better relationships between the three sectors on sustainability and environment issues.
  • Changing Accreditation Standards – Working with accreditation associations to include standards for environment and sustainability.
  • Celebrate Best Practices – Planning and sponsoring an annual award ceremony to recognize and celebrate best practices at colleges and universities.
  • Database/Clearinghouse Development – Assessing existing informational databases related to HENSE; designing strategies for assimilating and disseminating that information to best serve HENSE’s goals; developing HENSE databases beyond those already in existence (e.g., database on where to publish; HENSE peer review network).
  • HENSE Listserv and On-Line Archive – Managing a listserv and creating a searchable archive on the web.
  • National Forum on University and Community – Developing a proposal for a national meeting to explore the new role of the university in the community.


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

HENSE Interim Steering Committee

Rick Clugston*

Director, University Leaders for a Sustainable Future

Tony Cortese*

President, Second Nature

Alberto Arenas

Assistant Professor, Center for International Education, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

George Bandy

Sustainable Development Officer, University of Texas-Houston

Rick Bunch

Director, U.S. Business Education, World Resources Institute

Geoffrey Chase

Dean of Liberal Studies, Northern Arizona University

Susan Comfort

Director, Center for Environmental Citizenship (student organization)

James L. Elder


Robert Ford

Professor of Chemistry and Former Provost, Southern University & A&M College

Clark Gaulding**

Academic Program Manager, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Harold Glasser

Assistant Professor, Environmental Studies Program, Western Michigan University

Joan Haley

Acting Executive Director, North American Association for Environmental Education

Nan Jenks-Jay

Director of Environmental Affairs, Middlebury College

Julian Keniry

Manager, National Wildlife Federation’s Campus Ecology Program

David Orr

Professor of Environmental Studies, Oberlin College

Na’Taki Y. Osborne

Sustainable Communities Organizer, National Wildlife Federation

Paul Sabin

Director, Environmental Leadership Program

Robert Wilkinson

Lecturer in Environmental Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara


**Ex-Officio Member


Emeriti Steering Committee Members

Collette Hopkins

Associate Director, Partnerships, Clark Atlanta University

Peter Blaze Corcoran

College of Arts and Sciences, Florida Gulf Coast University

Kevin Lyons

Director of Procurement and Contracting, Rutgers University

Eric Pallant

Professor of Environmental Science, Allegheny College

Richard Tchen

The Math Forum, Swarthmore College

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