Building a Statewide Network for Sustainability in Higher Education

The Declaration, Volume 6, Number 2: November 2003  [Spotlight]

Michigan State Network

At a workshop hosted by Michigan State University on March 13, 2003, colleges and universities across Michigan discussed how they could make their campus communities more sustainable in operations, academics, research, and outreach. The workshop brought together faculty, staff, students and administrators from liberal arts colleges, community colleges and universities to share ideas, concerns and potential solutions for achieving sustainable development within Michigan’s higher education community. Donald Brown, director of the Pennsylvania Consortium for Interdisciplinary Environmental Policy (, delivered an outstanding keynote address on his experience leading a consortium of Pennsylvania colleges, universities and state government agencies whose goal is to implement statewide sustainable development practices. Don addressed how he has tied the Pennsylvania universities together with the state over major issues and how successful that has been with very little infrastructural support. The higher education institutions have been able to assist directly in state attempts to create viable sustainability policies. In addition, through the consortium network, over 18 higher education institutions have joined together to get a portion of their energy from wind farms.

Debbie Rowe of Oakland Community College and Harold Glasser of Western Michigan University facilitated the workshop. They asked participants to list the ways in which sustainability would manifest itself if a successful sustainability network was created throughout the state. Participants discussed the following goals for the future of Michigan:

  • A connected web site between government, higher education and business;
  • Increased emphasis on watershed protection;
  • Sustainability indicators working at the state and local levels to guide decisions;
  • Easily accessible information to help people make good sustainability choices;
  • Sustainability as a household word with a shared meaning;
  • Every college and university employing a sustainability coordinator
  • Every graduating student literate in environmental, social and economic justice issues;
  • The implementation of sustainability practices that are profitable and considered mainstream.

Possible projects for Michigan’s blossoming network include hosting an annual/biannual conference on sustainability in higher education, which includes the business and government sectors using the Pennsylvania experience as a model; developing a “Sustainability Extension Service” akin to what Temple University has developed, including an information database on “centers of excellence”; helping institutions define roles and methods for creating better national and global citizens; and developing curriculum materials to create a sustainable-learning paradigm for K-12. Since the meeting, a working group has met and is looking for opportunities to collaborate on research, outreach, service, operations and teaching.

Some of the additional outcomes of the meeting include discussions between Michigan higher education staff, Don Brown and state government officials about how to move the state towards sustainable development, a plan for a new listserv among institutions of higher education in the state for sustainability, the formation of a working group to draft bylaws and organizational design, borrowing heavily from Don Brown’s work in Pennsylvania, and a beginning compilation of best practice examples.

Pennsylvania Green Teams

In colleges and universities across Pennsylvania, students are working hard to alter the state in a positive way through their pursuit of environmental stewardship and sound environmental policy. Many schools across the state have adopted environmental mission statements to guide them in their actions. Slippery Rock University‘s Sustainable Campus Initiative plan enables students and faculty to be part of the decision-making process regarding important environmental issues like waste production, land management, and water usage.

Many schools are branching out beyond their campuses, partnering with community organizations on issues such as watershed protection, recycling, and green technology. Bryn Mawr College is working with community residents to clean up local streams and revitalize polluted ponds. Chatham College, in its commitment to raise environmental awareness, has designed a program called ‘Chatham eCollegie.’ Through this program the college announced its goal of phasing out its use of toxic cleaning chemicals, paint thinners, and solvents which contain volatile organic compounds. In 2001, Allegheny College became the first college or university in Pennsylvania to install an on-campus composting facility. Their composting unit is one of only a handful of such units in the northeastern region of the U.S.

Pennsylvania is a leader in preparing students for environmental careers. Ten percent of the Environmental Studies programs in the United States are located on Pennsylvania campuses. The state also leads the country in colleges and universities which buy wind power, which is the world’s fastest growing form of electricity generation.

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