The Declaration, Volume 6, Number 2: November 2003 [Feature]
By Tom Kelly
The University of New Hampshire Office of Sustainability Programs (OSP) was established in 1997 with a multi-million dollar endowment from an alumnus to develop a university-wide education program linking sustainability to community life. OSP’s initiatives work to integrate the principles and practices of sustainability into all facets of our land grant mission including teaching, research, campus culture, operations and extension. All initiatives involve collaboration with faculty, staff and students as well as local, regional, national and in some cases international partners. From a transportation demand management policy for the campus and a graduate curriculum in Public Health Ecology to a Citizen Panel on genetically modified food and a documentary on internationally renowned potters Ed and Mary Scheier, OSP collaborates with partners that share the common goal of improving community life through education. Our mission is to unite the UNH community in the common purpose of educating all graduates to advance sustainability in their civic and professional lives.
As one might expect, any unifying effort within an organization and community as complex as a university of 12,000 students, 900 faculty and 3,000 staff faces the formidable challenge of fragmentation. In our experience, reconciling the tensions of freedom, responsibility, diversity, and unity within an organizational structure built around the separation of disciplines and functions demands an integrative vision and framework. To be successful, that vision and framework must establish and maintain intellectual, pedagogical and organizational integrity while pursuing four intermediate objectives: ensuring inclusive participation, linking core community functions to our educational mission, ensuring well-grounded programming, and maintaining strategic networking within and beyond the university.
This article will focus on the integrative vision and framework that guide our work, and the concrete form it takes in the structure of the OSP and the projects that result. As will be seen, our overall approach is cultural and therefore long-term. We are currently completing our sixth year in what we see as a ten-year undertaking to achieve the first plateau of sustainability in a much longer journey. The goal of the article is to share the approach and experience of OSP without claiming to have discovered the model for sustainability in higher education. On the contrary, we are humbled on a daily basis by the vastness of our mission and responsibilities and we endeavor to take our work very seriously without taking ourselves too seriously.
Towards an Integrative Vision and Framework: What is Sustainability?
As Director of the OSP, I am asked almost daily, “What is sustainability?” This is also a question that I ask faculty, students, staff and other professionals representing a range of disciplines in meetings and presentations. The most common responses fall into the categories of “environment, natural resources and recycling.” Beneath these responses I sense a broadly held perception that sustainability is essentially about environmentalism moving into the mainstream of society; a greening of institutions like universities and corporations. This resource-based view of sustainability leads to conceptions like the World Bank’s organization of societies into human, environmental and financial capital-the values of economic theory stretching just far enough to admit environmental externalities. For the majority of groups I talk with, it seems to make good sense; and the response is “sure, let’s be more efficient and not pollute the environment.”
In a contemporary sense, the principles, practices and science of sustainability grow from an international consensus on appropriate actions to advance the health and well-being of the world’s diverse communities in the face of unprecedented threats. This consensus emerged from rigorous debate and discussion within the international scientific community as well as through international political frameworks under the auspices of the United Nations. These principles as articulated in Agenda 21 and related documents point to institutions and culture as the object of critical reflection and reform that extends well beyond natural resources. But the challenge of conveying the breadth and depth of such a social reform project within the highly fragmented setting of a university, not to mention the international community, is formidable.
One way that we have tried to address this challenge is to reframe the question from “what is sustainability?” to “what is it that sustains you, your family and community?” When I raise this question with students and colleagues, “love, beauty, relationships, meaning and identity” are quick to emerge as common responses. Variations of “community services and jobs” as well as “clean air and water” normally follow. This is a view of sustainability where nature and culture are inseparable, locked in a dance of coevolution. From this perspective, the arbitrary separation of economics from ecology, culture and community well-being may serve narrow financial and disciplinary ends, but it is ultimately dysfunctional for sustaining community life. Similarly, the arbitrary separation of the present from the past also undermines sustainability because it devalues our heritage and cuts us off from knowledge about who we are, our place in the world and how the contemporary world we inhabit came to be.
Sustaining families and communities has been a preoccupation of human culture reaching back to antiquity. From this perspective, sustainability is not a new idea or aspiration and has always entailed constructing and organizing knowledge in its broadest sense. What is new is the context in which we are collectively pursuing sustainability: humanity now constitutes a geologic force that has transformed the atmosphere, hydrosphere and cultural landscape on a global scale. Collective decisions related to everything from energy and material consumption to healthcare and the arts reverberate around the globe. In the face of this enormous complexity the critical task of sustainability continues to be integrating knowledge in all its forms into cultural institutions in order to establish patterns of collective life that sustain us now and generations into the future.
Over the past six years, OSP has worked to integrate fragmented knowledge residing in disparate disciplines, professions and practices into a form that allows us to bring it to bear on community life. The integrating framework that is so fundamental to our effort is rooted in a public health outlook that emerged over the last decade from efforts to understand the relationship of climate change and variability to public health.
As illustrated in Figure 1, the framework presents health outcomes as the result of interactions of the climate system with ecological and social systems. Health outcomes are understood in their broadest sense to include the health of ecosystems and communities. Climate includes physical and chemical climate on short as well as long time scales so an ozone event in summer is part of the climate system as is record cold temperatures or drought. Obviously, climate both impacts and is impacted by social systems and ecological systems, which as noted above, are assumed to be inextricably linked.
All of our programming is derived from this framework and is organized around four initiatives that flow directly from it: Biodiversity Education (incorporating ecosystem health), Climate Education, Culture and Sustainability, and Food and Society. The latter is associated with health outcomes as the food system is a powerful integrator of biodiversity, climate and culture in which everyone feels they have a direct stake.
Who Are We Educating? or What are Human Beings?
If, on the other hand, we assume that human beings, and therefore learners, are cultural beings concerned with meaning, purpose and knowledge (what constructivist pedagogy calls meaning makers), then we build a culture-based educational system where common concerns, aspirations and experiences are purposefully woven into the fabric of daily life. Of course the purposeful weaving of the fabric of daily life is nothing less than politics in the classical sense, which is understood to be the highest art form because it determines our conception of and commitment to the common good. In this approach to education, students are citizens in an educational community that they shape and are in turn shaped by. The resulting culture of the university constitutes a powerful educational force that models how life is lived in pursuit of virtue or the good life and the common good. In simple terms, then, we are working to build a community-based educational program that links all members of the community with the principles of sustainability in the classroom, on the campus and in the broader community. We call this the Sustainable Learning Community.
The Learning Community
Within our framework, we represent this as a continuum of curriculum along which the classroom, campus and broader community are the traditional sites of teaching, research, campus policies and extension activities related to the mission of the land grant university1. The goal of the sustainable learning community is to integrate and embody knowledge across this continuum to create a coherent learning environment or what we think of as an “ecology of learning” where all learners (students, faculty, staff, visitors) are engaged. This approach is represented as a continuum of curriculum within our framework which links community-based learning to the scholarships of integration, pedagogy and application as discussed by Earnest Boyer and colleagues in their 1990 publication Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. The purpose is to acknowledge and respect the art and science of teaching and learning across the continuum.
This conception of the learning community extends the traditional model of learning from the interaction of student, teacher and course content to include the interaction between learner and place. While place includes the classroom, it also includes the entire campus, and the community. As with sustainability and the good life, the educational significance of the community has been appreciated for several thousand years. The ancient Greek philosophers observed that “the polis teaches.” So we proceed from the assumption that the university community teaches the good life.
The Sustainable Learning Community
In terms of the cultural approach we are developing at UNH, there are three points I would like to make regarding the sustainable learning community. First, it is important to acknowledge that sustainability in higher education is such a recent development that there is no way to judge what, if any at all, its ultimate impact will be on the evolution of the institution. Second, the contemporary context of sustainability has given rise to a rediscovery of facets of extremely sophisticated ancient and modern knowledge about the philosophy and practice of education, including the significance of the community in the education of citizens. It is not simply that there is nothing new under the sun; from a cultural perspective, we need to ask ourselves why such knowledge and wisdom was either not incorporated, or why it failed to take hold within the contemporary university. Without this understanding we are undermining our attempt to establish sustainability as a fundamental value within the culture of higher education and thereby increase its chances of being sustained across generations of educators to come. Third, because the sustainable learning community requires the purposeful reordering of the intricate web of ecological relations that comprise the institutional or community life of the university, it must be understood within its proper context of higher education reform.
Sustainability is about purposeful reform
Higher education reform is a fact of life. Global economic restructuring, demographic change and technological development are reforming all of society’s institutions. Accordingly, the question for institutions of higher education is not whether or not to reform, but whether to reform purposefully or passively, and if purposefully, towards what end? Sustainability is a social reform movement that is seeking to change the way we learn about and conduct our professional and civic lives. Therefore, sustainability could and should be a driving force within higher education reform, but in order to establish such a role, it must extend well beyond its natural resource and “greening” campus operations outlook.
As noted above, higher education reform has a rich history and literature, as well as important thinkers and activists that are often invisible within the sustainability and higher education community. The work of the Carnegie Endowment for the Advancement of Teaching propelled by one of the United States’ leading educational reformers, the late Earnst Boyer and continuing under his successor Lee Shulman, represents an extremely rich and important current in higher education reform that can only be seen as separate from sustainability reform by imposing the very kinds of arbitrary boundaries that fragmented our contemporary universities in the first place. Sustainability in higher education has established itself as a specialization with its own journals, meetings and gurus; in our view, this runs directly counter to its ultimate purpose and goals. For this reason we established OSP as a university-wide program, not a center. Our intermediate objective of ensuring inclusive participation is advanced by dissolving boundaries, not erecting them. At the same time, the programmatic integrity (intellectual, pedagogical and organizational) referred to at the outset requires us to define our terms and manage boundaries carefully. Our experience to date suggests that programmatic integrity is well-served by making our framework, and the grounding for that framework, explicit and therefore open to both debate and acceptance.
Putting the Framework to Work
Below is a brief description of each of the four initiatives and representative projects. While this should provide an idea of the specific projects we are developing, it does not represent them all, and more importantly, it does not convey the connection across the four initiatives that is a critical aspect of this work. It should be reiterated that the four initiatives are developing in parallel; accordingly, they share a common language and compatible goals. A sustainable learning community will only take form when the goals of all four initiatives goals are achieved and integrated.
Biodiversity Education Initiative
1. Maintain biodiversity and ecological integrity on UNH lands including the main campus;
2. Develop tools for assessing, evaluating and managing biodiversity and ecological integrity;
3. Develop ecologically-based approaches to landscape design and management;
4. Create mechanisms that support professional development (teaching, research, and outreach) of UNH faculty/staff in the disciplines of biodiversity and ecological integrity;
5. Educate students in all fields about the relationships of human activities and biodiversity and health;
6. Be recognized as a biodiversity protection community model.
As with the other three initiatives, our conception of a biodiversity protection campus is one that integrates the ethics, science, technology and policies of biodiversity protection into our community identity and practices. As a result of these efforts, students, faculty, staff and administrators from all colleges are expected to increase their knowledge and effectiveness in advancing biodiversity protection in their civic and professional lives. This educational outcome will result from integrating the why and how of biodiversity protection across the teaching, research, policy and extension activities of the UNH land grant university mission. Current projects including the following:
Campus Tree Inventory: This is the first phase of a broader ecological inventory project to describe, monitor and manage the campus ecosystem health. The goals of the tree inventory are to further educate the campus community about its trees and their role within biodiversity; to manage trees and the urban forest through health assessment and maintenance recommendations; to assist with landscape design and to establish environmental, historical, cultural and financial value. Outreach efforts include the tree inventory website, the publication of the self-guided tour of trees, and associations with academic courses.
Master Plan Update: UNH is currently updating its campus master plan. The efforts of the BEI have resulted in the development of a campus landscape master plan as part of this process. The planning process has drawn directly from the campus tree inventory and pilot projects, and has characterized the next phase of UNH’s evolving landscape as the “sustainability period.” The key to progress is close communication and coordination with UNH Facilities (includes Campus Planning, Grounds and Roads), senior administration and the BEI working group. Through this collaboration we are ensuring that the results of the long-term ecological inventory and management project inform the university’s land use policies.
IDID Conference/NH Forum: The BEI cosponsored a regional meeting on Integrated Design and Integrated Development on 21-22 March 2003 that brought together several hundred design, engineering, architecture and landscape architecture professionals from across northern New England. In addition to workshops and exhibitions, keynote speakers included David Orr and ecological designer John Todd. This is part of a long-term commitment that includes a sustainability section in the NH Forum monthly newsletter which serves these same professional communities.
BEI Working Group: The working group has recommended to the administration that a clear institutional mechanism be established to ensure full integration of scientific, practitioner and aesthetic knowledge residing in the faculty into our campus landscape design and management. Because the BEI Working Group represents faculty and staff from key departments, including Facilities and UNH Cooperative Extension as well as external partners it can bridge the existing committees dealing with landscape policies and can therefore serve this institutional function.
Climate Education Initiative
Actions of the climate protection campus include the following:
Pursuing the goal to integrate the classroom and campus and link our local community to the world, OSP is engaged in an educational collaboration with UNH partners including: the Climate Change Research Center (CCRC) of the UNH Institute of Earth, Oceans and Space; the Campus Energy Office; the Transportation Policy Committee; and Facilities Design and Construction. In addition, OSP has formed a partnership with Clean Air – Cool Planet, a regional nonprofit organization working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions throughout the Northeast. Projects include the following:
Global Environmental Change: A unique general education course on Global Environmental Change in collaboration with UNH’s Climate Change Research Center. Faculty and staff from across the university as well as external stakeholders are involved in teaching students about the complexities of global change. After studying the latest trends and findings in climate and earth system science, students undertake the “search for sustainability” in which they link science and public policy through negotiating greenhouse gas reduction policies at UNH in order to meet or exceed the goals of the Kyoto Protocol.
Climate and Health Teaching and Research: A vigorous collaboration on climate and health issues is resulting in novel teaching, research and outreach activities such as the following: an integrated assessment investigating the link between climate and public health in New England in collaboration with UNH Climate Change Research Center, the UNH School of Health and Human Services and many external partners. In addition, Climate Change and Health and Disease Ecology are core courses in the Public Health Ecology track of the Master’s of Public Health program in the School of Health and Human Services. Climate Change and Health develops an understanding of the climate system and the impact of climate change on public health. Disease Ecology explores the epidemiological significance of the processes linking the climate system with ecological and social systems that influence the interaction between humans and disease agents.
Transportation Demand Management Program: A Transportation Demand Management Program (TDM) for the University in coordination with surrounding towns and agencies in the Seacoast region. The proposed TDM reduces air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions linked to global climate change by increasing access and mobility through public transportation and other alternative modes while reducing the number of single occupancy vehicles on campus. Alternative modes include bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure such as the UNH Yellow Bike Cooperative, car and van pooling, affordable housing and telecommuting.
Sustainable Building, Design and Construction: An ongoing initiative that builds on existing university resources to support research, pilot projects, professional development, and revision of university design/building standards. In addition to direct application on campus, the knowledge generated by this project is being shared with New Hampshire schools, state offices and professional associations. UNH is pursuing LEED certification on a marine science building that is currently under design, and is conducting outreach in collaboration with state and federal agencies such as the Department of Energy’s Rebuild America program and Clean Cities.
Promise of the Sun Exhibit: “Promise of the Sun,” an interactive, museum-quality educational exhibit in UNH’s Memorial Union Building, links a demonstration solar array on the roof of the student union to a panoramic exploration of the cultural, technological and political aspects of energy choices. The exhibit involves faculty from across the university representing disciplines such as mechanical engineering, classics, art history, history, environmental policy and space science and is seen by thousands of visitors daily.
Greenhouse Gas Inventory: In 2000 we developed and completed a greenhouse gas inventory for our campus. Through a partnership with Clean Air Cool Planet (CACP) and the UNH Campus Energy Office, we developed a methodology to complete an inventory of our campus emissions each year from 1990-2000. That methodology is already being shared with other campuses across the New England Region through our CACP collaboration. With the completion of the inventory, we now have the basis for linking greenhouse gas reduction policies to our total emissions profile, and will be setting emission targets and timelines to develop and implement a strategic plan to meet those targets.
Culture and Sustainability
As noted earlier, sustainability is concerned with shifting the patterns of community life to reflect the principles of sustainability. We sometimes think of culture as being analogous to a landscape in that it is experienced as a totality of interactions, and behavior patterns derived from beliefs that are institutionalized in our approach to art, work life, family, government and education. This landscape is also where our heritage is developed, conserved, or lost. It is helpful to draw from the excellent work of the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which is concerned with the tangible and intangible heritage of culture and nature. UNESCO’s approach to cultural development and the role of heritage as the basis for identity and creative inspiration provides a sound framework for assessing the culture of our educational community.
Accordingly, the Culture and Sustainability Initiative strives to unify the effort linking the university community in actively conserving and developing cultural and natural heritage both tangible and intangible. Tangible heritage is understood to include architecture, public art and public spaces as well as ecosystems. Intangible heritage includes our history, sense of place, rituals and practices that reflect our shared commitment to principles of diversity, unity and plurality in our civic community.
In working to create a cultural development campus, it becomes clear that such an effort must be strongly grounded in the humanities and arts. This is not how sustainability is commonly thought of within the university. For example, our collaboration with the arts is often greeted with genuine surprise if not skepticism, but that response is usually based more on the unexamined assumption that sustainability deals more with the science and policy of natural resources than on genuine critical thinking. But in fact the arts is fundamental to our cultural approach to sustainability.
In Book III of The Republic, the great Athenian philosopher Plato reasons that “those properly educated in the arts will quickly perceive and deplore the absence or perversion of beauty in art or nature.” This provocative idea points to a practical question: What if we were to commit ourselves as a university to properly educating our students in the arts? In Plato’s sense we would be ensuring that every graduate, from all colleges, regardless of major, would quickly perceive and deplore sprawl, polluted rivers and seas, and contaminated air in addition to hunger, poverty and discrimination.
Notably, Plato goes on to say that the person properly educated in the arts would not just delight in beauty, but would nourish beauty. And to nourish is to take action; therein lies a most powerful force for engaged citizenship. Indeed, the third century philosopher, Plotinus, argued that beauty is not confined to what we see and hear, though that is where it often begins, but that dedicated living, achievement, character and intellectual pursuits are themselves beautiful. In other words, a virtuous life is itself a thing of beauty. Thus understood, beauty resides at the heart of genuine education and therefore sustainability. I find this to be a compelling argument that leads me to conclude that the proper question is not “why would sustainability be involved in the arts,” but indeed, “why wouldn’t sustainability be involved in the arts?”
Culture and Sustainability (CAS) projects include the following:
Arts and Society: A unique general education course exposing students to the highest levels of achievement in the fine and performing arts through live performances at the region’s finest cultural institutions. In addition, this collaboration with the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and the Arts and Society Program results in 1500 students, faculty, staff and alumnae attending performances by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Boston Ballet, and Boston Lyric Opera, as well as multiple visits to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
Scheier Project: A collaboration with the University Library, independent film maker Ken Browne, and the Currier Gallery of Art in Manchester New Hampshire, the Scheier Project celebrates the life and work of two of UNH’s most distinguished faculty members, Ed and Mary Scheier. The Scheiers taught pottery at UNH for twenty years while becoming internationally renowned studio potters whose works are in major museums throughout the world. The documentary, “Four Hands One Heart,” has been aired on more than 100 PBS stations across the country and is used in a range of courses including Arts and Society and Freshman English.
UNH Commission on the Status of Women: Now in its 25th year, this commission is coordinating with parallel commissions on racial diversity, gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgender, and multicultural student affairs to advance tolerance, inclusion and equity for all members of the UNH community. OSP collaborates on policy and programming including a Vital Sign series on health.
UNH Committee on Campus Aesthetics: In collaboration with faculty, staff and students from across the university, the Committee on Campus Aesthetics has developed draft guidelines for public art as a first step toward a plan for increasing public art on the campus. Efforts include a series of campus consultations and forums on public art and its importance to our educational mission.
Symposium on Eating as a Moral Act: A joint project of the Culture and Sustainability and Food and Society initiatives in collaboration with the UNH Center for the Humanities and Center for New England Culture. This collaboration resulted in the UNH Center for the Humanities awarding the 2003-2004 endowed lecture series to the OSP for a symposium on “Eating as a Moral Act: Ethics and Power from Agrarianism to Consumerism” A call for papers will be issued at the end of May for a symposium to take place in March 2004.
CAS Working Group: A working group comprised of faculty and staff representing the departments of Anthropology, English, Sociology, Music, Art and Art History and others is developing a concrete vision and action plan.
Food and Society Initiative
The result is a unified initiative linking the entire UNH campus and community that works to:
The FAS Initiative was conceived to integrate knowledge from all relevant academic disciplines as well as knowledge from across the food system to improve the health and well-being of community life through teaching, research, campus practices and extension that supports sustainable, community-based food systems. Above all, we are seeking to build a university model of civic agriculture, which sees food and farming as an engine of local economies and fundamental to the fabric of community life. Grounded in the philosophy of civic agriculture, the goal of the FAS Initiative is to build a sustainable campus food system at UNH.
Ongoing FAS Initiative projects include:
Farm-To-School: A collaborative effort between UNH, the New Hampshire Coalition for Sustaining Agriculture, the state Department of Education, and a food purchasing cooperative representing 14 of the state’s school districts. Projects include a three year program linking the state’s apple growers to schools, including faculty development to support integration of food and farming into the curriculum and culture of participating schools. OSP also cosponsored the Northeast Regional Farm-To-School Conference with colleagues at Cornell in December 2001 and is engaged in ongoing collaboration with UNH Hospitality Services to support local and regional agriculture, including development of a campus community farm.
Citizen Panels on Food and Farming: In an effort to increase civic discourse around food and justice, OSP conducted a New Hampshire Citizen Panel on Genetically Engineered Food and is currently conducting a New England Citizen Panel on the future of our food and farming system. The Citizen Panel culminates in a public consensus conference that forms the basis for the panel’s findings and recommendations. The consensus conference on genetically modified foods took place on February 7-9, 2002 on the UNH campus, and featured 13 New Hampshire citizens in moderated discussion with seven experts to develop recommendations for managing genetically engineered foods. The New England consensus conference took place June 16-17, 2003.
Soul of Agriculture Annual Northeast Conference: A collaboration with the Humane Society of the US, the Center for Respect of Life and Environment and the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, the Soul of Agriculture is an international initiative to reconnect communities and their food supply while exploring the moral and spiritual questions behind our food and farming system. The annual Northeast conference brings together farmers (including those involved in community supported agriculture, organic and biodynamic agriculture, season extension, medicinal herbs, as well as women farmers and new or starter farmers) with educators, chefs, food service professionals, NGOs and others.
Food Waste Composting: A collaboration between OSP, UNH Hospitality Services and the UNH Kingman Research Farm, the compost project has been diverting food waste from UNH dining halls since 1998. In 2001, this collaboration, which includes educational programs in the dining halls, expanded to include a local grocery store and high school. The composting project will also be part of a sustainable manure management program being developed for the UNH dairy program.
Food and Society Working Group: In an effort to promote increased awareness of issues related to food and society, OSP has established a FAS Initiative Working Group. The purpose of this group is to guide and support the activities of the FAS Initiative. Members of this group include representatives from the departments of Natural Resources, Animal and Nutritional Sciences, Plant Biology, Education and Philosophy, as well as Cooperative Extension, Hospitality Services, Health Services, Seacoast Growers Association, the Coalition for Sustaining New Hampshire Agriculture, faith communities and others.
Boyer, Earnest, Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University, “Reinventing Undergraduate Education: A Blueprint for America’s Research Universities,” p. 6.
Tom Kelly, Ph.D has been the director of the UNH Office of Sustainability Programs since its founding in 1997. He was the founding director of ULSF in 1995 at Tufts University where he ran the Environmental Literacy Institute and worked with universities in Brazil, Colombia and the UK on faculty development and institutional reform in support of