The Declaration, Volume 4, Number 2 : May 2001 [Feature]
By James Eflin
If colleges and universities are leaders in the quest for knowledge, why can’t they be leaders on the path to a sustainable future? That isn’t just a Quixotean puzzle, but a question confronting over 4,000 higher education institutions in the United States (and far more, worldwide). Academic institutions are regarded – rightly or wrongly – as vanguards for what is possible and enduring. They are perceived to be on the forefront of what society can attain. As an institution, the university endures over a long span of time – if successful, it can be imagined to last forever. In an earlier edition of The Declaration (June 1998, p. 11), architect William McDonough was asked how long sustainability will take. His reply: “It will take forever. That’s the point.”
Readers of The Declaration are familiar with the Talloires Declaration, the document that originated in Talloires, France, in 1990, and was conceived by its authors as a manifesto for guiding each signatory institution toward “becoming a sustainable university.” But what exactly does it mean to be a signatory to this Talloires challenge? More importantly, how does a university move from signing the document to implementing and living its intentions?
That is the story that Ball State University sought to enact through its intentional move from passive signatory to active participant on the road to sustainability. To understand the story requires a look at the steps taken through committed actions at several levels over the course of a decade.
The Greening of a University
Sustainable outcomes require committed acts, often taken by individuals who see the value of healthy systems that endure. At Ball State University, a campus of approximately 17,000 students in Muncie, Indiana, it was Provost Warren Vander Hill who first envisioned a campus that would achieve prominence for its environmental commitments. In 1991, he established the Green Committee (hereafter called Green 1) to “raise environmental consciousness in our student body, foster conviction in students regarding these issues, and empower them with understandings of how they might channel their awareness effectively to shape the future.” The outcome of Green 1 included a report with thirty-five recommendations, twenty of which were implemented over the past decade. Several concrete actions emerged, including an annual ‘green for green’ competition that funded faculty initiatives to seek external grants for environmental projects, and an annual faculty development summer workshop to encourage inclusion of environmental literacy within an interdepartmental mix of courses by faculty from diverse disciplines. Over the years, these summer workshops have involved 129 faculty from thirty-five departments, representing all seven colleges at Ball State.
Another outcome of Green 1 was a series of Greening of the Campus conferences, held in 1996, 1997, and 1999 (with a fourth planned for September 2001). International recognition from these conferences, which included regular workshops by such organizations as Campus Ecology, Second Nature, and University Leaders for a Sustainable Future, helped promote campus ‘greening’ activities at Ball State. An early meeting of the emerging Higher Education Network for Sustainability and the Environment took place at the 1999 conference.
Adopting Talloires and Taking It Seriously
Urged by participants in campus greening efforts, then university president John Worthen signed the Talloires Declaration in April 1999. After nearly a year, rather than let it simply adorn a framed plaque somewhere on campus, a committed group of faculty approached Provost Vander Hill with a proposal to re-constitute the Green Committee and charge it with implementing the commitments within the Declaration. The faculty group argued that a university’s sustainable practices and the overall goals of promoting campus ‘greening’ activities needed an organizing principle, and that such a principle is effectively contained in the ten tenets of the Talloires Declaration. Yet, adopting a principle alone will not ensure that its goals are ultimately implemented. This requires teamwork, coordination and resources. Vander Hill agreed, and charged a small Planning Committee to develop the mission and structure for what he dubbed ‘Green 2.’
Over a long summer of planning, a mission emerged that resulted in the appointment of the Green Committee 2, a ninety-four member working task force. Seeking to capitalize on a change of administration with the hiring of a new university president and take the spirit of a sustainable community to heart, the mission statement read:
[As] Ball State University embarks on a new era under the leadership of President Blaine Brownell, an ambitious five-year planning effort is beginning. The principal goal of Green Committee 2 is to implement the far-reaching objectives of the Talloires Declaration, signed by President John Worthen in 1999, committing Ball State University to move toward becoming a sustainable university.
The membership of Green Committee 2 will include faculty and students from all academic colleges, professional staff from facilities planning, selected administrators, and members of the Muncie Community. The committee will organize into 9 subcommittees. Each subcommittee will take as its charge the examination and development of recommendations for the continued management and/or implementation of one of the Talloires tenets. A final report will be produced before the close of the academic year.
Green Committee 2 (referred to hereafter as ‘Green 2’) organized itself according to the framework set forth in the Talloires Declaration. The first nine tenets suggest nine separate tasks, and a subcommittee was organized around each. Using the language or intent of each tenet, a straightforward subcommittee name was created; a tenth subcommittee emerged as the Steering Committee with its membership composed of the chairs of the nine subcommittees, plus the members of the Planning Committee who created the structure of Green 2 during summer 2000.
Each subcommittee became known by its Talloires Declaration tenet:
A university’s president and its provost are positioned to promote the agendas that steer a campus. In the case of Ball State University, twin agendas appeared during academic year 2000-2001. At the beginning of the academic year, the new president announced the creation of a Strategic Planning Commission that began meeting to develop a 5-year strategic plan. Simultaneously, the provost announced the creation of Green 2. It met for the first time in a gala ‘kick-off’ meeting on September 28, 2000. At that time, the nine subcommittees met for the first time and began a series of regular meetings in efforts to develop a set of objectives and action items that would become the priorities for campus sustainability efforts. Each month, the Steering Committee met to bring to the table the issues that were emerging in the subcommittees, and refine the tenet that was being addressed.
Coordinating the efforts of ninety-four people is no small task. While some subcommittees had better cohesion and sense of purpose than others, all engaged in highly spirited exchanges of ideas and crafting of language for the ultimate product. As conceived by the Planning Committee, that product was to constitute three parts: 1) a set of clearly stated, measurable objectives for achieving the tenets of the Talloires Declaration; 2) a set of well-articulated action items by which each objective could be attained; and 3) a matrix which linked these objectives and action items with timeframes for implementation and sets of resources either available or necessary for their adoption. To enable the subcommittees to make quick progress, the Planning Committee assembled a work binder for each member of Green 2 containing a variety of reference materials including a copy of the signed Talloires Declaration (suitable for framing) and a suggested interpretation of each of its ten tenets.
A strict schedule was adopted, and a little over three months after its inception, Green 2 convened a Saturday morning workshop/retreat to review the nine working matrices that were to become the ongoing ‘living document’ that is guiding sustainability efforts today. At that January retreat, 184 separate action items were reviewed and then grouped into eight categories of actions or outcomes. Each of the 184 items was assessed on its potential for implementation. After careful deliberations, these were prioritized into ten major action items (see inset), which will begin to be addressed in the summer months of 2001. Subcommittee members worked together in teams of two or three persons to champion the top ten action items by developing a ‘tear sheet’ for each one. The ‘tear sheets’ provided a rationale for the action, describing why it is of high priority for the university; they also provided reference information and suggested guidelines for seeking funding to begin to implement the intended objectives.
Moving to the Mainstream and Continuing the Momentum
Since its inception, Green 2 was seen as having the responsibility of implementing the Talloires Declaration. Yet the real task of implementation remains a huge endeavor. It will require creativity, persistence and dedication of resources over time. Although the involvement of human resources in Green 2 may be assessed in various ways, a conservative estimate suggests the following: over 100 meetings of the various committees, plus support staff time (for clerical, webpage development, and other administrative supervision), probably utilized 2000 person-hours.
Knowing that the momentum of more than ninety individuals cannot be sustained forever, Provost Vander Hill and the Planning Committee drew Green 2 to a close with a celebration of efforts at one final gala event on March 26, 2001. At this event, Green 2 submitted a Final Report to Vander Hill, which contained inputs from each of the subcommittees and included recommendations for future actions. At that meeting, Vander Hill announced three initiatives to continue the momentum and move the greening effort from being merely a concept to becoming a mainstream agenda for the university: 1- summer funding was made available to support faculty or staff to develop proposals seeking external funding for any of the 184 action items (with priority given to the top ten items previously identified); 2- two staff positions were created to provide continuity and support for the greening efforts; one position will coordinate implementation of sustainability efforts campus-wide while the other will provide support for external funding proposals via the Office of Academic Research and Sponsored Programs; and 3- a new Council on the Environment (COTE) was created, to be a permanent university council that will serve as “a clearinghouse for sustainability initiatives, campus-wide.”
Where will the story of Green 2 end, and how long will “becoming a sustainable university” take? We hope, in the words of William McDonough, that “it will take forever. That’s the point.”
For more information about Green 2, visit www.bsu.edu/g2.