An overview of  Sustainable Task Force’s Final Report 

Innovation andIntegration in Sustainability            atLewis & Clark

The campus sustainability movement

Sustainability is one of the most visible and popular movements on U.S. college campuses today, with phenomenal recent growth. Consider these statistics for AASHE, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education:[1] from 2006 to 2011, the number of AASHE member institutions has grown from 45 to 1100, and participants in their national conference have swelled from 700 in 2006 to 2100 in 2010.[2] The Chronicle of Higher Education routinely reports on sustainability, and a number of college rankings, such as the Sierra Club’s “Cool Schools” or the Sustainable Endowment Institute’s “Green Report Card,”[3] focus exclusively on sustainability (as does the AASHE STARS program).[4]

Lewis & Clark College faces three broad choices in response to this movement. The first is to largely ignore it as a fad; we do not support this response, given the huge student and societal demand for sustainable solutions. The second option—which appears understandable at first glance—is to model ourselves largely on current best practices gleaned from other campuses. Why do we not recommend this second route? Clearly, there is a great deal we can learn from other institutions; yet there would be nothing distinctive, no great value added to or derived from the campus sustainability movement by Lewis & Clark if we adopted it as our sole standard. More significantly, key Lewis & Clark faculty and administrators with whom we have consulted over the last year do not feel that sustainability as typically practiced engages their intellectual and moral imaginations; indeed, the campus sustainability movement is by and large populated by a limited sector relative to the enormous breadth of academic fields in U.S. higher education.

Redefining sustainability

We strongly recommend a third choice in response to the burgeoning campus sustainability movement, one of working in partnership with other institutions yet prioritizing innovation and integration in how we practice sustainability at Lewis & Clark College. This preferred approach builds on a more robust definition of sustainability that stands in contrast to its popular alternatives. For instance, many campus sustainability websites emphasize lowering our ecological footprint. But this is an entirely negative definition: sustainability becomes a matter of doing less bad. Taken to its logical conclusion, the most sustainable thing for Lewis & Clark would be to disappear! Even when focusing on positive actions, campus sustainability efforts as promoted via AASHE and SEI are largely limited to good green practices like alternative energy and food waste composting. We support these sorts of practices, but note that they reflect only one piece of a much richer puzzle.

Most accounts of sustainability hearken back to the 1987 Brundtland Commission report, which defined sustainable development as an approach that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”[5] The Brundtland approach was expansive: it embraced ecological concerns alongside economic development and social equity, and at international and intergenerational scales.[6] This broad set of interlocking concerns is often called a “triple-bottom-line” or “three-legged stool” approach addressing ecology, economy, and equity. All three of these dimensions are routinely considered by corporations and organizations participating in the Global Reporting Initiative,[7] perhaps the most rigorously developed and widely used assessment instrument in the international field today. Yet one would be hard pressed in the campus sustainability movement today to find any mention of international scales, or agendas for change that rest on much more than a one-legged green stool.[8]

If Lewis & Clark is educating citizens and leaders not just of our green campus but our diverse world, this Brundtland-inspired approach merits our serious attention. To implement this broader agenda demands innovation: we can only learn so much from current best practices. It also fundamentally demands integration, intelligently weaving together a broad set of concerns at multiple scales.  When put into practice, this approach to sustainability at Lewis & Clark would honor our respective practical concerns and areas of scholarly expertise[1], while reminding us that no one dimension of sustainability can be achieved alone.  Following that old story of the blind sages and the elephant, sustainability is the elephant, not simply the trunk or the tail, and we can only discover it by assembling the pieces. [2]In moving ahead with our recommendations, then, we place great emphasis on expanding the circle of participants in sustainability at Lewis & Clark, and in fostering stronger, more innovative communications and connections so we can collectively discover and practice what sustainability means in our world today.

An educational focus

We recommend the following mission to ground our sustainability efforts at Lewis & Clark College:

Lewis & Clark College is committed to learning, innovation, and principled action on matters related to sustain
ability, as grounded in our educational mission to cultivate global thinkers and leaders. Our approach to sustainability will build on the best available scholarship and practice; recognize the importance and interrelatedness of ecology, economy, and equity; and operate on scales stretching from our campus to the world.

Several features bear emphasis. We conceptually approach sustainability in a broad, integrative manner, and we honor the connection between thought and practice, in “walking our talk” as well as “talking our walk,” always in fresh, innovative ways. But why should an institution of higher education embrace sustainability? Our answer is that it is central to our educational mission to cultivate the next generation of global citizens, scholars, and leaders.

This emphasis on education—whether in the classroom, in an international setting, in the boardroom, or on a campus service project—is what binds us together at Lewis & Clark. As President Barry Glassner remarked in an interview in January, “Whatever is on the agenda, your compass needle should be pointed toward students and their education. It doesn’t matter if you’re a professor, a trustee, a president, an administrative assistant, a groundskeeper.”[9]

An innovative, integrative approach built on an educational focus would fuse sustainability into the lifeblood of our institution, and support recent language adopted by Lewis & Clark as part of a statement on core themes and objectives submitted to the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities,[10] which includes “promote investigation, debate and action on local, national and global issues affecting ecological, social and economic sustainability,” and “pursue, test, and apply innovative ideas and approaches in sustainable planning, policies, and practices.” It would also be distinctive relative to other institutions, placing Lewis & Clark in a position of leadership in higher education today. In our survey of campus sustainability across the U.S., we have learned a great deal from the organizational strategies of other institutions and have been inspired by their commitments, but we have also generally observed a relatively narrow approach to sustainability and a common disconnect from their larger educational mission. Lewis & Clark is a small school with a modest endowment, but we can mount a big, academically rigorous approach to sustainability that will resonate strongly with our values while demonstrating to prospective students, donors, and other interested outsiders a unique approach suitable for our world.

Efforts at Lewis & Clark to date

Unprecedented growth on the Lewis & Clark campus, coupled with concerns over impacts of this development, motivated formation of the Lewis & Clark Environmental Council in the late 1990s, founded to promote wise ecological stewardship on campus. Its charge states that it “will examine those aspects of College operations that have an impact on the natural and built environment. Its task will be to research, propose, and support constructive actions and policies to mitigate negative environmental impacts and promote environmentally responsible practices.” The Environmental Council reported to the Provost, and included two CAS faculty and one each from the Law and Graduate schools, four staff, and two CAS and one Law student.

In the early 2000s, the Environmental Council was renamed the Sustainability Council, following a wave of interest in sustainability on our and many other college campuses across the country. Yet its ecologically-focused charge was not likewise expanded, so in effect the Sustainability Council maintained the same scope of concerns as its predecessor. By the late 2000s, it was apparent that the Sustainability Council was not playing a visible, central role in campus discussions and decisions. Differences over its focus arose, with some advocating a more expansive approach while others preferred to restrict attention to the recently signed Presidents’ Climate Commitment.[11] Yet interest in sustainability among the general public, prospective students, and college assessors only grew during this period, putting Lewis & Clark in a relatively weak position to respond to these demands.

In September 2010, then, the Lewis & Clark Executive Council stepped in to proactively address our opportunities and challenges related to sustainability. Their charge language follows:

We propose the creation of a sustainability task force, comprising student, faculty, and staff representatives and all three of Lewis & Clark’s schools, to spend one academic year studying the situation and recommending a way forward. More specifically, we recommend that such a task force be charged with defining a scope for our sustainability efforts (while understanding that the concept of sustainability is complex and ever-evolving) and devising effective mechanisms to ensure that we can accomplish whatever we set out to do on this front.

The Sustainability Task Force has now met for eight months; this report is a direct outcome of our deliberations. The roughly two dozen Task Force participants are listed in Appendix A; they include a broad swath of students, staff, faculty, and administrators from our institution. We spent a great deal of time reading sustainability literature, exchanging thoughts on topics such as sustainability assessment and the campus sustainability movement, and distributing drafts of portions of this report. We by no means agreed on all topics. What is presented here represents the best attempt of the Task Force chairs, Tom Krattenmaker and Jim Proctor, to weave together these Task Force contributions into a coherent, actionable document for the benefit of the Executive Council and the Lewis & Clark community.

Seven interrelated components

Common subdivisions of campus sustainability, such as are found in the STARS assessment rubric, cover discrete topics such as transportation, purchasing, or energy use. Given our broader definition of sustainability, we however decided to divide our Task Force into seven subgroups, each of which represented a crosscutting “action area” or dimension of sustainability as we envision it at Lewis & Clark (see Figure 1). Four of these dimensions address specific yet interrelated components, including campus practices, off-campus dimensions, student life, and teaching, research, and service. As suggested in Figure 1, each of these components must not only be internally complete but well connected in order for Lewis & Clark to achieve its ambitious agenda for sustainability. The remaining three address more general components, including the organizational structure for sustainability at Lewis & Clark, how sustainability will be integrated into larger institutional decisionmaking, and internal and external communications related to sustainability. These more general action areas must be well coordinated with each other and support all four of the more specific components. Taken together, these seven components will guide our resultant scope, objectives, and recommendations for this report.

 

Figure 1.

To offer a synoptic view of our vision of sustainability at Lewis & Clark, primary contributions of each dimension are provided in Table 1 below, together with brief notes on key challenges specific to each dimension. As a quick read will suggest, each of these seven action areas would play an integral role via its key contributions to sustainability at Lewis & Clark. An elaboration of these contributions and how they would be achieved will be featured in the next section, when major recommended actions will be presented.

Prior to launching into these recommendations, it is worth emphasizing the key challenges summarized in Table 1, as these could be among the most important factors mitigating against realization of our vision of sustainability at Lewis & Clark. For the most part, these challenges could be discovered on many other college campuses across the country, but we do expect them here as well. When summarized, challenges appear to be of three major types:

      Conceptual challenges. The conceptual complexities alluded to above will certainly play a role as sustainability unfolds at Lewis & Clark. Limited approaches to sustainability may, for instance, lead to a neglect of off-campus dimensions even though they are an impressive feature spanning all three schools.

      Challenges of inertia. Our recommendations would lead to major changes in how sustainability is conceived and implemented at Lewis & Clark, and this will by necessity confront certain institutional barriers. For instance, to merge thought and practice in sustainability we will need to work hard to encourage greater integration of the student life and academic sectors, and both with campus operations.

      Challenges of coordination. Given that sustainability demands close communication, collaboration, and coordination among disparate sectors, it is not surprising that effective coordination is a recurrent challenge noted in Table 1. Without requiring that everyone at Lewis & Clark march in lock step, we nonetheless caution that innovative, integrative sustainability will not be evidenced without relatively strong coordination.

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[1] See www.aashe.org.

[2] Personal communication, Judy Walton, AASHE Membership and Outreach Director, March 25 2011.

[3] See www.sierraclub.org/sierra/201009/coolschools and www.greenreportcard.org.

[4] See stars.aashe.org.

[5] World Commission on Environment and Development. Our Common Future. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987, p. 43.

 

[6] Adams, William M. Green Development: Environment and Sustainability in a Developing World. London: Routledge, 2009.

[7] See www.globalreporting.org.

[8] Proctor, James D. “True Sustainability Means Going Beyond Campus Boundaries.” Chronicle of Higher Education, 2010, [add citation info].

[9] See www.lclark.edu/chronicle/story/?id=9846.

[10] Standard I Report to the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities [add citation info]

[11] See www.presidentsclimatecommitment.org.