Nothing can stop the campus greening movement. The umbrella term describing the set of environmentally-friendly policies being implemented by colleges and universities nationwide is charging everything from better recycling programs to solar-powered dormitories.
There is a range, however, in how much each institution is doing to change its behavior and reduce carbon-based practices. A lot of why is tied to money, but equally important is the initiative taken by students, faculty and staff.
On the low end of the spectrum is Boston University, it has the money but lacks the initiative. The student newspaper reported last February, BU scored a “D” on an campus sustainability report card and from the interviews it reflects the administration cared more about the legitimacy of the surveyors than reflecting on why the grade was received. The university has a “greening the campus” Web site, but it has not been updated since last spring.
While reporting in September on what BU students knew about the greening actions, those I interviewed said they either didn’t care about global warming or were in the dark about any actions the university was taking. One positive is a group let by graduate students called The BU Energy Club, which came together in October to host events on issues of energy and climate change.
In the middle is my alma mater Sarah Lawrence College in Westchester, NY. It lacks the money, but has the initiative, which began with members of the administration and spread from the students all the way up to college president. Although many “carbon-footprint” related changes have yet to take place because of cost, a sustainability committee open to the entire college community has decided on some smaller steps to put into action. In addition, I reported last spring on a student sustainability group hosting education-related events for the SLC. community on climate change that had some of the best turnouts for any student-run club.
At the far end is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an institution with the initiative and the money. Ten years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency likened MIT to a factory after fining it $55,000 for multiple waste management violations throughout it’s over 2,000 laboratories. Now, after devoting much of that money to environmentally-related campaigns, it is one of the most promising places for research in sustainable energy. The M.I.T. Energy Initiative, a committee with representatives from every part of the campus began in the fall of 2006 and now is a star example of what university can do to combat climate change, including partnering with solar research firms and providing classes directly related to alternative energy.
Of all the “greening” actions institutions of higher education can take, the most important is giving students a stake in these movements. Global warming will be a big part of their adulthood and providing classes and events to learn about the science as well as the connected social and political issues is the only way a university can fulfill its mission to shape citizens of the world.