Greening higher education: Making good on a vision for the future

Published on: 
6 Jun 2016
Jaime Van Mourik

Last October, USGBC stood alongside our counterparts from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and Second Nature to pledge our collective commitment to the vision that by 2025, 20 million graduates across all majors will be global sustainability citizens, learning about relationships between natural, physical, economic, social and cultural systems; understanding how their personal and professional choices impact these systems; and having the agency to create solutions that allow people and the environment to thrive. 

That was the easy part. As we start the challenging but necessary work towards a sustainable future for higher education, we will continue to use this blog series to update our community with news, announcements and reports on our progress towards this vision. 

In April, the four organizations came together for a very productive retreat. The most important outcome of this working session was a consensus on the working definition and criteria for a global sustainability citizen: individuals who have the knowledge, skills and attitudes to solve real-world challenges in ways that foster social equity, economic justice and ecological integrity on local, regional and global scales. 

The far-reaching, positive implications of campus-community projects and career development that focus on conserving resources, restoring and protecting biodiversity and shifting to clean energy cannot be overstated.  

“Around the world, colleges and universities will play key roles in the shift to pollution-free communities in which ecosystems, including wildlife populations, are returned to a healthy balance and all people benefit," said Julian Keniry, senior director for campus and community leadership at NWF. “A goal of 20 million global sustainability citizens in the U.S. is a gesture of friendship to all people, and all wildlife, across the U.S. and [the] world.” 

Why does having a common definition matter? 

“We recognize that language plays a central role in motivating and accelerating a movement,” said Rachel Gutter, director of the Center for Green Schools at USGBC. 

"Definitions are often the hardest thing to agree on. The fact that we built this collaboratively is a testament to our commitment to each other and the bigger vision,” added Tim Carter, president of Second Nature. "In a similar vein, we are now primed to take the important next steps of building out the tracking systems and implementation frameworks for the months ahead." 

"I'm encouraged by the discussions our organizations are having and the collaborative spirit we're using to advance sustainability in higher education," said Meghan Fay Zahniser, executive director for AASHE. 

The next step is determining how we will track the number of students who meet this definition. And we can’t do this alone. We want to hear from you. Is there a different definition you are using at your institution? Do you have suggested tools for tracking this vision that will integrate into the current reporting requirements for campuses? Let us know in the comments below. 

Read more in the Greening Higher Education series: