Are the ivory towers ineffectual?

University. The ivory tower of intellectual challenge, of pure research, of educating our youth. What better place to find the cutting edge of innovation, corporate technology partnerships and implementation a myriad of “Green” initiatives. We should be seeing sustainability initiatives in every facet of university life. Building infrastructure and operations, food services, transportation, administrative activities, waste collection and of course academic teaching and research activities. 

So why are we not bombarded with these messages at every turn once we step on a university campus? Why are we not innovative and decisive leaders for initiating change? And more importantly, why are our youth not demanding it? 

The Talloires Declaration (TD) is a ten-point action plan for incorporating sustainability and environmental literacy in teaching, research, operations and outreach at colleges and universities. It has been signed by over 350 university presidents and chancellors in over 40 countries. But why only 350? And what else are they doing? 

As we have been walking along the halls of RMS, we see signs of green practices (automated lights in the bathrooms, low flow toilets, reusable cutlery and dishes) but what else is in play that we don’t see…

In Canada, British Columbia’s universities, and UBC in particular, are recognized as leaders in campus sustainability.  I invite you to explore the UBC sustainability programs to discover some of the possibilities…

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Posted in community, corporate sustainability, government policy, sustainable buildings, sustainable technologies
2 comments on “Are the ivory towers ineffectual?
  1. Caroline says:

    I agree with you Nancy – universities should be at the forefront of sustainability and environmental literacy, not only educating students, but also practicing and developing cutting edge sustainability activities.

    In Australia, I think there is a great deal of interest in this, but successive decades of cost cutting in an education system primarily funded only by the federal government has seen university programs and campus development pared to the bone. Most activities undertaken seem to be the bare minimum, and are only those things that have demonstrated cost savings (automated lights, landfill reduction).

    I have found far more innovation in the corporate and even government sphere in Australia. Not because there is a greater hunger for sustainability in those areas, but because there is funding to pursue it.

  2. tyep says:

    Having worked at the University of Oregon (UO) for the past 5 years and now also being a student, I can see the ways that it is trying to be more sustainable and build it into the culture on campus. Although UO has not signed the Talloires Declaration, it is doing most of the things that the declaration lists.

    In 2007, the Office of Sustainability was created and serves the entire campus. This office has been instrumental in helping various campus programs and students collect data for various reports. These include a Campus Sustainability Assessment and a Campus Food Report, to help aid dining services in its transition to be a more sustainable food system.

    This office has also published a climate action plan for the university for ways to reduce its emissions. Currently the University of Oregon requires all new buildings to have a minimum of a silver LEED rating. The University also provides free access to the local public transportation system for all faculty, staff and students. This is something that I have taken advantage of since I started working.

    The Campus Recycling Office has also done a lot on campus to educate and increase the rates of recycling on campus. Recycle bins can be found everywhere on-campus (both inside buildings and out) that allow for recycling of paper, plastic and cans. The dining halls on campus also have compost bins and student volunteers to man the bins to ensure that food waste is sorted properly.

    These are only a handful of examples and I could keep going. Taking Caroline’s point into consideration – money is tight and the state is decreasing the funds available for higher education so many institutions are left on their own. In my view, I think that the University of Oregon has made a commitment to sustainability and is trying to mitigate its impact on climate change the best that it can with the resources that it has.

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