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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Administrators and strategists
September 10, 2012 - 4:19pm

After talking to dozens (perhaps hundreds) of sustainability staff on a wide range of campuses, I've come to the conclusion that almost all of them fall into one of two categories: either they're administrators or they're strategists.  (OK, that's a gross over-generalization, but when have I let a little thing like that stop me?) 

The administrators are generally committed to greening the campus on a more-recycling, shorter-showers, better-lighting, turn-it-off-when-you're-not-using-it sort of a level.  They do good work and (often) achieve ever-improving results, but even if they were 100% successful in everything they do their real impact would be relatively small.

The strategists are generally committed to figuring out how to reshape the campus so that it can (learn to) be an order of magnitude less unsustainable.  They're intelligent, creative folk.  They try a lot of intelligent, creative stuff.  When it works, the reduction in unsustainability can be significant.  But (because by definition they're constantly fighting an uphill battle), they don't succeed all that often.

I ran across a bit of doggerel from Ken Boulding (an economist with strong ecological sensibilities) again recently, and I think it can be used to differentiate administrators from strategists:

One principle that is an ecological upsetter

Is that if anything is good, then more of it is better

And this misunderstanding sets us very, very wrong

For no relation in the world is linear for long.

Both administrators and strategists will likely relate to this, as the "more is better" trope is regarded as problematic and most sustainability folk know that climate change (at least) exhibits non-linear growth.  But if a particular sustainability staffer can give a cogent explanation of "very, very", with examples, then you're talking to a strategist.  If not, it's likely an administrator.

All of which is well and good, until you consider the real implication of Boulding's words -- not that we're facing a set of ecological problems with non-linear growth so much, but that most people are still thinking both "more is better" and in linear terms.  It seems like a lot of the difficulty campus sustainability efforts face, and the somewhat limited success they enjoy, is tied to the fact that neither administrators nor strategists are focusing on changing those two thought patterns.  Indeed, neither of them is well positioned to.  And I think that the term "sustainability" may be largely at fault.

More later.


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