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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.

A new leader in the greenhouse
May 15, 2008 - 2:46pm

It's probably just my northeastern liberal elitist upbringing, but when I think of colleges and universities that "get it" on the subject of sustainability, I think first of Oberlin, Middlebury, Harvard, Tufts, maybe Penn or Penn State. Half a beat later, the UCal system (like, what list are they not on?) and The Evergreen State College (gotta love that name, and there's a lot more under the surface) come to mind. But, truth be told, massive multiversity campuses in hydrologically challenging locations don't generally come to mind.

Then a correspondent ( sent me a copy of a speech given last year at the Rocky Mountain Sustainability Summit by Michael Crow, the president of Arizona State. It doesn't send quite the same message as my rant about academic disciplines, but it's on the same wavelength and the language is considerably more colorful. Crow talks about getting higher education out of the stone age, and that's just for openers!

I'm primarily an administrator, and on most campuses, administrators are generating most of whatever movement toward sustainability exists. It's not glamorous, but it's starting to have an effect both on emissions levels and on campus culture and expectations. Gotta walk before you can run, and all that.

But, at least based on appearances, Arizona State has reached the "running" stage. Their new School of Sustainability has put together a set of programs that most campuses can only dream of. BA, BS, graduate certificate, MA, MS, PhD, you name it! And the curriculum (at least on paper) has that cross-disciplinary flavor that sustainability work requires. Indeed, the School of Sustainability seems to be an early example of the interdisciplinary approach on which ASU's "New American University" initiative is based.

At Greenback, trying to address sustainability in our curriculum is a lot like rolling a stone uphill. I'm not sure the task is Sisyphean (because we haven't gotten close to the top of the hill even once, yet), but it's not fast and it's not fun. Knowing that success is possible, however, gives encouragement. And Arizona State gives a good example of what success, in this particular effort, would look like.


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