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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.

An edgy question
March 12, 2008 - 4:25pm

A correspondent asks, after posting a description of steps taken toward sustainability: “ a student emailed me asking broader questions about the green movement. Essentially he was wondering if this has really become a mainstream movement on campuses across the country. What’s your sense?

I’m not sure I understand the concern behind the question: whether the green movement has gone mainstream nationwide or not. If you’re asking whether green accomplishments/initiatives are (still) a way to differentiate your school, the answer is “yes, but it takes a bit more than it did a few years back.” Nonetheless, what the admissions folks at Greenback U are finding is that about one prospect in three wants to know what we’re doing to address global warming, and operate more greenly. This is a concern which the prospect volunteers, not one the admissions folks prompt.

To put the green movement in some sort of context, recognize that adoption of any new technology — and “green” is all about choice of technologies, many of them new — goes through a number of stages. First, it’s “bleeding edge” — only the real radicals are doing it, and it gets no respect from the mainstream. Then, it’s “leading edge", which translates to getting a modicum of respect, but not being seen as a cost-effective solution to most people’s/institutions’ problems (at least as those problems are traditionally defined). Then there’s a long period of mainstreaming/increased adoption before eventual obsolescence, “trailing edge” status, and redefinition from being a solution to being a problem.

In those terms, the US higher ed green movement is no longer on the “bleeding edge", but it’s still on the “leading edge", at least for a little while longer. Five hundred US colleges and universities have signed the ACUPCC and taken a couple of symbolic actions, but only a subset really understand just what they’ve signed up to, and even fewer have taken more than symbolic steps. Energy conservation is cost-effective only up to a certain point, and then becomes unattractive by traditional investment standards. Only when IHE administrations are willing to arrange funding for financially marginal (yet ecologically justifiable) sustainability projects can the green movement be considered truly mainstream, and we’re clearly not at that point nationwide yet.

Right now, the students are ahead of the staff, the staff are (in general) ahead of the faculty, and the faculty are ahead of most senior administrators. One of the reasons I’m blogging at insidehighered is to reach staff, faculty, and senior administrators. If green were truly mainstream, I wouldn’t have to blog, and no one would want to read.

Hope that helps. If not, let me know and I’ll try again.


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