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This week’s good ideas in campus sustainability: 3/29/10

Monday, March 29th, 2010

AASHE is showcasing the new American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) 2009 report, which highlights climate leadership in higher education.

The Report includes highlights from 2009; a list of innovative ways schools are applying their Climate Action Plans to areas such as curriculum, transportation, renewable energy, and partnerships within and outside the campus gates; a description of the impact the Commitment has had on the reduction of carbon emissions; information on the Climate Action Plans that have been submitted; a list of resources available to signatory institutions; and the ACUPCC budget. The ACUPCC, launched in early 2007, is currently comprised of 677 schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia – representing nearly six million students and about one third of the US higher education student population.

Link to story

Link to the ACUPCC report (pdf)

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More information:  AASHE bulletin 3/29/10

Posted in campus sustainability, higher education, solutions, sustainability | No Comments »

Stavins: “What’s the Proper Role of Individuals and Institutions in Addressing Climate Change?”

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

That’s the question asked by Robert Stavins at Harvard.  This piece is worth reading.  He wrestles with many of the same questions that many of us in higher education have thought a lot about (here, here, here, and here):

My view of a university’s responsibilities in the environmental realm is similar.  Our direct impact on the natural environment — such as in terms of CO2 emissions from our heating plants — is absolutely trivial compared with the impacts on the environment (including climate change) of our products:  knowledge produced through research, informed students produced through our teaching, and outreach to the policy world carried out by faculty.

So, I suggested to the students that if they were really concerned with how the university affects climate change, then their greatest attention should be given to priorities and performance in the realms of teaching, research, and outreach.

Of course, it is also true that work on the “greening of the university” can in some cases play a relevant role in research and teaching.  And, more broadly — and more importantly — the university’s actions in regard to its “carbon footprint” can have symbolic value.  And symbolic actions — even when they mean little in terms of real, direct impacts — can have effects in the larger political world.  This is particularly true in the case of a prominent university, such as my own.

But, overall, my institution’s greatest opportunity — indeed, its greatest responsibility — with regard to addressing global climate change is and will be through its research, teaching, and outreach to the policy community.

Although I applaud the call for more emphasis on environmental teaching and the addition of environmental courses, several impediments exist in higher education and beyond which make it difficult to translate these actions into a more environmentally literate society:

  • Disciplines, departments, and majors have long been divided into separate silos.  We reward specialization and expertise over the kinds of interdisciplinarity that is needed to conceive of and deal with global change problems.  As we have seen in previous posts, it’s time for higher education to consider adding problem-centered approaches to the general curriculum.
  • As a result, training students about the environment is often the responsibility of environmental studies and science (ESS) programs.   This is a problem because it absolves most departments and faculty from having to engage the environment as a serious issue.  Many programs at a typical university operate as if humans have little or no connection to the natural world.  Until human systems are properly embedded in natural systems and students are encouraged/required to explore these linkages, there is little reason for students to associate the human experience with impacts on the natural world.
  • These kinds of structures are problematic.   At best, it means that most students in higher education receive little substantive training in how their lives connect with the natural world.  At worst, students are trained to perpetuate disciplinary tradition that (1) ignores the relationship between human societies and the environment and (2) values high achievement in a world that is ecologically unsustainable and socially unjust as a measure of success.
  • There can be limits to a “more knowledge” approach.  Namely, as we have seen with climate communication, cultural values shape the perception/reception of information.  Just as  scientific facts seldom speak for themselves, we can’t expect a push for more education to always solve environmental challenges either.  The way messages are framed is important.  And the cultural context of the target audience is also critical.  Most people in the world have a very different cultural background than Harvard undergraduates.

Posted in behavior, communication and framing, higher education, nature and culture, sustainability | No Comments »

How much is a ton of CO2?

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

One of the challenges of climate literacy is helping folks visualize fossil fuel emissions and their impacts.

Last year, Bowdoin College completed its emissions inventory and climate action plan.  We discovered that the campus emits a total of 24,000 tons of CO2 equivalents each year.   So how much is that really?

One student decided to help illustrate this by creating an art installation, cordoning off a 27-ft x 27-ft x 27-ft cube in the student center with red ribbon.

Now imagine 24,000 of these cubes emanating from a college campus each year.   That helps show the magnitude of the challenge.

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Photo courtesy of Bowdoin College

Posted in behavior, campus sustainability, climate change science, communication and framing, energy, higher education | 1 Comment »

This week’s good ideas in campus sustainability: 3/1/10

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

This week’s showcase features Beloit College, Central College, and Iowa State University.  LEED Platinum is not easy to achieve, and it’s even more impressive with projects this large.

1. Beloit College’s Science Center gets LEED Platinum Nod

“The success of our new science center reflects the phenomenal collaboration of creative architects, talented engineers, professional construction firms and the finest faculty and staff who were, and are, committed to the best outcome for our students,” said Beloit College president Scott Bierman. “We are, of course, thrilled to have gotten LEED platinum status; but even more important is that we have a building that works terrifically well­—as well as any I have ever seen—as an integrated set of learning spaces.”

2.  Central receives platinum LEED rating for new building

“This special recognition from the USGBC brings great joy to the whole Central College community and reflects continuing success of our pursuit of a sustainable future as a long-term goal adopted by Central’s board of trustees,” said Central College President David Roe. “The achievement was made possible through the concerted efforts of the professionals on Central’s staff led by Mike Lubberden and a large team of amazing corporate partners including Weitz Corporation as our general contractor, RDG Planning and Design, MEP and Associates, and Pella Corporation.”

3. ISU’s King Pavilion first education building in Iowa to earn LEED Platinum certification

Located on the north side of the College of Design building, the $6.6 million, 23,735 gross-square-foot King Pavilion features a central, two-story “forum” surrounded by instructional studios used by all freshmen in the college, as well as sophomores in architecture, landscape architecture and interior design. “We are delighted to have the King Pavilion receive LEED Platinum certification,” said ISU President Gregory Geoffroy. “The King Pavilion stands as a testament to the commitment that Iowa State University has made to becoming a model ‘green’ university, in our daily operations as well as in our teaching, research and outreach programs.”

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For more information:  AASHE bulletin 3/1/10

Posted in campus sustainability, energy, higher education, solutions, sustainability | No Comments »

This week’s good ideas in campus sustainability: 1/11/10

Monday, January 11th, 2010

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This week’s spotlight is on the University of Minnesota and the University of Florida. Also, sustainability education makes USA Today and the NY Times.

1. U of M Energy Conservation Campaign Collects 10,000 Energy Pledges

Growing sustainability from the bottom-up in any community is challenging.  Here’s one way that the Golden Gophers are working on it:

Getting 10,000 people at the University of Minnesota to agree on any one subject is difficult. But 10,000 students, faculty and staff do agree on one thing: saving energy on campus is important.

The U of M has just met its goal of collecting 10,000 energy conservation pledges from students, faculty and staff as part of the It All Adds Up campus energy conservation campaign. The 10,000 pledge marked was topped early Thursday after a flurry of pledges came in response to a university-wide e-mail from President Robert Bruininks asking the Twin Cities Campus to take the pledge.

The university rolled out It All Adds Up last spring in an effort to increase campus awareness about how each person at the U could play a part in saving energy. The energy conservation pledge asks individuals to take seemingly small actions – like turning off lights or powering down computers at the end of the day – with the understanding that if each member of the 80,000 person campus community did those small actions, it would all add up.

2. One Less Car Wraps As Alternative Transportation Increases

Here’s another bottom-up approach, and the FL Gators get a gold star for doing it with one of the hardest behavioral modifications—driving:

The second annual One Less Car challenge was a success, with nearly 1,000 people participating. More than 100 teams represented students, faculty, and staff from departments and units across campus. Together, One Less Car participants avoided over 260,000 miles of driving during the challenge. Through alternative transportation commutes, such as busing, biking, and walking, approximately 246,370 pounds of carbon dioxide were kept from entering the atmosphere.

The teams that used alternative transportation for the most miles were: The Office for Student Financial Affairs, The Florida Museum of Natural History, and The College of Dentistry. Final prizes were awarded to the teams with the highest average points per member: Extreme Backroads, Los Tamales Calientes, Radical Gainesville, Geography, and No glass on the bike lanes. Individuals also earned prizes for logging the most trips and avoiding the most miles of driving. Final prizes included: lunch from Satchel’s Pizza, bike tune-ups, Hippodrome Tickets, Gator Dining meal coupons, and tickets to the Butterfly exhibit at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

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For more information:  AASHE bulletin 1/1/10

Posted in behavior, higher education, solutions, sustainability, transportation | No Comments »

This week’s good ideas in campus sustainability: 12/14/09

Sunday, December 20th, 2009

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This week’s showcase includes Worcester Polytechnic University, the Ohio university system, and Unity College.

(1)  WPI’s East Hall Recognized as a Green ‘Teaching Tool’

This is a model for how green construction should be done—use it as a classroom:

EducationDesignShowcase.com has awarded Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s (WPI) East Hall the “Judge’s Choice” honor in its “Building as a Teaching Tool” category. East Hall’s design-and-construction process and sustainable features were recognized as “educational opportunities” for the campus community. As a nominee in the “Building as a Teaching Tool” category, East Hall was judged according to the mindfulness of construction materials, energy, and environment; its design as a learning laboratory; student and community involvement; integration into the coursework; and innovation and creativeness.

(2) University System of Ohio Aims to Make State a Green Workforce Leader

Another great example of public-private-university partnerships to promote green jobs and sustainability:

Chancellor Eric D. Fingerhut today formally announced the establishment of an advisory panel to position Ohio as a national green workforce leader. The Ohio Green Pathways Advisory Panel is charged with developing a comprehensive understanding of green workforce demand, building and expanding relationships with green industry leaders, and identifying strategies to create and expand new green opportunities in Ohio.

“Ohio is already ranked in the top five for clean energy job creation, energy efficiency and environmentally friendly production jobs, and is first in the nation for renewable and advanced energy manufacturing,” said Fingerhut, citing a recent report by the Pew Charitable Trusts. “The Advisory Panel will ensure that the University System of Ohio advances the state’s economy by leading the way in green education and training programs.”

….”Environmental sustainability will be the primary driver of the new economy,” said Keith Dimoff, executive director of the Ohio Environmental Council. “Ohio Green Pathways will position Ohio to provide business with the skilled workforce necessary to harness the power of this evolving force.”

(3)  Finally, a home that gives more than it takes

There is a lot of green building going on around the world, but few projects actually lead all the way to carbon neutrality.  Here’s one example from Unity College (Maine, USA) of a house that generates more energy than it uses.   These kinds of buildings are what the new business as usual model should look like:

Unity House, as it’s called, recently received an LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, the highest achievable green building designation. The house also achieved what Bensonwood architect Randall Walter calls a Net Positive effect, which means the house actually gives energy back to the grid. This is done in part with the use of solar panels.

“On a sunny day, the house is building up a credit, to use at night,” Walter said.

These credits add up, saving money and energy, Walter said.

The home uses a combination of photovoltaic solar panels for generating electricity and a separate solar hot water system, along with some tight and high-tech insulation.

….From Oct. 5, 2008 to Oct. 5, 2009, energy use data shows Unity House produced 6,441 kilowatt hours of electricity while using only 6,430 kwh. The data shows that the cumulative months of overcast conditions and unseasonably cold temperatures in the first three seasons of 2009, considerably dampened solar collection, yet the home’s heat and power production and retention still performed well.

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For more information:  AASHE Bulletin 12/14/09

Posted in campus sustainability, energy, higher education, solutions | No Comments »

Hansen (C tax) vs. Krugman (cap and trade): A lesson in transdisciplinary understanding?

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

An interesting exchange happened yesterday at the NY Times.  Climate scientist James Hansen wrote a column, Cap and Fade, which, as the name suggests, is critical of cap and trade policies for mitigating climate warming.

In his blog, Paul Krugman responded with an article, Unhelpful Hansen, in which he takes readers through a basic primer of C taxes and cap and trade, arguing that they are basically the same and that Hansen is wrong for trashing what may end up being the best available approach.

Most of this is the kind of policy play-by-play that dominates daily blog traffic.  However, one of Krugman’s paragraphs caught my eye:

Things like this often happen when economists deal with physical scientists; the hard-science guys tend to assume that we’re witch doctors with nothing to tell them, so they can’t be bothered to listen at all to what the economists have to say, and the result is that they end up reinventing old errors in the belief that they’re deep insights. Most of the time not much harm is done. But this time is different.

Although this may not be an entirely fair criticism of Hansen (I have no idea what his formal training in economics is), it is interesting to see the implied call for better transdisciplinary understanding.   Social scientists have a responsibility to call out natural scientists for being naive when they wade around in social issues (and vice versa).  Although most of us are trained as disciplinarians, this is why it’s good to stretch ourselves and really understand perspectives and theory from fields with which we are not traditionally affiliated—as any good Environmental Studies program should do.  Most of the time it makes us better teachers and scholars.  And more humble about what we know and don’t know.

Specialization and expertise have their limitations, and, as Krugman points out, in some cases, they can be downright counterproductive.

Posted in climate economics, higher education, policy, science advocacy, social science, solutions | No Comments »

This week’s good ideas in campus sustainability: 12/7/09

Monday, December 7th, 2009

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This week, it’s the University of Oklahoma and Florida Gulf Coast University:

(1) Regulators approve ‘OU Spirit’ wind farm plan

This will be one of the largest wind power projects among universities—44 turbines generating 101 Megawatts.  Eventually, the university hopes to supply all of its electricity by wind.  This is exactly what needs to happen throughout the Great Plains.  Hopefully OU will serve as a model for all other states and  schools in the region.  Maybe we won’t need the Pickens Plan if enough people get on board.

(2) Florida College To Create Green Research Center

Another great example of public, private, and university partners coming together to spur technology, education, and green jobs.

As part of its goal to become a center for renewable energy and green technology research and education, Florida Gulf Coast University has joined the John D. Backe Foundation in a collaborative venture to create Florida Gulf Coast University Innovation Hub, a 1.2 million square-foot, state-of-the-art research and development area.

One of the primary goals of the initiative is to attract businesses and universities with an interest in renewable energy, and spur growth in green jobs, all of which are good for the region, the state and its residents. As more people realize the value of green initiatives and the vital importance of renewable energy, initiatives like the I-Hub and the work that will be conducted at FGCU will play an exciting role in the future growth and prosperity of the region and the state.

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For more information:  AASHE Bulletin 12/7/09

Posted in campus sustainability, higher education, sustainability | No Comments »

This week’s good ideas in campus sustainability: 11/30/09

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

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The showcase this week:  Eastern Illinois University and the University of California, Merced.

(1) Honeywell and EIU Bring the Heat with Biomass-Fueled Plant

This is an impressive scaling of biomass energy.  It sounds like it’s about two times the size of the biomass gasification plant at Middlebury.  By displacing 10,000 tons of coal, this will go a long way in helping EIU move towards carbon neutrality (provided that the fuelwood forests are replanted).  However, not everyone is going to be able to do this; otherwise, we’ll end up deforesting all of North America!

Honeywell today announced a $79 million renewable energy and building retrofit program with Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Ill. The program, which combines energy-efficient facility upgrades with one of the largest biomass-fueled heating plants on a university campus, will help EIU address deferred maintenance, improve its infrastructure, and save approximately $140 million in energy and operating costs over the next two decades.

EIU will finance the improvements and use the savings, guaranteed by Honeywell through a 20-year performance contract, to pay for the work. As a result, the program will not place a burden on the university’s budget or require additional taxpayer dollars or student fees.

The upgrades will impact all facilities on the 320-acre campus, and significantly curb the university’s energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. For example, they will reduce electricity consumption by an estimated 6.2 million kilowatt-hours per year — enough energy to power more than 580 homes annually. Carbon dioxide emissions will also decrease by nearly 20,000 metric tons each year. According to figures from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, this is equivalent to removing more than 3,600 cars from the road.

The focal point of the program is the construction of a new steam plant on the southeast corner of campus that will be driven by two large biomass gasifiers, the first application of this technology in the region. The plant will use wood chips sourced from the local logging industry to generate steam and heat buildings on campus. And it will replace the university’s aging steam plant, which is inconveniently located in the center of campus, consumes more than 10,000 tons of coal per year and requires constant maintenance.

(2) UC Merced Unveils New Solar Power System

This is another ambitious effort.  Hopefully opportunities like this will become commonplace in the next five years as solar panel costs continue to decline.

The University of California, Merced announced today (Nov. 10) the completion of a 1 megawatt solar power system at the campus, marking the university’s inaugural effort to produce clean, renewable energy as the first American research university of the 21st century.

“We are here today to celebrate a remarkable milestone,” said Mary Miller, vice chancellor for administration. “The solar array project exemplifies UC Merced’s founding vision to become an international model for sustainable development and environmental stewardship.”

The system is located on 8.5 acres southeast of the Science & Engineering Building. It consists of 4,900 solar panels that follow the sun’s movement during the day. The system will supply two-thirds of the campus’ electricity on summer days and 20 percent of the campus’ annual electricity needs.

The solar array will provide UC Merced with an abundant source of clean, renewable power. According to conversion formulas provided by The Climate Registry, the system is expected to remove more than 45 million pounds of carbon dioxide over the next 30 years. That is equivalent to the emissions displaced from removing more than 3,600 cars from California’s roads.

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For more information: AASHE bulletin 11/30/09

Posted in campus sustainability, higher education, sustainability | 1 Comment »

Environmental literacy in higher education—Part 4: Making it happen

Thursday, November 26th, 2009

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Prerequisite posts:

We should work towards the goal of creating a curriculum where the majority of students are learning environmental perspectives outside Environmental Studies (ES) programs.

ES programs are often the focal point for environmental education and scholarship.  It seems natural, then, for ES programs to deliver environmental literacy (EL) to the academic community.  But giving ES responsibility for EL absolves the rest of campus from addressing it.  Our disciplinary silos remain intact.  If, as many suspect, traditional, disciplinary structures produce graduates unprepared to meet contemporary environmental and social challenges, higher education needs to re-frame the disciplines.  ES programs are certainly key to this conversation, but all disciplines need to be part of this transformation.  Environmental issues are increasingly covered in political science, economics, history, and philosophy courses.  We could do more to show students how environmental changes are relevant to civil society, social traditions, and other expressions of the human condition.

Environmental literacy needs to grow from the bottom up—from faculty and students realizing the importance of using multiple frames of analysis.  Faculty in ES could take a leadership role in providing information, helping faculty understand concepts, and identifying useful case studies.  Issues can be framed through the use of readings, papers, field trips, issues, media, case studies, and other approaches, where students would have the opportunity to explore how an environmental perspective adds meaning and important new perspectives to their understanding of disciplinary issues and experiences.  Faculty outside ES programs have an active role to play in thinking about which connections they’d like to emphasize in their courses. There are many courses on the books that include potential ES or ES-related material without being fully self-conscious about it.  With a little retooling, it can be as simple as asking a different set of questions about existing reading and subjects.

Women’s Studies, International Studies, and Ethnic Studies programs have undergone this transition and can serve as a useful template.  In the last decade, disciplines have become more international, multicultural, and focused on issues of power and identity. The environment now needs a similar nudge.

And there should be reciprocity.  As mentioned in the previous posts (here and here), ES programs could do a much better job of incorporating how issues of race, class, gender, power, and culture inform attitudes on the environment.

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Photo credit:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/planeta_roig/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Posted in environmental literacy, environmental studies, higher education, nature and culture | 1 Comment »

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