Chapter 3
In the Classroom:
Restructuring Formal Education

Formal classroom education plays a primary role in shaping the minds of our nation's youth -- the next generation of leaders, activists, managers, parents, and government officials. As America participates in an increasingly interdependent and resource-demanding world, educators must find ways to prepare students to meet the challenges created by rapidly changing global situations and conditions.

In particular, education for sustainability must counteract the long tradition of splintering knowledge into smaller and smaller pieces. Education for sustainability is not an add-on curriculum -- that is, it is not a new core subject like math or science. Instead, it involves an understanding of how each subject relates to environmental, economic, and social issues. Further, educating for sustainability promotes both high standards of achievement in all academic disciplines as well as an understanding of how these disciplines relate to each other and to the concepts of environmental quality, economic prosperity, and social equity. Young people make up 20 percent of the population, but 100 percent of the future.

-- Richard Riley, Secretary
U.S. Department of Education

Confronting the challenges of a new century will require a purposeful refocusing of the nation's education system into a more hands-on, interdisciplinary learning experience. Principles of sustainability can be used as a catalyst for innovation and restructuring of educational institutions, curricula, and teacher training efforts.


Formal Education Reform
Encourage changes in the formal education system to help all students (kindergarten through higher education), educators, and education administrators learn about the environment, the economy, and social equity as they relate to all academic disciplines and to their daily lives.

Four actions are proposed to implement this recommendation:

  • defining the essential learnings and skills needed for understanding sustainability,
  • emphasizing interdisciplinary learning and systems-oriented thinking,
  • expanding pre-service and in-service professional training for teachers, and *
  • having educational institutions serve as models for sustainability in their communities.

Defining Essential Learnings

Action 1. Parents and representatives from states, schools, educational organizations, community groups, businesses, and other education stakeholders should identify the essential skills and knowledge that all students should have at specified benchmark grades for a basic understanding of the interrelationships among environmental, economic, and social equity issues. This could serve as a model for states and communities to use in setting their own requirements for academic performance.

Education is not the filling of a bucket but the lighting of a fire.

-- William Butler Yeats

A Nation at Risk, a 1983 report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education and authored by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, galvanized the country with its findings on the inadequacy of public schools in preparing the nation's youth. The report led many state and local leaders to make school reform a top priority; it also spurred bipartisan support to enact Goals 2000: Educate America Act (P.L. 103-227).

This 1994 law aimed at improving the quality of learning and teaching in the classroom and workplace. Its principles include high expectations for all students; full participation by parents, educators, and communities; quality teaching; increased graduation rates; effective use of technology in learning; adult literacy and lifelong learning; safe and drug-free schools; and hands-on, experiential learning.

These principles are compatible with educating for sustainability. Educating students for high standards in basic skills across the curriculum will enable them to participate productively as members of the community and the workforce. Continuing educational opportunities throughout people's lives, both in formal and nonformal learning situations, will enable them to adapt to changing economic conditions and respond to the need for environmental protection. Building knowledge of the interdependence among economic prosperity, environmental protection, and social equity will help citizens understand, communicate, and participate in the decisions that affect their lives.

This reorientation to an integrated, interdisciplinary approach will succeed only if standards are established to ensure that sustainability education achieves high levels of quality and performance. Standards have been set for disciplines such as math, science, and geography. Additionally, educators have long recognized the need for a set of standards for environmental education. Organizations and businesses that fund environmental education projects also have called for a set of widely accepted materials standards that could be used in curriculum selection. To date, 19 states have adopted legislation mandating environmental education and 33 have enacted formal guidelines. Without a peer-reviewed framework of essential standards, however, implementation and evaluation of programs will be difficult. Education for sustainability requires connections to be made across all the standards and that environmental, equity, and economic issues be a part of each discipline.

Various organizations have focused on developing a set of consensus standards for environmental education.

  • Environmental Education Standards. In 1990, the National Science Teachers Association adopted a set of general "criteria for excellence in environmental education." More recently, the North American Association for Environmental Education has been collaborating with the World Resources Institute and members of the Public Linkage, Dialogue, and Education Task Force (PLTF) to develop a set of learning standards for environmental education that can be used at the state level, by school districts, or by individual schools as guidelines for curriculum benchmarks at various grade levels. These standards cover such areas as the importance of ecological and sociopolitical knowledge, appreciation of the interdependence of all life forms, concern for human impacts, problem-solving skills, knowledge of citizen action strategies, and respect for different perspectives and values. The standards development process involves opportunities for review, application to the National Education Goals Panel for certification, and dissemination to curriculum teams that are drafting statewide learning standards.

Educators -- working in partnership with communities, businesses, and other stakeholders -- can make education for sustainability a reality. Specifically, for various levels of formal education, they can define the skills and knowledge students will need in order to understand how various human actions affect the environment, economy, and equity.

Students who meet performance standards on the principles of sustainability will be better prepared for emerging job opportunities in a global and dynamic economy. They also will be better prepared to become responsible citizens. Defining standards for a core of basic knowledge about sustainability will accelerate the infusion of these concepts throughout the nation's educational system. The standards also can serve as a resource for media strategies and other venues for nonformal education about sustainability.

Many states have already begun to address the changes needed to ensure that an informed citizenry has the awareness, understanding, behavior and skills necessary for a sustainable future.

  • New Jersey Environmental Education Plan of Action. In New Jersey, legislation was passed in 1996 to create a permanent Environmental Education Commission to implement a Plan of Action which addresses the basic principles of sustainability. All citizens of New Jersey are responsible for gaining the knowledge, attitudes and values, skills and behaviors that ensure sustainability for future generations. New Jersey hopes to accomplish this through many venues and -- in particular -- by establishing a New Jersey Environmental Education Network, a New Jersey Global Forum, and an annual Environmental Education/Earth Week celebration. This Plan of Action has been acclaimed by leaders in the field of environmental education as a template for living in the Western Hemisphere.

Friends of the Future
Sixth through 12th grade students from the St. Francis of Assisi School in Louisville, Kentucky, have created a voice for themselves and other youth in the state by forming Friends of the Future (FoF). With their teacher, Sheila Yule -- who, according to one student, "pulls everything together and is the core of the group" -- Friends of the Future members have set an ambitious local, state, and international agenda.

  • Locally, they are examining what they can do as individuals and as a group to protect and enhance the environment and their community. Students regularly conduct environmental testing and have alerted the city council to a variety of water quality problems in their community; in fact, they have helped prompt legislative changes to address the situation.

  • Across the state, FoF members are working in partnership with a consortium of schools and universities, state agencies, and students from other environmental groups to develop strategies to better organize and incorporate environmental and sustainable development education into the Kentucky school curriculum.

  • FoF's international mission is to raise awareness of the United Nations' Agenda 21 and of the role youth need to play in the discussion on sustainable development. With the sponsorship and support of the U.N. Environment Programme, FoF published the book We Got the Whole World in Our Hands: A Youth Interpretation of Agenda 21, which documents the proceedings of the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development.1 The book puts Agenda 21 into simple language -- easy for younger readers to understand. The students presented their version at the National Earth Summit in Louisville in May 1993.

Emphasizing Interdisciplinary Learning

Action 2. State officials, school administrators, and other educators and stakeholders should continue to support education reform; emphasize systems thinking and interdisciplinary approaches; and pursue experiential, hands-on learning at all levels, from elementary and secondary schools to universities, colleges, community colleges, and technical schools.

Equipping today's students for tomorrow's decisions means that educators must promote long-term thinking and planning in conjunction with interdisciplinary, systemic learning. This shift will require new methods of teaching as well as new curriculum content. It will require that educators work with communities, businesses, and organizations to develop materials that expose students to local, national, and global issues. It means ensuring that issues and ideas from a variety of cultures and disciplines are represented in the classroom. Building a knowledge of the interdependence among economic prosperity, environmental protection, and social equity will help students become responsible citizens and understand, communicate, and participate in the decisions that affect their lives. Education for sustainability will . . . connect disciplines as well as disparate parts of the personality: intellect, hands, and heart.

-- David Orr, Chair
Environmental Studies
Oberlin College

The time is ripe for making education for sustainability -- and its requisite interdisciplinary approach -- a focal point of reinvention efforts in educational institutions. There are already groups, locally and abroad, that are leading the way:

  • Through Goals 2000, the U.S. Department of Education is supporting state and local restructuring efforts.

  • Countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, are using sustainability concepts to help guide their educational programs.

If the nation's elementary, secondary, and higher education schools are to infuse sustainability concepts into their curricula and offer separate courses in issues related to sustainability, universities and colleges will need to take the lead in reorienting education's approach from compartmentalization to integration.

More courses that support interdisciplinary approaches need to be offered and existing courses need to be refocused to include sustainability topics.

  • Sustainability in the Curriculum. The Kellogg School at Northwestern University sponsors an elective course that involves a spring-break trip to Costa Rica to research such initiatives as the ecotourism industry and paper production from the waste products of banana processing. The Crouse School of Management at Syracuse University has a mandatory course focusing on what business students need to know about the environment and sustainability; it also offers courses on land development law and environmental law as part of the business school curriculum.

    Widener University offers a Sustainability and the Law course which has three themes: the role of law in achieving sustainability, sustainability as a basis for evaluating laws, and the potential effectiveness of different types of legal instruments in achieving sustainability. The course materials, which include an interdisciplinary bibliography, focus on topics including fisheries; business and manufacturing; biodiversity and climate; international, national, and local communities; and consumption and population.

Additionally, a wide variety of university programs focusing on sustainability and interdisciplinary study opportunities are emerging across the nation.

  • Columbian International Center. This graduate studies program of the American Institute for Urban and Regional Affairs in Washington, D.C., is accredited to offer the first master's and scholar-practitioner doctorate degrees in sustainable development. Both degrees are in accordance with requirements established by the World Council on Sustainable Development. These programs (1) are interdisciplinary; (2) incorporate a global awareness of social, economic, technological, and environmental change and the resulting impacts on society; (3) foster integration of theory, research, and professional practice; and (4) require effective teamwork, cooperation, management, and leadership. The degree programs are an international, off-campus curriculum for practicing professionals.

  • Center for Sustainable Technology. The Georgia Institute of Technology's Center for Sustainable Technology was created in collaboration with the World Engineering Partnership for Sustainable Development. This partnership was itself established in 1992 to unify the global engineering community to implement sustainable development initiatives. Recently, the center was awarded a $925,000 grant by the General Electric Foundation; it will use the grant to develop an educational program in sustainable development and technology that cuts across all engineering disciplines.

  • The Randolph G. Pack Environmental Institute. In 1996, The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry launched the Randolph G. Pack Environmental Institute to promote the philosophy of sustainable development. The Institute focuses on such topics as democratic processes, environmental decision making, public participation, environmental equity, and sustainable development. Interest in these areas will be promoted through research and service activity in community, state, national, and international venues.

  • The University of Louisville Institute for the Environment and Sustainable Development (IESD). IESD was established to promote multidisciplinary analysis and research on the needs, causes, and consequences of development. It seeks to expand knowledge on the environment and economic development while providing an effective interface between scientific inquiry and the policy-making process. Conferences, such as a series held in 1995 on promoting sustainable communities, are part of IESD efforts to educate and engage the public in a dialogue on sustainability.

  • Institute for a Sustainable Environment. In 1994, the University of Oregon chartered its Institute for a Sustainable Environment, which is particularly interested in encouraging cross-disciplinary environmental research, education, and public service. The institute is also focused on working with the community on sustainability projects. Recent collaborations include Oregon Benchmarks, Quality of Life Indicators for Coos County, and a sustainable forestry plan for 64,000 acres of forest land of the Caquelle Native American Tribe.

  • Center for Sustainable Communities. This is one of three centers at the University of Washington's Cascadia Community and Environment Institute. The institute's emphasis is on interdisciplinary activity to address regional priorities while providing students with practical education and training experiences. The center seeks to transfer knowledge, experience, and services between the academic setting and communities through training, research, and direct involvement with students. The center is a source of information for many areas of sustainability from environmental design to sustainable building practices to community planning.

  • Tahoe Center for a Sustainable Future. This center is working in collaboration with a variety of partners including the University of California at Davis and the Sierra Nevada College, as well as teachers and business, environmental and community leaders to develop a sustainable development curriculum for the Tahoe-Truckee Region. The effort's overall mission is to develop a model process for environmental education teachers and K-12 students that will focus on promoting a healthy environment and developing an adequate standard of living for all community members.

To ensure that the momentum to develop programs on sustainability continues, universities need to work with federal, state, and local agencies to shift funding priorities toward interdisciplinary research. At present, fewer than two percent of federal funding to universities supports research related to environmental subjects, including the human causes of environmental change.2 Too often, interdisciplinary research is regarded as "soft science" which does not advance a faculty member's professional standing, fulfill publication requirements, or earn tenure. Consequently, the educational system is not responding as quickly to the need for information and research on sustainability.
"Countries...could...establish national or regional centers of excellence in interdisciplinary research and education...Such centers could be universities..."

-- excerpted from Agenda 21
UNCED 1990
Rio de Janeiro

Elementary and secondary schools also need to work with other schools and communities to develop curriculum, deliver information, identify questions for research, and provide direct services to help solve community problems. Many elementary and secondary schools are already making progress in this area. For example, the Community High School Environmental Research and Field Studies Academy in Jupiter, Florida, incorporates sustainability concepts into classroom subjects, school activities, community service projects, and enterprise partnerships. This gives students an opportunity to share in decisions related to their school and community to define a more sustainable, equitable, and productive future.

Although some educators believe that schools should impart only knowledge and skills, not foster changes in attitudes or actions, other educators contend that participation in real-world activities is an integral component of education.3 Courses in citizenship, for example, sometimes involve the development of action plans to resolve real-world environmental problems and the opportunity to implement those plans if students desire. The Global Rivers Environmental Education Network (GREEN) initiative is an educational program with a strong focus on real-world problems and community service. This program is helping empower students to take community action by providing the tools necessary to learn about the environmental, economic, and social conditions in their communities, as well as the global community.

Community service can be a powerful educational tool. Taking young people out of the classroom has a long, successful tradition in environmental education.

  • Student Volunteers. Since 1957, the Student Conservation Association has encouraged more than 30,000 student volunteers to perform conservation work in national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges, and other public lands.

  • Learning Through Service. In 1990, students at Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Native American Reservation in South Dakota surveyed their community for willingness to recycle. Based on the overwhelmingly positive response, the students pushed the district council to build a recycling center.4

Finally, the success of reform efforts will depend heavily on access to pre- and in-service training for educators and the development of new materials. Classroom learning can be greatly enhanced by knowledgeable educators who are supported by recent and accurate materials. Learning institutions can work collaboratively with organizations and businesses to develop materials for teaching and learning about sustainability. In fact, many organizations are already leading the way.

  • World Resources Institute (WRI). WRI's Environmental Education Project has completed a series of teachers' guides with comprehensive course work focusing on the global environment. Separate units include sustainable development; watershed pollution; oceans and coasts; energy, atmosphere, and climate; biodiversity; natural resource economics; population, poverty, and land degradation; and citizen action.5

Saleem Ali
To remain competitive in the global marketplace, our nation needs a workforce knowledgeable about the interdependence among environmental, economic, and social issues as well as the skills necessary to apply this knowledge to their everyday lives. It follows that an educated workforce needs to have access to programs, training, and curriculum that provide for interdisciplinary learning opportunities. Many schools are starting to recognize the benefits of interdisciplinary studies, and are working collaboratively with students to create their own programs of study.

Saleem Ali worked with advisors at Tufts and Yale to pioneer his own interdisciplinary path of study. After completing a bachelor of science degree in chemistry and environmental studies at Tufts University, Saleem was accepted to a master's program at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. To buttress his environmental degrees and his interest in sustainable development, Saleem took a variety of courses including Industrial Ecology, Environmental Economics, Quantitative Methods in Decision Analysis, and Philosophy and Public Policy.

But he knew that coursework alone was not enough: He needed to couple his academics with hands-on, experiential learning in order to gain a broader understanding of the interdependence of environmental, economic, and social issues in a global society. Saleem set out to gain experience in the business, nonprofit, and government sectors to broaden his understanding of how each one operated. He worked for the General Electric Company on international environmental protocols and environmental auditing; interned for a year for the British Parliament (House of Commons) in London conducting research on material for environmental debates; and worked at the Center for Rainforest Studies in Australia where he interviewed farmers, conducted analysis on water and soil samples, and prepared a research report on reforestation in the Lake Tinaroo Catchment.

Sharing his knowledge with others is a top priority for Saleem. He has written about his interests and concerns in campus and local newspapers, including the Yale Herald and Tufts Daily. Plus, Saleem has lectured in Pakistani schools to promote awareness of environmental issues. In 1994, he was awarded the Marshall Hoshhauser Prize for "altruistic community service."

To Saleem Ali, these diverse activities and experiences just made sense. "In order to be an effective environmental professional, it is essential to cover a broad disciplinary spectrum because environmental issues tend to permeate all educational discourse from humanities to natural sciences. I am particularly interested in bringing my skills to work for the industrial sector because I feel a need to bridge the gap between the corporate sector and the environmental community. This partnership between the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, I believe, will be the most significant impetus to environmental reform in coming years."

Classroom Outside the Classroom
A group of windsurfers on the Huron River became concerned for their health when they emerged from the water with severe skin rashes. A few had also contracted Hepatitis A. The students turned to University of Michigan professors Dale Greiner and William Stapp for answers. The professors devised nine water quality tests and, over the next few months and in a variety of weather conditions, assisted the students in charting the quality of the water. What they found was that after a heavy rain, there was a dangerously high fecal coliform count -- at 1,200 parts per million it was not considered safe for drinking, swimming, or fishing -- caused by combined sewer overflow. The students told city officials of their findings and erected a sign to warn others of the potential dangers of entering the water after a storm.

In 1986, students from 16 high schools near the Rouge River heard about the Huron River findings and decided to do the same analysis. They were shocked to find that their river's fecal levels were even higher than in the Huron study, with counts ranging from 15,000 to 20,000 parts per million. The students contacted city officials, who were able to attract financial support from the federal and state governments to build retention basins that would eliminate the sanitary waste from overflowing storm pipes. There are now more than 100 schools involved in monitoring the Rouge River.

These events, and the concern for healthy water systems, launched the Global Rivers Environmental Education Network (GREEN), a nonprofit organization whose director, Keith Wheeler, also participates on the Public Linkage, Dialogue, and Education Task Force. Since 1989, GREEN has grown to include more than 140 nations.

GREEN's interdisciplinary approach to watershed analysis entails maintaining a log of scientific data and information, as well as looking at an area's history and cataloguing its culture and economic status. The GREEN program also emphasizes that watersheds do not recognize human boundaries; and encourages communities, states, and nations to work together to preserve water quality.

For example, high school students in Juarez, Mexico, conducted water quality tests at their school and discovered high levels of nitrate. Suspecting that the problem was caused by fertilizers seeping into community wells, the students made appeals to local authorities for action. Although their appeals were ignored, the students posted signs in the community. Public awareness of water quality issues increased -- as did sales of bottled water. This project, which came to be known as Project del Rio, now has 24 participating schools in Mexico and 36 in Texas and New Mexico. Student results are validated by local environmental businesses, and data are shared via a bilingual computer network.

GREEN participants learn the importance of ensuring a clean and safe water supply for themselves, their families, and their communities. The problem-solving skills, knowledge, and understanding they achieve advance them as responsible citizens.

Expanding Professional Development

Action 3. Colleges and universities should incorporate education about sustainability into pre-service training and in-service professional development for educators of all types, at all levels, and in all institutions.

Educators are the best means for infusing sustainability into formal learning -- but only if these educators have had relevant high-quality professional development before and during their tenure in the classroom. Professional development can bridge the gap between what educators know now and what they will need to know to prepare the nation's youth for changes resulting from the global transition to sustainability. Educators continually need to learn new methods and techniques for transferring knowledge both inside and outside the classroom. The challenge is how to best deliver this training so it is widespread and promotes hands-on, interdisciplinary learning.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that teachers do not feel adequately prepared to incorporate environmental education, multicultural perspectives, vocational relevance, and other educational demands that comprise elements of a sustainability curriculum -- including stimulating, higher order creative skills -- into their teaching. Difficulty in accessing different teaching materials are barriers.

  • Providing Materials and Access. Surveys in 1992 by the National Consortium for Environmental Education and Training revealed that teachers have difficulty finding what will help students. In response, the consortium produced a teachers' manual, Getting Started; a toolbox of information on workshops across the country for preparing teachers for environmental education; and EE-Link, a major source of K-12 teaching materials on the environment and sustainable development that can be accessed through sites on the Internet.

Professional training for sustainability poses a number of challenges. For one thing, teachers in all subject areas will have to acquire some knowledge and understanding of the principles of sustainability. Adequate pre-service training will depend on institutions of higher education adding appropriate courses; in-service professional development presents the formidable challenge of retraining the 2.8 million teachers in the nation's public and private K-12 schools.6 Meeting these challenges is an important step in our nation's movement toward sustainability since educators impart the knowledge that the next generation of citizens, parents, and workers will use in their daily lives.

Because it is a relatively new concept for teachers as well as students, education for sustainability needs to be incorporated into teacher pre-service and in-service education programs. Adequate funding through legislation or grants is essential for expanding pre-service and in-service training in sustainability. To ensure adequate financial support, partnerships among state departments of education, institutions of higher education, professional societies, and school districts are critical. Funding for developing, demonstrating, and disseminating exemplary programs, especially for professors who educate pre-service teachers, could strongly influence the future of sustainability in the United States. Where state or federal funding is unavailable, the private sector can help meet the challenge.

  • Federal Support. Two federal agencies, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have established programs that support professional development for teachers. The Department of Education, through its Dwight D. Eisenhower Professional Development Program, provides grant assistance to state and local education agencies, institutions of higher education, and nonprofit organizations to ensure that teachers and other staff and administrators have access to high-quality professional development. EPA, in addition to providing support to encourage students to pursue careers in mathematics, science, engineering, and other fields essential to environmental improvement, helps fund training for educators on how to increase environmental literacy. Through the 1990 Environmental Education Act, EPA created a three-year partnership endeavor, the Environmental Education and Training Project, to fund educators who (1) need additional training, (2) provide education to underserved populations, and (3) work with adult learners.

Teachers will need plenty of guidance at the outset, especially in measuring success. Educators, with the help of academics, non-governmental organizations, professional societies, and businesses, can take the lead in developing new materials on sustainability. Professional development, adequate teaching materials, and evaluations of success are all necessary prerequisites if educators are to meet the challenge of preparing students for a new era.

Successful work in this area includes the following:

  • Requiring Environmental Education. Of the states that mandate environmental education, only two -- Maryland and Wisconsin -- also require pre-service training to prepare teachers for implementing that mandate. Besides including environmental education objectives in its pre-service teacher certification programs, Wisconsin also has a large in-service program in environmental education. Both of these Wisconsin-based programs have elicited strong support from students, teachers, and school administrators.7

  • Environmental Literacy. The Tufts University Environmental Literacy Institute provides environmental literacy training to secondary school teachers and university faculty, helping them weave environmental themes into their courses. The institute exposes participants to current educational theory, teaching strategies, assessment techniques, and information retrieval methods. Its nine-day participatory learning course covers such topics as life-cycle assessment, design for environment, cost-benefit analysis, market-driven technological innovations, and responsible industry practices. The institute's Global Partners Program promotes interdisciplinary research, information exchange, and international partnerships. By 1992, 70 faculty members from schools around the country, in fields ranging from medicine to the arts, had attended institute workshops. Today, these teachers and professors -- whether they teach English or engineering -- are incorporating environmental principles into their courses.8

  • Middle Schools. An EPA grant is supporting a two-week summer training institute for middle school teachers by the Columbia Education Center in Portland, Oregon. The center also will expand its program to establish environmental education demonstration sites at public and private schools in five states.

  • Biodiversity Training. The Science Improvement Through Environmental Studies Program uses an investigative and problem-solving approach to study the ecological and social principles of biodiversity. Following summer training, qualified teachers are certified as state-level volunteer peer leaders to provide in-service programs for their colleagues.

Teaching Teachers and Students About the Environment
Despite the popular teaching slogan "think globally and act locally," few high school students graduate with the ability to analyze and assess global environmental problems. A 1995 study sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that global topics such as population change, ocean pollution, temperate ecology, and land use -- some of the most pressing problems facing society -- were among the least common subjects addressed in environmental education classes and teacher training programs.

Although many teachers would like to include global environmental studies in their courses, they are discouraged by a variety of barriers including the need for new information, the need for new ways to integrate information and materials into learning situations, and determining how to make global issues relevant to students. In addition, teachers worry about overwhelming students -- either with the somber nature of the topics or as an addition to an already overcrowded school year.

Most teacher training courses and curriculum materials offer little help. Training courses tend to focus on local and regional issues. Most materials are appropriate for elementary and middle schools, but not sufficiently challenging for high school use.

Overcoming these obstacles is the goal of a recent partnership formed between the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Global Network of Environmental Education Centers. By combining their respective strengths -- teacher training and the production of top-quality curriculum materials -- they hope to bolster the professional development of environmental educators nationwide and stimulate the infusion of global environmental studies into U.S. secondary schools. The plan is to develop model teacher training courses using WRI's curriculum materials that link global environment and sustainable development issues with similar concerns.

Serving as Models of Sustainability

Action 4. Schools, colleges, and universities should promote curriculum and community awareness about sustainable development and should follow sustainable practices in school and on campus.

The university has all too often geared its research, teaching, and service to communities in ways that have little relationship to sustainability. We must change much of our thinking about how to walk softly upon the planet. To do this will require us to make fundamental changes in the corporate culture of the university.

--Bunyan Bryant, Professor
University of Michigan

Educational institutions -- from K-12 schools through colleges and universities -- can and should serve as models for sustainability. As such, schools at all levels can be potent forces in educating the communities they serve while reducing their own operating costs and increasing their efficiency. For students, participating in a school's conservation efforts is a form of hands-on, experiential learning. Various forms of community service that get students out of the classroom, literally or figuratively, can also serve as powerful educational tools.

In February 1995, a workshop on the Principles of Sustainability in Higher Education was held in Essex, Massachusetts, under PLTF auspices. The workshop was sponsored by Second Nature, a nonprofit organization dedicated to education for sustainability, and the Secretariat of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future. One of the workshop's major conclusions was that the operations of universities and colleges should be restructured so that they serve as models for sustainability:

  • The university is a microcosm of the larger community, and the manner in which it carries out its daily activities is an important demonstration of ways to achieve environmentally responsible living. By focusing on itself, the university can engage students in understanding the "institutional metabolism" of materials and activities. Students can be made aware of their "ecological address" and the impact of their attending school on the natural environment and the community, and they can be actively engaged in the practice of sustainable living. By using the campus as a laboratory, students learn to analyze complex multidisciplinary problems, develop real solutions and focus on their institution's and their own behavior -- skills that are critical for the realities of the 21st century. By "practicing what it preaches," engaging in environmentally just and sustainable practices in its operations, purchasing and investments, higher education helps reinforce desired values and behaviors in all members of the academic community. Moreover, the annual buying and investment power of the nation's institutions of higher learning -- $120 billion in purchasing; $75 billion in endowment -- makes them important players in creating market demand for environmentally just and sustainable goods and services and in supporting the local communities in which these institutions are located.9

Not only can institutions develop curricula that integrate sustainability concepts, they can also incorporate these concepts into a wide range of activities, including research projects, career counseling, administrative procedures, procurement practices, academic curricula, and other university services.

The results of practical research or model greening projects conducted at universities and colleges can be shared with the community and other school systems. For example:

  • Yale University. In response to recommendations made at the Campus Earth Summit, Yale switched from incandescent to fluorescent lighting, with projected savings of $3.5 million over the next 10 years.

  • University of Arizona. By modifying laboratory procedures in an introductory chemistry course to eliminate 3,600 gallons of hazardous waste, savings of more than $12,000 in disposal costs were realized.

  • State University of New York. The Stony Brook branch of the University system instituted conservation measures for its heating and air conditioning systems that saved 1.53 million gallons of fuel oil, worth over $1 million.

  • Benedict College. Energy-saving practices at Benedict College of Columbia, South Carolina, initially cost $28,900 but saved more than $91,400 during the first year.

  • University of California. The University of California at San Francisco uses co-generation to heat its medical center with recovered steam heat; the initial cost of $247,000 will be amortized quickly through annual savings of $87,000.10

  • Brown and Tufts Universities. Brown University installed energy-efficient improvements through its Brown Is Green program; Tufts University did the same through its Tufts Clean! effort.11

Primary and secondary schools can follow suit; in fact, some of the nation's 80,000 primary and secondary schools have already made great strides. Higher education institutions bear a profound moral responsibility to increase the awareness, knowledge, skills and values to create a just and sustainable future.

--Tony Cortese, CEO
Second Nature

  • Chicago Public School System. In an era of tight funding the Chicago Public School System, in partnership with the Center for Neighborhood Technology, is planning a novel approach to use energy efficiency to generate savings and revenue. The city is in the process of developing a comprehensive energy and environmental evaluation of public school facilities and transportation systems. The results will be translated into better resource management, new investment strategies, and improved education opportunities for students. The plan is being developed under U.S. EPA's Project XLC ("eXcellence and Leadership for Communities"). Project XLC assists communities in the use of creative approaches to attain greater environmental benefits. In this case, a provision of the Clean Air Act can provide "pollution credits" to schools, for reducing emissions through investments in energy efficiency. The schools can then sell some of the credits -- currently worth $12,000 to $15,000 per ton reduced -- to firms that are having difficulty meeting emissions standards. Students and faculty can be engaged in the effort by incorporating information about energy reduction into the curriculum and by helping develop new and innovative ways to reduce energy use and costs, system-wide. This effort builds on the 1991 American Association of School Administrators "Schoolhouse in the Red" study, which projected that energy management programs could cut utility bills 25 percent in the nation's schools -- or approximately $14 million a year for Chicago. The city schools there hope to serve as a model which can be replicated by other schools throughout the country.

  • New York Healthy Schools Network. This network was created to bring together the perspectives of over 30 health, environment, education, and parent groups. The coalition motivated the State Board of Regents and Education Department to create an "environmental bill of rights" for schools. The bill encourages schools to serve as role models of environmental awareness and states that every child and school employee should have the right to have a safe school that uses its resources effectively.

  • Guidance Materials. Brochures, videos, and books like Blueprint for a Green School (by the Center for Environmental Education) are helping school administrators, teachers, maintenance staff, students, parents, and community leaders create environmentally safe and healthy school buildings. Blueprint for a Green School is a guide on how to tackle environmental safety issues and make practical, responsible decisions about the operation of school buildings and classrooms.

Becoming a model of sustainability is consistent with higher education's traditional mission of teaching, research, and service. Increasing awareness, knowledge, and technologies to create a sustainable future is a key responsibility of schools. Schools educate the leaders, managers, and visionaries of tomorrow. They train the teachers who educate children from kindergarten through high school, vocational schools, colleges, and universities. The school's responsibility is to provide a quality education and a safe and healthy learning environment. Institutions of higher education can exert a strong influence on society by turning out literate citizens who have witnessed first hand the benefits of sustainability.

Universities and schools nationwide should develop 10- and 20-year plans to make sustainability a central focus of their operations. Through their own experiences in becoming more sustainable, universities and schools can serve as catalysts for encouraging local communities to move toward a sustainable future. Following are some examples of successful sustainability efforts and experiments in academia.

  • Second Nature. Second Nature, a nonprofit organization dedicated to education for sustainability, targets its efforts at colleges, universities, and professional schools as the institutions responsible for educating future teachers, policy makers, and managers. Second Nature fosters partnerships such as the 17-member Environmental Technology Consortium of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities/Minority Institutions. Another partnership is the 11-member Brazilian Consortium for Environmental Education and Research, composed of representatives from universities, government, industry, and non-governmental organizations. Finally, the Montana Consortium is a four-member group that includes three Native American tribal colleges and one four-year university. Second Nature provides guidance on how these groups can work together to incorporate sustainability into their day-to-day operations, curriculum, and research priorities; it works with these organizations to make them models of sustainability in their communities.

  • The High School for Environmental Studies. State-of-the-art facilities that include a recycling center, roof garden, greenhouse, composting center, weather station, computerized research library, and million-dollar media center are a few of the innovations at the High School for Environmental Studies, a public school in New York City formed to foster environmental education in an urban setting. The school was established in 1991 by a partnership between the Surdna Foundation and the New York Board of Education. A highlight of the school's curricula is its voluntary internship program that places students in an environmentally oriented organization for a full academic year.

  • University Leaders for a Sustainable Future. In 1990, the presidents, rectors, and vice chancellors of more than 200 member institutions in 40 nations formed a Secretariat of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future to promote university leadership for global environmental management and sustainable development. The secretariat supports universal environmental literacy, faculty development, socially and ecologically responsive research, ecologically sound institutional practices that minimize environmental impact, and expanded outreach through partnerships.

  • Eastern Kentucky University. Paper recycling is a common project on campuses, but Eastern Kentucky University has involved a new constituency: cattle. In a program developed by the agricultural department and the physical plant, paper destined for the recycling bin is collected and reused as bedding for the school's cattle. When the bedding has been sufficiently soiled, it is reused as compost in the fields. According to the university's Sierra Club advisor, Doug Hindman, more than 30 tons of paper have been "recycled" by the cattle, reducing the amount of waste exported from the campus by two dump-truck loads.

Oberlin College
"Colleges and universities are, for the most part, still educating the young for an industrial world. But in the much more crowded world of the 21st century those now in school must have the know how and know why to sharply reduce the amount of land, fossil energy, materials, and water thought necessary for human life."

-- David W. Orr, Professor and Chair, Department of Environmental Studies,
Oberlin College

To answer the challenge of educating students for sustainability, Oberlin College is involving students and faculty, as well as outside consultants and stakeholders, in developing a 10,000 square foot, zero emissions Environmental Center. The facility will require the efficient use of recycled materials, ecological wastewater systems, solar energy, and ecological landscaping. "We intend for the building to be a crossroads for interdisciplinary education, research, and action on the complex array of problems and opportunities facing humankind in the 21st century," says Orr.

In conjunction with the Environmental Center project, Oberlin College offers an Ecological Design class. Students in the class meet with leading practitioners, energy experts, and designers to share and develop ideas contributing to the building process. In the future, students will use the building as a living laboratory for discovery and learning.

Schools as Models of Sustainability
Some 450 faculty, staff, and student delegates from all 50 states and six continents convened February 18-20, 1994, at the Campus Earth Summit at Yale University. The delegates agreed that schools must promote sustainable development; they gathered their suggestions, input, and recommendations into the Blueprint for a Green Campus: The Campus Earth Summit Initiatives for Higher Education.12 The document describes ways to make sustainability a central focus of education programs and to provide community and regional fora to discuss sustainability. It is based on the principle that students, as multi-billion-dollar consumers of higher education's services, have the power to demand more environmentally responsible campuses and curricula.

The Blueprint's 10 recommendations are as follows:

  • Integrate environmental knowledge into all relevant disciplines.

  • Improve undergraduate environmental studies course offerings.

  • Provide opportunities for students to study campus and local environmental issues.

  • Conduct a campus environmental audit.

  • Institute environmentally responsible purchasing policies.

  • Reduce campus waste.

  • Maximize energy efficiency.

  • Make environmental sustainability a top priority in campus land use, transportation, and building planning.

  • Establish a student environmental center.

  • Support students who seek environmentally responsible careers.
    National Wildlife Federation Campus Ecology Program
    On Earth Day 1990, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) launched the Campus Ecology program to help college and university students, staff, and faculty promote environmental education throughout their campuses and make campuses more sustainable. The program has involved over one-third of the institutes of higher learning in the United States.

    Campus Ecology's mission is to establish environmentally sound practices on college campuses by promoting leadership and action within the campus community. Realizing the importance of diversity, Campus Ecology strives to include all peoples in working toward environmental solutions, and encourages joint campus and community projects. Campus Ecology recognizes the efforts of people who work on outstanding projects by documenting and publishing their accomplishments.

    The program has three main components which have led to its success. Action is the most essential component. It is necessary to act now for environmental challenges to be met. Coalition building is also necessary; this promotes leadership, and should be representative of the country's diverse cultural heritage. Finally, continuity is crucial. Programs should be designed with a long-range goal in mind and be in existence long after students have graduated.

    Campus Ecology participants have access to many different resources and services. These include Ecodemia, a book highlighting how universities around the country have started to "green" their campuses and the benefits associated with this greening; project resource packets which provide an overview of issues and strategies on tackling these issues; one-on-one consultation; site visits; workshops; NWF campus environmental yearbook; newsletters; job bank; speaker's bureau; case study clearinghouse; and a World Wide Web site.

    The George Washington University: Becoming A Model for Sustainability
    In 1994, the U.S. EPA and The George Washington University (GW) signed a partnership agreement to work collaboratively to foster and enhance leadership and stewardship for environmental management and sustainability. GW is striving to become a model among institutions of higher learning by embodying a principled ethic for the environment and sustainability. This effort includes its education and training programs; research; healthcare, and other services; management of its built and natural campus environments, and other functions. This holistic approach implies that GW is in a "...perpetual state of becoming sustainable."

    GW has developed a "living" strategic plan which serves as its dynamic roadmap to a sustainable future. The planning process involved the participation of internal stakeholders, including students, faculty, staff, and administrators. External stakeholders also participated -- including representatives of the neighborhoods around its campuses, vendors and contractors, local, state, and federal government agencies, and other parties. University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg signed and committed the plan to action on Earth Day 1995. The comprehensive plan is available to other interested schools via the National Environmental Information Resources Center at

    As an outcome of initial planning efforts, and to institutionalize what began as a volunteer-driven initiative, President Trachtenberg also chartered, funded, and staffed an "Institute for the Environment." With a University-provided base operating budget of about $150K/year (FY95), the Institute's mission is to facilitate and coordinate sustainability initiatives across all operating units of the University. Volunteerism continues to be a vital force in achieving the objectives of GW's plan. Rosemary Sokas, M.D., directs the Institute and its paid staff and volunteers, on a part-time basis. She brings a unique perspective to the job -- as a faculty member who actively practices international occupational and environmental medicine. Says Dr. Sokas: "GW has already made healthy returns on its investments." Trachtenberg's response:"...investing for sustainability is just plain good business."

    Enrolling a diverse population of students from all 50 states and more than 120 countries, GW is the largest institution of higher learning in the nation's capital. At its main campus, the GW community of faculty, staff, students, and on-site contractors numbers more than 30,000. GW is the largest private sector employer in the District of Columbia, with a regional economic impact estimated at $1.6 billion annually. Its academic, research, and health care activities extend into over 100 countries. The scale and scope of these activities reflects a remarkable capability and an enormous capacity to drive widespread, positive change for sustainability. This ranges from the national and international influence of its more than 150,000 living alumni, to the leverage it exerts in the marketplace when specifying and procuring environmentally preferable goods and services from the 26,000 vendors it uses each year.

    GW is working with colleges and universities; business and industry; federal, state, and local government agencies; and other organizations to form strategic alliances, advance mutual objectives, and achieve common goals for a sustainable future.The alliances are operating at four levels of communities: local, regional, national, and international. Opportunities which build the intellectual capacity for a sustainable future, fuel the economy, create new jobs, advance social equity, and enhance public and environmental health and wellness are among the results.


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