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Taking stock of campus sustainability

Many colleges and universities now measure their environmental footprint, but few have taken the next steps toward true sustainability by focusing on environmental justice and ecological economics.  Most have not rigorously addressed their role in planetary deterioration, nor have they done well in meeting the challenges confronting humans now or that will in the future.

This is changing at a few schools.  Oberlin College, in Oberlin, Ohio, began a project in 2009 that seeks to implement full-spectrum sustainability.  The project created a 20,000 acre agricultural green belt, and established a partnership among four local schools.  It redeveloped a 13-acre green arts district and hotel downtown.  The hotel serves produce from 35 local farms, and local youth will be employed at the farms and at the hotel.  Ultimately, the alliance between Oberlin and the community will change each other, making both more sustainable.

Tufts University, in Medford, MA, is also trying to broaden and redefine sustainability, and to measure what matters most within that new definition.  Students have measured tenure and earnings by ethnicity, the income disparity between the highest and lowest paid community members, and the number and frequency of hate crimes on campus or in the town.  These terms all impact community sustainability as much as, or more than, recycling rates and the amount of green space.  Many conversations between many people across many boundaries are needed.  To be truly sustainable, institutions of higher education must embrace a vision that encompasses the campus, the community of which they are a part, and the entire planet.  GR

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