by Stephen Muzzy, Program Manager, Second Nature

On April 23, the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) hosted their second annual Sustainability Summit: A Climate Change on Campus. I, along with Ashka Naik, Program Manager for Advancing Green Building and Ilana Schonenfeld, Program Associate – Strategic Initiatives traveled to Worcester, MA to hear from campus executives, faculty, and staff on how they are supporting sustainability efforts at their institutions and beyond.

NEBHE put together a chock full program that included keynotes, concurrent and plenary sessions. Our Second Nature contingent divvied up the day – what follows are the highlights of a very exciting event that demonstrates higher educations leadership to provide the knowledge, skills, and critical mass to transform society to a sustainable future.

The Economic Dynamics of Sustainability on Campus

This session offered examples and data on the financial costs in capital improvements and the operational savings incurred with long term planning. Two excellent examples come from the University of Rhode Island and the University of Maine. Robert A. Weygand, Vice President, Administration & Finance shared that the University of Rhode Island in 2050 will have average annual costs of $7.5 million and annual savings of $18.7 million while reducing MTCO2e 50% below 2005 levels.

Greg Havens, Principal, Sasaki Associates discussed the University of Maine’s master plan and how it provides a framework for integrated sustainability strategies. This presentation shared a variety of integrated strategies that fall under the following sustainability metrics in the areas of habitat, water, access/mobility, and energy & emissions.

Integrating Sustainability Across the Curriculum

Kenneth Hill, Academic Dean of the College of the Atlantic facilitated this session. He took us through the many effective projects, such as the three-day think-tank Delta Project, that the College of Atlantic is undertaking to teach their students about sustainability principles through curricular and co-curricular activities and coursework.  Peter Papesch, Chair of Sustainability Education Committee, Boston Society of Architects, Michele Wakin, Co-coordinator Center for Sustainability, Bridgewater State College and David Levy, Chair, Department of Management and Marketing and Professor of Management, University of Massachusetts Boston, were the panelists for this session.  They discussed various strategies that are currently being implemented by institutions of higher education to holistically educate students about sustainability. The experts also discussed the importance of bridging the inside-the-classroom education with the real-world problem solving in the process.

Peter Papesch’s presentation focused on the “Advancing Education for Sustainability: Teaching the Concepts of Sustainable Building to All Students,” a comprehensive strategy paper developed by Second Nature and U.S. Green Building Council to help institutions integrate sustainable building principles into their curricula.  He opened the panel by underscoring the need for teaching the importance of sustainability vis-à-vis the built environment, not only to the students of building-related fields, but to all students.  This paper will be disseminated by the end of May 2010. If you are interested in obtaining this document, then please email Second Nature.

Advancing Carbon Neutrality on Campus

Jennifer Andrews, Director of Program Planning and Coordination at Clean Air – Cool Planet facilitated this session and did an excellent job of explaining the financial value of carbon accounting and its added benefit of galvanizing campus, local, and regional communities.  Edward R. Terceiro, Jr., Resident Engineer (Retired), Mount Wachusett Community College (MWCC) reinforced this context by providing a terrific example of how an under-resourced institution can leverage financing to increase its energy efficiency, reduce its emissions, support a local and regional economy and provide curriculum to meet the needs of a growing green workforce.

Climate Action Planning: Lessons Learned from ACUPCC Signatories

For the Summit closing plenary we heard from four presidents that have committed their institutions to developing a plan with the goal of achieving carbon neutrality. Mitchell Thomashow, President of Unity College facilitated the session. Up first was Mary Fifield, President of Bunkerhill Community College. President Fifield discussed leadership and the evolution that has taken place on her campus since signing the ACUPCC. The ad hoc committee that she first formed to implement the commitment has in two short years become part of the institutional governance structure. She recommended reading Leading Profound Change: A Resource for Presidents & Chancellors as it serves as a great reminder on the roles of leadership.

Don Zillman, President of the University of Maine at Presque Isle shared his experience in facilitating what he dubbed “a big project on a little campus.” The University of Maine at Presque Isle’s Wind Project is a 600kW turbine that is expected to produce 1 million kw hours of electricity per year. The turbine is maintained by students from Northern Maine Community College and has four objectives:

  1. Stable investment in clean electricity
  2. Help meet the requirements of the ACUPCC
  3. Is part of UMPI’s educational mission
  4. Serve as a community resource.

David Angel, incoming President at Clark University described his final interview for the job. He was asked, “what kind of capabilities does a college president need to lead a sustainability transformation?” Pretty amazing! He shared with us three lessons he has learned in working toward sustainability.

  1. The role of integration – connecting sustainability to the core academic mission. Providing opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to work together to create “Effective Practice.” Employers are looking for graduates that are resilient, persuasive, creative, and have the ability to work as a team.
  2. Clark’s success is intricately linked to the success of the community, city, and region. Success requires partnering and collaboration – we need to bring climate action to scale.
  3. Trust and willingness to operate in conditions of uncertainty. How else do you plan for something that you don’t know that you can achieve?

And finally we heard from Paul Fonteyn, President of Green Mountain College (GMC) with the theme “living the environmental liberal arts.” President Fonteyn described GMC and its unique campus culture as being fully in support and participates in the mission of the college. If changing the culture of your institution is difficult President Fonteyn reminded us, “if you don’t think it can change, then it won’t change.”

You can download all of the presentations by visiting the NEBHE Sustainability Summit website.