While the science community has flagged climate change as the issue of highest concern over the next century, a 2013 Pew poll indicated that climate change scored last out of 21 subjects as a ‘priority’ for President Obama and Congress. Part of this ‘disconnect’ is because sustainability and the science behind it are communicated in an ‘out of touch’ and lackluster manner, especially within and African American and Hispanic communities. African Americans and Hispanics have largely been left out of the sustainability conversation; in fact, many in the community have traditionally seen sustainability and associated technologies such as a Tesla or solar array as a ‘rich white thing’. Huston-Tillotson University (HT), a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in Austin, Texas, is focused on addressing this disconnect by undertaking a transformational initiative with a goal of becoming the ‘greenest’ HBCU, and among the greener campuses, in America over the next five years. We call this movement “”Green is the New Black (GitnB)”” (www.greenisthenewblack.org). A student group by the same name with a vision of ‘fostering new shades of green as the roots of our future’ is leading the charge towards implementation of several key initiatives including a rain garden, a ‘George Washington Carver Garden’ fed by compost from the cafeteria, a soon to be launched Environmental Studies major, a campus-wide recycling program and ‘The Dumpster Project’.
Of special note is ‘The Dumpster Project’ (www.dumpsterproject.org), which is an effort led by the GitnB team and their advisor, Dr. Jeff Wilson aka ‘Professor Dumpster’, to transform an ordinary trash dumpster into a fully off-grid sustainable home. During the yearlong project, Professor Dumpster will live in a dumpster that has been retrofitted to include sustainable technologies and embrace design principles aimed at reducing waste. By living in the dumpster, Professor Dumpster will not only be able to test the sustainable technologies and low-waste living principles on a daily basis, but will also serve as a friendly face to the project, engaging with the next generation and playing a role for K-12 students similar to Bill Nye the Science Guy or Mrs. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus series. The overall aim of this project is to make issues around sustainability more accessible, intriguing and exciting to the K-16 audience and wider public. Ultimately, the ‘Green is the New Black’ effort aims to build sustainability practices into the HBCU and local community spheres for in the final analysis – if climate change is indeed the ‘grand challenge’ to society – then it is imperative that ALL Americans be engaged in the conversation.