Investing in Education

Despite rising costs, education is still one of America’s greatest institutions (and exports). And many universities, colleges, schools and other educational bodies are investing in sustainability.

Many United States colleges and universities have recognized the importance a sustainable and eco-friendly campus for a brighter future. Carol Ross Barney, Founder and Design Principal, Ross Barney Architects (Chicago), commented, “Boards of public universities are more interested in sustainability. There is something abut universities that make them more sensitive to sustainability.”

Associations and institutes are providing resources to help universities develop and reach benchmarks. The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) “…empower[s] higher education to lead the sustainability transformation. [The AASHE does] this by providing resources, professional development, and a network of support to enable institutions of higher education to model and advance sustainability in everything they do.”

According to Julian Dautremont-Smith, Associate Director, AASHE, “There has been a real desire by the colleges and universities to measure sustainability and have some sort of sustainability benchmark in place.” Still in its infancy, AASHE’s Sustainability Tracking and Reporting System (STARS) is a voluntary, self-reporting framework designed to gauge relative progress toward sustainability for colleges and universities.

Each year, AASHE awards four Campus Sustainability Leadership Awards to “institutions that have made the greatest overall commitment to sustainability as demonstrated in their education and research, campus operations, and administration and finance.”

In 2008, New Orleans’ Tulane University was awarded AASHE’s Campus Sustainability Leadership Award in the category of four-year and graduate institutions with more than 7,500 full-time students. Now, in the midst of the worst environmental disaster in US history, Tulane progresses on, pursuing LEED projects including the renovation of Dinwiddie Hall, which houses the arts and sciences classrooms plus the Middle American Research Institute. According to Liz Davey, Program Manager, Office of Environmental Affairs and Center for Bioenvironmental Research, Tulane University, “The main goal of the Dinwiddie Hall is to create a more energy efficient and water tight building and reuse as many materials as possible.”

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Patricia Clubb, PhD

Other southern-based, top tier universities such as the University of Texas at Austin have become more energy efficient and are reaping the monetary rewards too. “We have our own power plant that allows us to generate our own electricity on campus. Capital costs associated with greening campus buildings have been largely covered by utility savings,” said Patricia R. Clubb, PhD, VP, Campus Operations, UT Austin.

The AASHE isn’t alone. Other non-profit-organizations (NPOs) such as Rocky Mountain Institute (Snowmass & Boulder, Co.) and the Sustainable Development Institute (Keshena, Wis.), provide resources which help colleges/universities become more eco-friendly. “We worked with a foundation to develop a research guide to provide campuses with information about how to reduce greenhouse gases,” commented Sally DeLeon, Research Fellow, Rocky Mountain Institute.

Beyond incorporating green building components, educational institutions are focusing and developing sustainability-based curriculums and courses. Presidio Graduate School (San Francisco) offers dual master’s degrees in sustainable management in both business and public administration. Diane Mailey, Sr. Vice President for Business Development & Planning, Presidio Graduate School, explains “In my role, I have been privileged to help move the school forward in part due to the market and where the world is moving. I think capitalism and sustainability are inseparable.”

Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management (Evanston, Ill.) started a five week, half an hour credit sustainable real estate course. Denise Akason, Research Associate and lecturer (real estate), Kellogg School of Management, added, “I met with the director of the real estate center and I suggested a sustainable real estate graduate course because it is the way the industry is [heading].”

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Dr. Steve Altman

Sentiment expressed by Dr. Steve Altman, President, NewSchool of Architecture + Design, supports Akason’s viewpoint. “The recession has taught us that being sustainable is a necessity and is the future of architecture.”

Some universities, such as Arizona State University, (ASU), are extending resources by developing programs geared to make a direct impact for economic growth. ASU has partnered with local companies and city government to generate market growth through sustainable business development. Nate Summer, Director of Strategic Partnerships of Arizona State University’s SkySong, an innovation center and hub for green businesses, said “SkySong is already becoming an economic generator because the university is producing resources for the private sector.”


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Arizona State University’s SkySong


George Maracas, Director and COO of the Solar Power Laboratories at ASU, added “One important component to SkySong is the Greater Phoenix Economic Council because the Council brings companies into this project.”

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George Maracas

While not nearly as popularized as collegiate programming, some grammar schools, like the Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC), a Chicago-public contract school, are promoting environmentalism and stewardship through educational programming (AGC implements Environmental Sustainability Education) as well as day-to-day activities.

According to Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, Founder and Executive Director, Academy for Global Citizenship, “The most rewarding experiences have presented themselves in the seemingly smallest moments - whether it's the boundless excitement of a child entering our school doors each morning for their scratch made breakfast - that "aha" moment when a child harvests a snap pea for the first time from our organic garden or collects the blue eggs from our schoolyard chickens - students' literacy growth reaching newly charted territories - parents taking a new and vested interest in their child's education - or creating international connections that contribute to the culture of the Academy for Global Citizenship. However, the most exhilarating experience has been witnessing our new vision for education become a reality.”

Ironically, AGC’s progressive curriculum is reviving long standing environmental traditions that have been dismissed in many developing countries within the last 100 years. The College of Menominee Nation in Keshena (CMN), Wis. encompasses the spirit of the Menominee Tribe and its respect for the environment. The college is located near the Menominee Forest, which is home to over 30 tree species, including some white pine trees over 200 years old and 150 feet high.

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The College of Menominee Nation

According to Dr. William Van Lopik, Academic Program Director for the Sustainable Development Institute, “Sustainability has taken root within the culture of the college…Menominee is an innovative …tribal college that understands its responsibility to embed sustainability as a core value of the college’s academic mission.”

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The Hana High and Elementary School

Rick Rutiz, Executive Director (Programs), The Hana High and Elementary School (designed by Bamboo Living) Hana, H.I.), is the first American school constructed of bamboo. The school aims to inspire cultural traditions and new market growth through the education of sustainable construction practices. “The community is struggling. We need to develop an industry that won’t rely as much on tourism,” states Rutiz.

Richard Hirschhaut, Executive Director, Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, a pending LEED certified space (designed by Tigerman McCurry Architects of Chicago), stated “For us, LEED represented our values as an institution.”

Paul Hellermann, CEO and President, Bulley & Andrews (Chicago), the general contractor for The Center commented, “I think educational institutions will continue to build green spaces. It is the right thing to do and institutions receive an even greater added value.”

Educational institutions throughout the United States have begun to realize the importance of sustainability and are investing in sustainability to save money through energy reduction and to meet economic and constituent demands, change the lives and mindsets of students, make a positive impact on the environment and support their missions and traditions. As the global economy recovers, many pupils and scholars emerging from American-based institutions will be at the forefront of establishing and leading new green markets.

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Sarah Elizabeth Ippel

“The more that sustainability can be integrated into our educational practices, beginning in Kindergarten, the more our culture will continue to shift as a new generation of "habits" and perspectives will emerge.”

- Sarah Elizabeth Ippel