The Big Idea
Unless we move from trying to scare people into action by apocalyptic predictions of the coming climate disaster and focus on the hope and opportunity that can be generated by moving to a new energy economy, we're not going to be able to move forward at the pace necessary to have a meaningful impact. Climate and Energy Truths: Our Common Future, a study issued earlier this year by EcoAmerica, underscores the importance of grasping this insight. Carrying out focus groups and online and phone surveys, the study tested a range of conceputal frameworks and messages for speaking with the American public about energy and climate change. It's worth reading in its entirety, but here's the report's bottom line: it's far easier to engage people "around the energy debate than the climate change debate."
There is a similar need to shift the framework in higher education when it comes to sustainability. As Andrea Putman and I note in our editorial "A New Era in Higher Education?" (in the October issue of Sustainability: The Journal of Record), the most forward looking corporations understand the need to make sustainability a strategic imperative and are gaining significant ground on their competitors during the current recession. As I've noted previously, in the words of the recent Aberdeen Group report "The ROI of Sustainability," “Far from being a philanthropic ‘nice to have’ [sustainability is a] ‘must have’ strategy for long-term, business viability and success.”
What's the lesson here for higher education leaders? Too many of them are looking at sustainability in terms of what their institutions could do to promote it ("the right thing to do") and not enough are asking, how can sustainability help us become more strategic and perform more effectively ("the smart thing to do")? The big idea that they need to wrap their heads around is that sustainability as a driver can make their institutions smarter, more reslient, and less costly to operate. Perhaps reading the EcoAmerica report would help them better share this perspective with their institutions' stakeholders and move them forward to the new energy future that beckons.