The trick is to find a way to turn this seeming liability into an advantage. One possible way to do this would be to leverage the creative potential of social media to engage students and faculty in a conversation about sustainability and climate change, and promote actual behavior change on the part of individuals. If you haven't already done so, establishing a Facebook page for greening the campuses is an obvious first move; getting a Twitter conversation going is also another obvious step you can take. But how do you generate interest in using these tools?
The most important thing in any social marketing effort -- which is what we're talking about here -- is to get people to make an early incremental commitment. If you ask folks for too much upfront, you're likely to scare them off. From this perspective, getting people to "follow" you on Twitter and "like" you on Facebook could be seen as one of the ways that you can get people to make their first incremental commitment. But you need to follow up with something more substantial quickly or you will lose momentum.
Given the dispersed nature of your community, it might make sense to get people to commit as individuals to changing some aspect of their personal lifestyle and in this way build a more tangible community of shared purpose. You could use David Gershon's Low Carbon Diet to suggest a range of actions that people could take and how much each action would reduce that individual's carbon footprint. But you need to provide a way for people to make these commitments public so that they can hold each other accountable and a way to measure the results. Both of these (accountability and the ability to measure progress) are important principles of social change theory.
I recommend that you take a look at the Interfaith Power and Light initiative, which puts together a really interesting model for doing something along these lines using the web. Take a look, in particular, at its Cool Congregations project and 10% Challenge. I think these ideas could be pretty easily translate from congregations to student and faculty teams. You might organize along department or degree lines and pit them against each other (business on one campus versus business on the other campuses, for example) in a contest to see who could lose the most weight on the low carbon diet.
In addition, to fuel the competition, you could organize a contest around each participating team making a short (2-3 minutes) video about sustainability and/or climate change using a cell phone or small video camcorder like a Flip (but nothing more sophisticated or expensive because then people won't be competing on a level playing field) and having a panel of judges (fair and balanced, you decide!) to select a winning team. You could even have winners for different categories; comedy, drama, action, and musical, for instance. During the contest you could get participants to post the videos on the web and let people know about them through Facebook and Twitter. Instead of a formal panel of judges, using the web, you could have people vote for their favorites. Or you could do both: "the people's choice" award and the judges' award. You might be able to get the administration to put up a small amount of money that the winning teams could commit to some climate or sustainability action on campus (a student organic garden, the showing of a relevant movie, or more bike racks, for example).
The ultimate goal of these activities is to build a network of committed activists that you can then leverage for more direct collective action on the campuses such as a student vote to mandate fees for sustainability work in the university. Even a small annual fee of $10-15 can add up very quickly to a substantial sum of money that can then be used towards increasing the sustainability of the campuses. You might even be able to raise enough money this way to hire a sustainability coordinator!
Remember that you don't need everyone on board to carry the day. The kinds of activities suggested above allow you to attract and engage the early adopters, who can then reach out to a larger number of people on campus to build what is known in social change theory as "the early majority." In many cases, the early adopters and early majority can be enough together to tip the balance in the right direction. Of course, there will always be "the laggards," the folks who will never change their behavior or consciousness. Don't waste your energy or time knocking yourself out to get this group on board -- to put it bluntly, you don't need them.
It sounds as if there have been a number of truly significant changes in university operations and that what you are seeking is to go beyond that to shift people's behavior and consciousness. I think perhaps something like I'm suggesting above will help. At least I hope so!
Good luck! Your commitment and passion is inspiring and gives me hope for our future.
Does anyone else have suggestions for Laura? Anything you've tried at a web-based university or other learning organization that has worked?
This is the first part of an article that just appeared in Issue #25, Spring/Summer 2010 of Terrain.org: The Journal of the Built & Natural Environments. I've been working on this article in one form or another for about four years, so I'm excited about finally finishing it and getting it published.How can the digital revolution and the new social media it has spawned nurture the development of democratic sustainability? By democratic sustainability I mean a social and political process that engages citizens as active agents of social change in the complex task of balancing economic prosperity, effective environmental stewardship, and social justice. As Paul Hawken notes in Blessed Unrest, the democratic sustainability movement has emerged “from the bottom up,” becoming “the largest social movement in all of human history.” It “grows and spreads in every city and country,” writes Hawken, “and involves virtually every tribe, culture, language, and religion, from Mongolians to Uzbeks to Tamils.”
Moving toward democratic sustainability has less to do with technology than a massive change in human consciousness, one that encourages systems thinking and transforms the relations of people to each other and to natural world. Nonetheless, tools are necessary to facilitate this task, and the rise of the Internet and digital technology has provided us with new and potent means to do so. As Hawken observes, “There have always been networks of powerful people, but until recently it has never been possible for the entire world to be connected.” Even as we acknowledge the “other side” of the Internet—its potential to splinter thought and concentration, take time away from reflection, and exacerbate a growing nature-deficit-disorder among youth—its unprecedented ability to construct global movements beckons.
Community is the essential concept underpinning sustainability. Whether an ecosystem or social system, the dynamics of interconnectedness and interdependence are what make growth and health possible. In medieval society, the cathedral embodied this understanding of what was known at the time as the “Great Chain of Being.” An awe-inspiring structure, the cathedral by its physical presence affirmed the vertical hierarchy that held medieval society together, and its construction gave individuals in the community a clear and compelling sense of their place in the world and the links that bound them to each other. “Building a cathedral,” says Robert Scott in The Gothic Enterprise: A Guide to Understanding the Medieval Cathedral, “entailed an ongoing, difficult, yet energizing form of collective enterprise in which people could take enormous pride and around which they could rally a community.”
Not all green buildings on campus come with lots of windows and sunlight. I recently attended the grand opening of Cornell University's new Combined Heat and Power Plant. Given the quality of the conversation about climate change in the U.S. these days, it’s easy to get discouraged and cynical. But I came away from this particular event feeling like Cornell had taken a real step forward. The new plant will allow Cornell to stop using coal in 18 months and will reduce the university’s carbon footprint by 28 percent. Getting off coal power and hooking up to an interstate natural gas pipeline that runs close by the campus will also save 100,000 gallons a year of diesel fuel used to deliver the coal by truck from West Virginia mines. Now that’s green by anyone’s standards.
Especially impressive was President David Skorton’s strong expression of support for the ACUPCC at the opening. "When I signed the President's Commitment," he said, "I did not know how we would get to climate neutrality, but I did have faith in our collective ability as a university to educate and discover our way through, and today is an example of finding a piece of the larger puzzle. Although we are celebrating today, we have a long hill yet to climb."
After the remarks and a press conference, I took a tour of the new 15,000-square-foot facility located next to the old coal-fired central heating plant. It was hard to miss the two giant turbines fired by natural gas that drive the electric generators. As was explained to us over the din of the turbines, very little goes to waste; heat from the turbines makes steam that runs another generator and that steam is piped throughout the campus for heating. In fact, so little energy is wasted that solar collectors had to be installed to provide heat and hot water for the new offices and locker rooms attached to the facility!
When thinking about Cornell's switch from coal to natural gas, here's something to keep in mind: only one-third of the energy in coal actually gets used to generate electricity. The rest goes up the smokestack along with much greater carbon emissions than natural gas. Thanks to mountaintop removal, more than 470 mountains in four Appalachian states (West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee) have been destroyed to date providing coal for power plants such as the one that Cornell is shutting down (see "How Do You Kill a Mountain?"). Given the inefficiency of coal, that means only about 156 of those mountains went into producing electricity. The other 314 mountains were not only destroyed, they were a complete waste. Cornell's new power plant will be running at something like 85% efficiency and natural gas emits far less carbon than coal. The obvious conclusion: natural gas may be "bad," but it's dramatically less bad than coal.
No wonder the Sierra Club will be holding Cornell up as a model as it seeks to get other universities and colleges to close down their coal-fired power plants (see Campuses Beyond Coal). One down and (about) fifty-nine to go!
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.
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea.
But such a tide as moving seems asleep
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home!
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For though from out our bourn of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.
Just six weeks ago, Dad drove up to Maine to celebrate my brother George’s birthday. George offered to come down and get him, and his business partner and close friend Phil Shuman offered to drive him up. Dad was not in good health, but he insisted that the only way he was going to Maine was if he could get there on his own. So he set off in his trusty BMW, with Chilli his loyal cocker spaniel at his side, heading north. It took him something like seven hours to get there, he said later, in part because he wasn’t feeling well and in part because Chilli had important business to conduct on the way.
The drive back to Suffield a few days later was altogether different. Perhaps revved up by the birthday celebration and time with his family, he set his cruise control at 78 mph and got home in four and a half hours. To this day we’re not really sure who was actually driving that car, and I’m not sure Dad ever really knew either.Two things we do know for sure, however: first, there were no bathroom breaks for poor old Chilli; and second, Dad had done it his way once again.
Just a few days later, Dad was in the hospital fighting for his life. He was in tremendous pain, suffering from an infection of his esophagus and unable to swallow any food. Even then he did not lose his sense of humor. For a few days he shared the room with an elderly gentleman who was suffering from dementia and would call out from time to time, reliving some incident from his past. At one point, suddenly sitting upright, he shouted, "Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Dad couldn’t resist and responded in as loud a voice as he could muster, "Giddy up, giddy up!" Even as I was trying hard to stifle my laughter, I thought what a perfect expression of my father’s personality this moment captured. Throughout his life, people had told him to slow down, trim his sails, don’t dream so big, and he would have none of it. Instead, with a "giddy up" or two, he would simply forge ahead.
One of the great truths is that we die the way we live. The courage and determination that Dad displayed in the last days of his life was simply an extension of how he had always lived. At 18 years old, he rescued a couple who had fallen through the ice. Afterwards he said nothing about the incident to his mother, who scolded him for coming home soaking wet on such a cold day.
Only when the husband and wife, grateful that Dad had saved their lives, went to the local newspaper did the story become public. "At no time during the proceedings did he show any indications of losing his head or becoming excited," the couple told the reporter. "‘Just hang on; don’t get flustered; I’ll get you out,’ he kept repeating reassuringly to them.’"
Dad was just as stoic and courageous during his last few years when he fought for his own life. Diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma just two days before my stepmother Ruth passed away, he never gave up. Although the loss of Ruth crushed him, he kept moving forward.
As his longtime friend Neil Smit told me in a recent phone conversation, "George was a hard plower." Neil was referring to Dad’s approach to skiing, which he gave up only a couple of years ago, but he was also talking about his approach to life. "Enduring the battle with his body as it began to fail, he continued to live his life," our son Jesse wrote after Dad died. "He did not throw the towel in and he fought for all his days."
One of my favorite quotes comes from John Shedd’s Salt from My Attic: "A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for." If anybody ever embodied this spirit, my Dad did. Not that he went looking for trouble recklessly. After all, he was an accountant. But he was always eager to embark on a new adventure. That was why he loved sailing and why some of his happiest days were on his boat Freedom, cruising along the East Coast from Maine to Florida.
Dad’s love of adventure was not confined to the water. He had always wanted to go skydiving, so for his 75th birthday Ruth arranged for lessons and a jump at the Vero Beach airport in Florida, where he was stationed during with the Navy during World War II. I remember like it was yesterday the excitement in his voice when he called afterwards, still standing out on the airfield. "I did it!" he exclaimed. Included in Ruth’s birthday present was a video of the jump, capturing the exuberant expression on his face as he descended.To this day, whenever I watch the video, I laugh until I have tears running down my cheeks because the soundtrack is Steppenwolf’s "Born to be Wild." Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper had nothing on my Dad.
Some of my best days with my father were when I visited him and Ruth at their place on the ocean in Vero Beach, just south of Sebastian Inlet. It was a magical place on the narrowest part of the barrier island, and only a few hundred yards separated the Atlantic from the Indian River. I would go in the spring, just as baseball was getting underway, and we would head over to Dodgertown on the mainland to watch the exhibition games, eat a hot dog, and have a beer. Afterwards we would stop at a bait shop, pick up some live shrimp and go fishing off the dock back at the lagoon, watching the sun set across the water.
What I realized during this time with my father was that, late in his life, he had learned to live in the moment. This was not necessarily an easy achievement for him, because as Neil says, Dad was a "hard plower." Patience was not one of his greatest strengths and he was always looking ahead. But it was different in Florida. He and Ruth had discovered a place where the land, sea, and sky all came together in one glorious symphony, and it made their hearts sing. Both the past and future drifted away on the tide, leaving only the moment in which they lived.
Loss, although intense, brings great clarity. During the last five weeks as I spent each day with Dad, rooting for the Red Sox, doing crossword puzzles, talking, and sitting with him while he slept, I slowly came to grips with the reality that his life would soon end. In those moments, I realized what I most admired about my father: his integrity. By integrity, I don’t mean just strong ethics, important as they are, but also a consistency between inner core values and outer behavior that creates a sense of wholeness and resilience.
Although Dad kept up to date on a lot of things, he was old fashioned in his belief that hard work, family, and education were the keys to a good life. And you couldn’t spend a day with him without understanding that he lived these beliefs, they weren’t just empty words. As John Adams once observed, "There are two types of education. One should teach us how to make a living, and the other how to live." My father’s life was a testament to the wisdom of Adams’s insight.
So Dad has crossed the bar and put out to sea on his last great adventure. He will be sorely missed. But, as my father’s cousin Giorgio wrote from Italy when Ruth passed away, "We don’t ask you, Lord, why do you carry her away now, but we say thank you, Lord, because you gave her to us for many, special years." The same is true of Dad: he was a gift we will hold in our hearts forever. The flood may bear him far, but we rejoice knowing that he will finally meet his Pilot face to face. May he rest in peace.
An even more recent study by the Aberdeen Group found that sustainability initiatives cut overall costs in over 200 companies by 6 to 10%; at the same time, customer retention rates increased 16%.
These are by any measure impressive results and deserve close consideration. Higher education, and the economy in general, are not just experiencing a conventional downturn right now; they are undergoing a major paradigm shift in which the old rules will no longer apply and the new way of doing business will have to take into account the previously overlooked value of ecoservices that are under unprecedented stress.
As Jhana Senxian and Cindy Jutras, the authors of the Aberdeen Group's "The ROI of Sustainability," contend, "far from being a philanthropic 'nice to have,’" sustainability is a "'must have' strategy for long-term, business viability and success."