Why “Boldly Sustainable”?

When my co-author Andrea Putman and I decided to write Boldly Sustainable, our 2009 book on the higher ed sustainability movement, it didn’t take us a lot of time to come up with the title. We knew right at the outset that we wanted to take a holistic approach to sustainability and make clear why it should be a strategic imperative for higher education. We wanted to emphasize how sustainability could create new opportunities for colleges and universities and renew their sense of purpose.

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In addition, we knew it was important to strike a balance between the conceptual and the practical. We wanted to provide campus leaders with concrete steps that could be taken to advance sustainability on their own campuses. At the same time we wanted to show how sustainability could help move higher education beyond a mindset still largely rooted in the late 19th century.

The title of our book clearly signals that sustainability is not something that can be pursued in a half-hearted, ad hoc way. It can’t be tacked on as an afterthought and it shouldn’t be viewed as marginal to the “real” business of colleges and universities. Building a culture of sustainability can have a positive impact not only on the biosphere, but also the institution’s financial bottom line. As we observe in the book, “Sustainability is not only the right thing to do but also the smart thing.” Those institutions that successfully implement sustainability will make the organizational and pedagogical changes necessary to survive and thrive in the 21st century.

For those implementing the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) at their institutions, viewing sustainability as a core strategy for institutional transformation helps keep the big picture in focus. For the ACUPCC to be successful, it must be framed in a way that places it squarely inside the mission of higher education. That means seeing the ACUPCC as a tremendous opportunity to connect theory and practice and learning inside the classroom with learning outside the classroom. It means transforming colleges and universities into communities of learners, not just communities of the learned.

Boldly Sustainable provides context and perspective, but it also offers specific examples of how institutions can advance the sustainability, energy, and climate protection agendas. Sustainability coordinators and those overseeing the implementation of the ACUPCC will find plenty of information on such issues as monitoring energy performance, LEED standards for new and existing buildings, clean energy, water conservation, transportation, recycling, and purchasing. They will also discover effective ways to shift teaching, learning, and campus life in ways that will promote a more sustainable future. And, of course, no book on sustainability can overlook the challenge of financing new initiatives. Energy performance contracts, power purchase agreements, revolving loan funds, renewable energy hedges, and student fees all get their due.

We hope that this combination of vision and action will inspire and motivate more campus communities to adopt the ACUPCC and encourage those that already have to meet the challenges inherent in this ambitious commitment. Clearly, we are at the beginning of what will be a long conversation; as Robert Frost writes, there is “no way out but through.”

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