I returned home from a sojourn in California, engaged with sustainability issues, to receive the new issue of Sierra, the bimonthly publication of the Sierra Club. The article that caught my eye was “Dig In,” its annual ranking of the environmental standing of U.S. universities. This year, they reached beyond the classrooms to assess “what lessons are learned when the classroom walls fall away.”
The top of the class this year is
- The University of Washington, Seattle, Washington. Its score on the Sierra survey was 81.2,
Where every building completed since 2006 has earned a Gold accreditation from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building certification system. All of its appliances are Energy-Star rated and the hydro-powered campus runs three farms, an extensive recycling program, and the “conservation-research hotbed Pack Forest.
The other top schools are, in order:
- Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont (score, 81.1);
- University of California, San Diego (score, 80.6);
- Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina (score, 76.8);
- Stanford University in Palo Alto, California (score, 76.6);
- University of California, Irvine (score, 74.8);
- University of California, Santa Cruz (score, 74.3);
- University of California, Davis (score, 73.2);
- Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington (score, 72);
- Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont (score, 71.8).
My alma mater, Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, came in at number 33 (score, 64.1).
Accompanying articles focused on:
- building Earth-friendly homes for indigent Navajo Indians (University of Utah),
- a semester back in time, without cell phones, running water, or flushable toilets (St. Lawrence’s University), and
- the Campuses Beyond Coal campaign (in conjunction with the Sierra Student Coalition (SSC)) that is targeting 40-plus campus coal plants for closure.
Also described are the non-conformist programs that are “miles from the mainstream” at:
- Maharishi University of Management (built by the “giggling guru” in Fairfield, Iowa in which the curriculum balances “modern clean technology and 5.000-year-old Vedic philosophy based on Sanskrit texts”);
- Deep Springs College, close by Yosemite, California (where students have mandatory farm labor requirements and the hydroelectric generator provides 80% of the school’s energy);
- Gaia University with no real campus (“students earn degrees by documenting a project that involves any envy-inducing combination of world travel and social activism”); and
- Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado (a curriculum grounded in Buddhism and which promotes compassion, including with the environmental movement).
Parents with younger children may be interested in the article on The Green School in Bali, Indonesia, a K-12 school that incorporates green philosophy from its open-air classrooms (like an inverted sukkah, with roofs but no walls) to its electives that include Global Perspectives, Environmental Management, and 21st Century Science. I first heard of The Green School when my friend told me her daughter’s family was taking off to Bali for several months this past spring and I avidly followed their adventures on their blog (now taken down, since they’ve returned home). This is a school where the children (and parents!) enthusiastically welcome the assignments, from a themed unit on water for the fifth-graders (as it relates to math, literature, and science), an aquaculture farm to raise tilapia; and sixth-graders calculate the school’s annual carbon footprint, “then plant enough bamboo to offset it.” The Green School has yet to graduate its first class (due in 2013), but if one can afford the $10,000 tuition, it’s an adventure worth blogging about.
Finally, the issue included profiles of the staffers deemed most committed to sustainability as a social movement:
- Howard Davis of the University of the District of Columbia;
- Megan Zanella-Litke of the University of Richmond (Virginia);
- Sid England of the University of California, Davis; and
- Jeremy Friedman of New York University. As Manager of Sustainability Initiatives for a student body of 40,000 (more than four times the number of people who live in my hometown),
Friedman views his mandate thus:
“The values that underlie my work are the same values that underlie my whole life. It’s a holistic worldview, and for me the challenge of transforming our world is a very personal and political project. I see my job as creating the capacity for real change and then allowing countless individuals who care to lend their sweat and knowledge to the enormous task of transforming the world around us. We need to imbed sustainability across all levels of society more quickly than any social movement in history has ever done before. It’s a time when some of the most important efforts aren’t the most glamorous ones.”
Among the reasons I went to California was to attend the Hazon Food Conference, held for the first time at the University of California, Davis campus. What a thrill it was for me to celebrate Shabbat with 300 other people who were passionate about a sustainable future. The marvel was how many young folks were in attendance and how many had stories of their own works-in-progress. I feel so positive that my daughters’ generation would — no, will — undertake the task of managing our resources to ensure a renewable future.