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The Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus

by Anthony Cortese Mitchell Thomashow

A college campus offers an ideal setting for exploring and practicing sustainability. Colleges and universities offer our best hope for raising awareness about the climate crisis and the dire threat it poses to the planet. They provide opportunities for both research and implementation; they have the capacity to engage students, staff, and faculty in collaborative enterprises that inspire campus transformation; they take the idea of legacy seriously. But most college and university administrations need guidance on the path to sustainability. In The Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus, Mitchell Thomashow, a former college president, provides just that. When Thomashow became president of Unity College, a small environment-focused college in Maine, in 2006, he decided to focus his leadership on sustainability. Drawing on his experiences at Unity, Thomashow identifies nine elements for organizing a sustainability agenda: energy, food, and materials (aspects of infrastructure); governance, investment, and wellness (aspects of community); and curriculum, interpretation, and aesthetics (aspects of learning). Thomashow describes, among other things, how Unity built the first platinum LEED-certified college president's residence in North America; installed solar panels, wind turbines, and other renewable energy generators all over the campus; became a center for local food growing; reconsidered the college's capital assets and investment strategy in light of sustainability; revitalized the curriculum; and made the entire campus a canvas for sustainability-inspired public art. Connecting his experiences to broader concerns, Thomashow links the campus to the planet, reminding us that local efforts, taken together, can have a global impact.

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