Campus Sustainability

Saturday, November 01, 2008

So there are like 100 different definitions for sustainable development. My little chunk of the pie is on the campus side of things. You see if there is going to be a big change in the way that we do things it is going to be here at academic institutions. Universities are centers of learning and excellence; they are the centers for innovation and analysis; they are the places where people become ideas and those ideas become change.

So if we can all agree that universities have a big role to play in pushing the sustainability agenda, then I suppose the next thing to do is define what sustainable development actually is. Like I said, over 100 definitions to work with and although some of them are kind of the same... many of them really aren't. And of course the only one that I really care about, I mean right now that is, is the one that deals with universities.
When we break all the definitions down, there are 2 principles that emerge. The first is inter-generational equity and the second is balance. Let's start with intergenerational equity, the idea that there needs to be fairness between generations. This is part of the classic definition that was coined by Gro Brundtland in her report entitled "Our Common Future". In it she states that sustainability is development that meets the needs of current generations without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their needs. It is essentially a doctrine that admonishes inter-generational tyranny in the name of our children.
The second principle advocates balance between social, environmental, and economic factors. It is thought that by balancing these three elements, we can achieve sustainability. If any one of these three elements is neglected, the whole system fails.
Now, if we agree that universities can or should play a role in achieving sustainability, and we have a working definition, then all we need to do is state the parameters and get to work. But wouldn't you know it, those pesky parameters are tougher to define than we thought. You see, it's tough to draw a line in the sand and say this is right and this is wrong. The University is responsible for the campus, but what about the communities that surrounds it? What about the City that houses it? Does it have the right to buy up all the lands, monopolize all the social events, or even suck up all the community capital? Where does the responsibility fall?

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