KC Wednesday: Oh Great. Sustainability.
The latest KC Wednesday post comes from Justin Dandoy, graduate assistant for volunteer programs at Slippery Rock University and the Region II representative to the Sustainability Knowledge Community.
Oh great. Sustainability. What a buzzword! What does that even mean? This guy is going to rant and rave about “being green” and holding hands while we plant trees. Right?
If this is what you’re thinking, put your mind at ease. This post will be no lecture (although I will talk a little bit about being green). My hopes for this post is that we can all walk away with a little bit better of an idea of what we’re talking about when we say “sustainability” and what it means for us in a higher education setting.
So let’s go to good ol’ fashion Merriam-Webster for a definition. What is “sustainable”? “Capable of being sustained.” Thanks Merriam-Webster. No help. Let’s try the second definition: “of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.” Alright. We may have something to work with now. What are the resources that we’re talking about then? Is this where I’ll talk about water, trees and other natural resources? Well sure. But that’s only part of it. When we talk about not damaging or depleting our resources, we need to talk about those resources in three ways: Environmental, Social and Economic.
What we see here is that the definition not only discusses environmental stewardship, but it focuses on what many institutions, corporations and governments refer to as the sustainability “triple bottom line”. You may also hear this as “People, Profit, Planet.” This tells us that the resources that need to be sustained go well beyond “being green.”
Luckily, NASPA Sustainability KC and our partners in higher education at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education have helped us out in our pursuit of a definition in a higher education context. The NASPA Sustainability KC leadership, as well as the folks at AASHE, defines sustainability: “Encompassing human and ecological health, social justice, secure livelihoods and a better world for all generations.” AASHE continues to lay out a vision: “A prosperous, equitable, and ecologically healthy world. In such a world, higher education plays a vital role in ensuring that people have an understanding of the interdependencies between environmental, social, and economic forces and the skills and abilities to meet sustainability challenges.”
Okay. Great. Got it now? Well, maybe not. Although we’re a step closer to being able to talk about sustainability in a more common way, let’s keep the conversation going. As we continue to talk about sustainability in Region II, we have the opportunity to talk about some pretty practical examples and takeaways. The great thing about practicing sustainability in higher education is that it can be a part of any of our work. What does this mean for residence life? Student activities? Academic advising? I think that you’ll see that sustainable practices can happen throughout. In posts to come, look for some answers! In the meantime, think “People, Profit, Planet.”