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Surveying Student Activism for Sustainability and Social Change
Sarah Rich, 27 Mar 07
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Everybody knows that hope for the future starts with youth. There's a ton of activity on campuses from elementary through higher-ed related to sustainability, environmental responsibility and social justice. Here are a few highlights from current student projects and campaigns:

The Sustainable University: The Chronicle of Higher Education published a special issue examining progress towards sustainability on university campuses in everything from the buildings themselves to the research inside them to the experimental degrees some schools are beginning to offer that place special emphasis on sustainability. There's an interactive quiz for evaluating personal and school sustainability, and includes Q&A interviews with James Howard Kunstler, Jeff Sachs, Ray Anderson, and Micheal Crow.

Focus the Nation: We announced Focus the Nation last fall during the planning stages for the organization's nationwide open discussion about climate change solutions, set for January 31, 2008. Their one-year recruitment phase kicked off on January 31, 2007, and now they plan to assemble as many teams as possible of faculty and students from colleges, universities and K-12 schools around the US to take part in the conversation. Much like the recent 2010 Imperative Global Emergency Teach-In, the culmination of the project will be simulcast nationwide so that teams can join in on the discussion from their own locations. Unlike 2010, though, this is limited to the U.S. It would be interesting to see how the conversation would go, and what different kinds of outcomes would result, from a "Focus the World" global version of this event.

Climate Neutral Ivies: On February 2, 2007, students from eight Ivy League institutions banded together to ask leaders at their schools to make big leaps toward climate neutrality on their campuses -- specifically calling for their schools to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by the year 2050.

AASHE Report: Not long after the Ivy League push, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education released their annual report showing an explosion of activity around sustainability on campuses across the US and Canada. AASHE Digest 2006 includes over 600 stories about higher education institutions leading the way to a sustainable future. It is organized into 8 chapters covering: 1) institutional change, 2) education and outreach, 3) social responsibility, 4) green building, 5) energy management and renewable energy, 6) food and agriculture, 7) transportation, and 8) waste, water, landscaping, and procurement. The Digest offers ample evidence of a broadening and deepening of campus sustainability efforts, with more institutions of all types getting involved and campuses undertaking more significant measures than ever before to improve their sustainability performance.

Presidents Climate Commitment: This isn't about president G.W.B., but the presidents of American Colleges and Universities. The commitment allows presidents at institutions of higher-ed to make a public pact to reduce their schools' greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate progress in research and facility infrastructure towards addressing the climate crisis.

Reclaim the Future: An initiative of the Ella Baker Center, headed by Van Jones, this is something we've mentioned before, but which warrants another mention in this overview of today's activities for sustainability and social justice. Reclaim the Future is a five-part teaching tool that introduces important, current themes to students in the school system. These include green economy, eco-equity and eco-privilege, model cities, and restorative justice. The website makes all the information available online, along with a teacher's guide to assist in adapting the content to fit specific classrooms and age groups.

Tribewanted's Impact Assessment: And it's time for a return glimpse at Tribewanted, the reality TV show that garnered some press last year when creators announced the intention to create a green extreme adventure reality program. Recently I received some follow-up from the crew, letting me know about some of the work that's been done to assess the impact and create a sustainability plan for the show's lifetime. A team of students from the University College London compiled a report looking at water, energy, waste, biodiversity, food, building, transport and activities on the Fijian island of Vorovoro where this is all set to take place.

* Much of this is North American and I'm eager to hear what's going on on campuses elsewhere. Please share in the comments.

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The photo of Foellinger Hall at the University of Illinois pulled me into this article - I thought it was going to talk about the sustainability efforts on campus, including a very active Engineers Without Borders chapter, a several-year-old Clean Energy Fee (funding wind turbines and other projects on campus), a Bio-diesel project to use the WVO from the cafeteria, and more. Interesting article nonetheless. :)

Posted by: GB on 27 Mar 07

Hi Sarah,

My own campus, NYU, has stepped into the game a little late, but there's been an explosion of activity here in the past year. From the purchase of RECs to offset 118 million kWh of purchased electricity to the creation of a Sustainability Taskforce of students, teachers and administrators, we're moving ahead full force to become a leader in campus sustainability.

Last semester, I was part of a team of five students that produced "Greening The Urban Campus," an 80-page report that exhaustively details NYU's environmental impact and proposes a number of solutions to reducing it. The report is centered around an index that tracks the impacts of the University across nine categories and 41 separate indicators, such as “Local Energy Generation” and “Cans and Bottles Recycling Rate”. Our hope is that it will be continually updated, serving as an ever-changing snaphot of our school's progress towards what you Worldchangers like to call a "bright green future."

Posted by: Adam Brock on 27 Mar 07

Lacking here is mention of the various regional Student Conferences on Clean Energy. I attended the Midwest region at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I'm not one to speak about it, but there are literally thousands of students involved in the 'world changing' movement. I'm actually surprised more isn't said about their actions.

Posted by: Marty Walsh on 27 Mar 07

We are involved with quite an extensive nework of organizations working for sustainability in higher ed. here in California. I work for the Education for Sustainable Living Program, a state-wide collective of student-funded, student-run educational programs. We host lecture series at 5 UC schools, support numerous student-directed action-research team projects furthering the goals of sustainability at each campus, and co-host an annual state-wide retreat.

At UC Santa Cruz, we just hosted the 6th annual Campus Earth Summit, and will be working with the administration to develop a sustainability vision statement for the university. Our collaborative faculty/staff/student/community member working groups will be working to support the UC President's forth-coming pledge for climate-nuetrality.

We work closely with the California Student Sustainability Coalition (CSSC)(, founded in 2002, as many of the local campus campaigns of our various student enviornmental centers have learned that there is power in creating more continuity at the satewide level, and leveraging our collective voices across the state.

Posted by: tawn kennedy on 27 Mar 07

The UK student group People & Planet has been running the Go Green campaign to get universities to improve their environmental performance since 2004, based on improved environmental management. I conducted the original research for this and wrote the campaign paper. The campaign has become remarkably successful. Further details at:

Posted by: Gareth Simkins on 28 Mar 07

Hi Sarah -

Foremost, I would like to thank you for highlighting the Tribewanted Impact Assessment. A lot of hard work went into it and there is a lot more yet to be done. All efforts and plans are being coordinated with Tui Mali, Chief of the Yavusa tribe - indigineous to the Vorovoro Island. Without Tui Mali's consent and/or approval, nothing happens.

The primary reason for posting this 'comment' is to raise the level of awareness about Tribewanted. Tribewanted is NOT a reality TV show. In fact, it is not a TV show at all (as a member, we like to say "Reality, NOT reality TV"). As a note: BBC spent several months on the island with members filming a documentary about Tribewanted that should air in the UK sometime this summer.

From our website: "Tribewanted is both an online and real island community. The aim of Tribewanted is to build a simple sustainable village on Vorovoro Island and a buzzing online community. When you join the tribe you can choose when you visit Vorovoro and, unlike any other adventure holiday, you can take part in the project online before and after your island stay".

You may have noticed a link called "Tribal TV" on our homepage. These short video clips are merely taken of members on the island to give viewers a perspective of what the eco-experiment is about.

I encourage you and your readers to visit to learn more - it really is all it claims to be (I'm a skeptic and cynical by nature and I can honestly make this statement).


Posted by: Terry on 28 Mar 07

At the university of Alberta, there's a inspiring group called Students Against Global Apathy (SAGA). There mission: to get YOU thinking because you are more powerful than you think. Students are the future of the world and as such, we can determine what kind of world we want to live in and what kind of world we want for future generations.

They promote their message through creative stunts and hilarious T-shirts aimed at getting other young minds fired up.

Posted by: ianmack on 28 Mar 07

sorry forgot to include a link:

Posted by: ianmack on 28 Mar 07

Bula Sarah,

Just wanted to follow up on what Terry has posted about Tribewanted.

Just thought I’d mention that Tribewanted is not a reality show. It isn’t a game, its a real partnership between two communities: a global online community and the local community of Mali. There are no prizes! The whole point of Tribewanted is that it is a real partnership and project with clear goals:

Sustainability on Vorovoro (island)

Can Tribewanted operate 100% sustainably and responsibly as a travel operation? Yes, but it is a big challenge and requires a lot of lateral thinking and questioning but I believe travel can follow what coffee and chocolate are already proving and become genuinely fairly traded. Tribewanted has the opportunity to help lead this. It is the combination of sustainability/fair-trade tourism with online co-creation/democracy that makes this project unique.

What I mean by sustainability:

Village – building the infrastructure with local materials and workers
Travel – boats, buses, planes
Community – fairly traded tourism where local decisions, views, opportunities, methods are put to the forefront of the project
Experience – where visiting tribe members learn, explore, engage, recharge, enjoy and discover a different life – that sense of total freedom that Vorovoro offers, everyone able to take home ‘my vorovoro’

Democracy online (online)

Can Tribewanted become a model for online democracy and co-creation? Yes, but it will take time and effort.

What I mean by online democracy:

Participation – members feel empowered by the community, ideas listened to and actioned.
Decision making – voting process is accountable and organised without being bureaucratic. Political structure to be created organically. Could we do a UCL sustainability plan equivalent for the online democracy with student consultants?
Communication – to be well structured but also fun, to link with island.
Friendship – allows people to become buddies before and after Vorovoro
Education – ideas that wouldn’t normally be discussed by people get discussed. People learn. This is already happening. Dream Foundation.
Entertain – to allow those that can to communicate their experience > online tv

World Changing, the book, has already made it to Vorovoro and being put to great use! If you would like us to send you a blog/pics of how its helping then let me know

Vinaka from Fiji – keep up the inspirational leadership.


Posted by: Ben Keene on 28 Mar 07



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