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Providing a Completely Sustainable Campus, Inside and Out

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While some campuses are focusing on physical changes that will bring sustainability to their grounds, buildings and cafeterias other schools are looking into more holistic approaches that bring the theories of sustainability into each course. We found a great example of this in a recent article in The New York Times about Stony Brook Southampton.

“Stony Brook Southampton will certainly be among a limited number of campuses with this level of commitment to sustainability,” says Judy Walton, acting executive director of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. “Sustainability is really a change in the mind-set of how we operate. It’s like seeing the world through a new lens.”

There were only 200 students on campus this past school year, the college’s first; 350 are expected for the fall, and officials hope to reach 2,000 students within five years. If all goes according to plan, they will live in harmony with nature on a campus with geothermal technology and some wind-generated electricity; they will eat local produce in a cafeteria that does not have to figure out how to dispose of used cooking oil because it does not serve fried foods. In fact, it does not have a deep fryer.
But most significant is how Southampton, a part of Stony Brook University, is writing into its courses the concept of sustainability. Students study it when they study literature, economics, architecture or statistics.
Sustainability is one of those fuzzy academic areas that varies in what it encompasses, even what it’s called. But on its philosophy there is consensus: it takes a multidimensional approach to understanding man’s interactions with the natural and man-made world, with a strong social-justice component (something environmental studies has traditionally lacked).

Offering sustainability as a bachelor's and graduate degree is something that is currently unique to only a few colleges, such as Arizona State University and now Southampton. The area of study is spreading to other colleges; however, it's mostly arriving as a minor or a part of an interdisciplinary program.

This post is part of a week-long series focusing on how universities around the globe are remodeling not only their campuses but also their curricula. For more ideas about what to study and where, or to join the debate, check out this week's feature, Majors Making a Difference.

Photo credit: Flickr/Icalder2001 Creative Commons license

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