Western Washington's Universities Focus on Sustainability Programs


Can the global mind-shift we need for a better world begin with changes in the classroom? In the face of the large-scale challenges now impacting our world from multiple angles -- natural disasters, impending energy crisis, economic strife and threats to ecosystems around the globe -- individuals, businesses and local governments are recognizing the need for a changed way of thinking. Our region's educational institutions are responding with innovative programs designed to facilitate a broader understanding of our role and impact in the world, in the social web and in the natural environment, and the myriad opportunities for innovation and sustainable change.

With these new or expanded programs, universities are broadening their approach to environmental and sustainability studies. Rather than focusing individual programs on a traditional single discipline, such as natural sciences or public policy, universities are designing new programs that incorporate complementary disciplines to facilitate a more holistic viewpoint. The schools believe that this wider understanding will give students the big-picture background they need to help effect innovation and real change. The following is an overview of local universities offering programs that take this innovative approach to sustainability studies.

University of Washington
Recently, the University of Washington (pictured above) announced that it will open the new College of the Environment in fall 2009. The new college will unite existing degree programs, as well as develop new programs, focused on environmental and sustainability studies. In the words of the college's Dean Dennis Hartmann, understanding the "relationship of the human to the environment is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century."

The UW's various environmental studies programs have traditionally focused on the natural sciences in order to better understand how the environment works. With the formation of the new college, additional disciplines -- including social sciences, engineering, and public policy -- are united to provide a more well-rounded approach to innovative environmental solutions. The breadth of disciplines, combined with a focus on such human dimensions as personal values, the economy and social sciences, will enable the college to build programs that shape the next generation of change leaders. Graduates from the college may go on to become leaders in areas such as green building, environmental research, corporate environmental stewardship, or renewable energy, just to name a few.

Perhaps the most prominent innovation planned for the new college is the formation of a central institute, which will bring together the college's various programs, as well as local government, businesses and organizations focused on sustainability. The institute's goal is to build partnerships between these entities in order to tackle local, national and even global sustainability issues.

Evergreen State College
Evergreen offers undergraduate and graduate programs in a wide range of fields related to sustainability, from environmental sciences to public policy to business to food systems. The Political Ecology of Land program uses political, economic, social, cultural and environmental contexts to develop a "land ethic" that is used to evaluate land use goals and objectives. For artists, architects and designers, the Green Studio program explores building expressive, creative and purposeful objects and environments using sustainable means. The Designing a Sustainable Company program teaches students tools to design, plan and execute a green business, from developing the business plan to pitching potential investors. The Practice of Sustainable Agriculture program, which covers a wide range of agricultural topics including seasonal crop production, weed and pest control, irrigation, energy use, farm policy and even marketing, gives students a holistic framework for managing an economically viable and environmentally sustainable farm.

Antioch University
Antioch University offers two sustainability-focused graduate programs through its Center for Creative Change. The Whole Systems Design program teaches students to use a systemic approach to create change and sustainability. The program focuses on relationships between people, organizations, the environment and the economy to enable creative solutions to environmental, social and organizational issues. Antioch's Environment and Community program focuses on giving students the tools they will need to drive positive social and environmental change. The program explores food systems, alternative energy, policy, green building and environmental justice as necessary components of a sustainable society.

Bainbridge Graduate Institute
For continuing education in sustainable business management, Bainbridge Graduate Institute offers certificate programs and an MBA degree, all aimed at promoting environmental and social responsibility within regular business practices. The school's mission reads:

To prepare students from diverse backgrounds to build enterprises that are financially successful, socially responsible and environmentally sustainable.

Through coursework and special projects, these programs focus on core business principles, sustainability, leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship.

With these new programs, and the others that are sure to follow, the greater-Seattle region is poised to educate the next generation of sustainable change leaders. As our understanding of the world around us, and our impact on the world, changes, it's important that we rethink our systems of education to reflect that insight. We look forward to seeing local grads put their knowledge to use creating innovating business models, environmentally and socially responsible public policies, and healthy ecosystems in the Northwest and around the globe.

Photo credit: flickr/JenWaller, Creative Commons License.

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