Faculty, staff, and student partnerships for environmental literacy and sustainability

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract

Many colleges and universities have some type of organization dedicated to environmental issues such as stewardship, sustainability, or the catchall focus of "greening." Such campus greening or sustainability initiatives can face a catch-22. To be successful, greening initiatives require both grassroots support from the student body and top down support from high-level campus administrators. Yet each type of support can be difficult to attain without the other. On one hand, high-level administrators might stipulate that broad support for environmental stewardship must be shown before any changes are implemented. Similarly, campus departments that are designed to serve student needs will not provide environmentally friendly alternatives until there is sufficient student demand. However, even if moderate support for environmental stewardship is shown, it may be difficult to elicit further interest without the assistance of administration and support staff. Many institutions thus struggle with the question of whether changes in environmental policy should come from the top down or the bottom up. There is no easy answer to this question, of course-forcing change from the top down can result in resistance, but waiting for an environmental movement to occur in the absence of any information or encouragement is a difficult prospect. Even when individuals in every sector of the university would like to see a green campus, as is frequently the case, the prospect of any one department striking out on the road toward this goal can be daunting. In this essay, I detail how collaborative projects can successfully bridge the top/bottom divide faced on many campuses and also promote environmental literacy in the undergraduate student body. One specific example of how environmental literacy and sustainability can be initiated in a way that combines elements of top down and bottom up efforts comes from Indiana University Bloomington. The organizations responsible for campus sustainability at IUB have gone through several incarnations, something that is probably not uncommon for an institution of higher education. Efforts mainly began with the formation of the Council for Environmental Stewardship (CFES), which was made up of representatives from staff, student, and faculty groups from across the IUB campus, and was created with the goal of moving the university toward sustainability through academic, operational, and administrative efforts. The CFES took the approach of creating working groups centered on topics of interest or importance to the IUB campus. Among the many projects completed between the CFES's inception in 1998 and its disbandment (due to budget cuts) in 2006, one of the most successful and well liked was the Prairie in the Planters project. Initiated by the CFES's Green Landscaping working group, this project effectively brought together a number of campus and community groups. The Prairie in the Planters project was organized by a Biology Department faculty member who was leading the Green Landscaping working group and a graduate student from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, whose work on the project contributed to her master's degree in environmental policy and natural resources management. The project involved using native plants to beautify several large planters in a high-traffic region of the campus, creating examples of the native prairie that once dominated parts of Indiana. Implementing this project depended on input from the architect's office, help with tools, mulch, and other supplies from the landscaping division, greenhouse space and supplies from the Biology Department, and volunteer efforts by students, staff, faculty, and Bloomington community members associated with an initiative to register the city as a National Wildlife Federation Community Wildlife Habitat (http://www.nwf.org/community/). Funding for plants was provided by the CFES and a National Wildlife Federation Campus Ecology fellowship awarded to the graduate student. The project was complemented with permanent signage at the planter site and pamphlets describing the benefits of environmentally friendly landscaping practices and tips for implementing native land scaping on campus. The integration of efforts by faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, support staff, and Bloomington citizens extended the breadth of the project across the campus and to the community. The use of signs and pamphlets, as well as the striking visual presence of the native plants, made the planters a prominent feature on the campus, helping to raise ecological consciousness and promote a sense of place in students. In general, the project is an excellent example of using the physical campus as a pedagogical tool.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationTeaching Environmental Literacy
Subtitle of host publicationAcross Campus and Across the Curriculum
PublisherIndiana University Press
Pages178-182
Number of pages5
ISBN (Print)9780253354099
StatePublished - Dec 1 2010

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