Sustainability: an organizing principle for colleges and universities: an open-letter call to action from Arizona State University's president.
WE ARE APPROACHING WHAT I would term a critical inflection point Inflection Point
An event that changes the way we think and act.
-Andy Grove, Founder of Intel.
For example, the fall of the Berlin Wall was an inflection point in global politics and the commercialization of the Internet was an inflection point in technology. in the evolution of global society. Such inflection points occur when new advances in our understanding converge in some meaningful way with our existing social, cultural, economic, and historical circumstances and practices, allowing us to glimpse new opportunities. Sustainability is a term that is easily applied to so many things that we constantly risk diluting its power as a concept, but without doubt it represents nothing less than a reconceptualization of our relationship with both the planet and the community.
The task for scholars and administrators in our nation's colleges and universities is to register the significance of this inflection point and to consider how best to refigure institutions to accommodate and advance the new transdisciplinary teaching and research critical to our collective well-being.
New Challenges, New Solutions
With a global population of 6.5 billion that is projected to increase to 8.5 billion by mid-century, we face challenges of unimaginable complexity, both as a species and, more narrowly, in terms of our American standard of living and quality of life as a nation. The increasing interconnectedness and integration of societies and economies worldwide makes us interdependent, but we are all wholly dependent on the dynamic and interactive system of complex biogeochemical cycles that makes life on earth possible in the first place.
Yet despite our efforts to advance our understanding, there remain both incomprehension in·com·pre·hen·sion
Lack of comprehension or understanding.
inability to understand
Noun 1. and complacency regarding the extent to which the Earth is falling increasingly under our influence as the dominant life-form.
As we impinge more and more on natural systems--with our planet falling increasingly under the domination of a single species with the capacity to modify natural systems, extract and consume resources, and generate waste on a scale that even in the recent past would have been unimaginable--we must assume challenges that remain beyond our historic and present capacity to solve.
Nations are falling further behind, both in terms of developing the basic infrastructure necessary to maintain quality of life and an adequate standard of living for all citizens, and in balancing the needs of humanity with the long-term consequences of human impact on environmental systems.
The concept of sustainability, sometimes mistakenly equated with an exclusive focus on the environment, is at once straightforward and far more complex than one might suspect. Sustainability embraces environmental concerns, certainly, but its implications are far richer, spanning issues intrinsic to economic development, health care, environmental planning Environmental planning is a relatively new field of study that aims to merge the practice of urban planning with the concerns of environmentalism. Essentially speaking, while urban planners have traditionally factored in economic development, transportation, sanitation, and other and urbanization, energy, chemicals, materials, agriculture, national security, business, industry, and government--in short, all the concerns of daily life in societies around the globe. Sustainability acknowledges the needs of human societies but in its framing seeks a balance between social values, including equity and justice, and the environment.
We are at a critical juncture in the evolution of our relationship to the environment--the long-term sustainability of our nation and even our planet remains in doubt--and universities must take the lead in addressing issues of sustainability. Academic communities cannot be removed from the front lines of social change, and our universities must serve as a forum for cultural, economic, political, and social reform. Universities are transformational catalysts for societal change and perform functions essential to our collective survival, but we must confront the fact that we do not fully understand the implications of human impact on the environment and are not adequately prepared to advance policies regarding the optimal intersection of human and natural systems.
The central question that confronts us is whether we will be able to choose wisely among alternative future trajectories, and in this sense our academic institutions are the keepers of the keys. Our colleges and universities generate the knowledge necessary both in terms of scientific and technological knowledge and the ability to wisely govern the world that we have made.
But universities are a thousand-year-old institutional form and change very slowly, maintaining their existing organizational structures and core cultures unaltered whenever possible. While we do not understand the long-term effects of our impact on the planet, we have even less knowledge about how to organize our academic institutions to confront this challenge.
A New American University The term New American University was used by Dr. Michael Crow in his inaugural address as President of Arizona State University (ASU) to identify his "rethinking of the static organizational paradigms of American research universities.
At Arizona State University Arizona State University, at Tempe; coeducational; opened 1886 as a normal school, became 1925 Tempe State Teachers College, renamed 1945 Arizona State College at Tempe. Its present name was adopted in 1958. we are in the midst Adv. 1. in the midst - the middle or central part or point; "in the midst of the forest"; "could he walk out in the midst of his piece?"
midmost of an effort both to reconceptualize a public metropolitan research university and to redefine public higher education higher education
Study beyond the level of secondary education. Institutions of higher education include not only colleges and universities but also professional schools in such fields as law, theology, medicine, business, music, and art. through the creation of a prototype solution-focused institution that combines the highest level of academic excellence, maximum societal impact, and inclusiveness to as broad a demographic as possible.
"The paradigm is conceptually flamed as the "New American University," and because the institution is predicated on excellence, access, and impact, I believe that it has relevance for colleges and universities both in this nation and abroad. Sustainability is at the core of this conception, not simply because interdisciplinary research on human-dominated environmental systems has long been one of the strengths of the university, but because we made an explicit institutional commitment to sustainability.
The problems that we face require multiple approaches and an integration of disciplines. Thus, as our front line of engagement in sustainability, we conceived an academic entity construed across disciplinary boundaries, bringing together scientists, engineers, and scholars from a broad community of disciplines, engaging the expertise and influence of leaders from business, industry, and government to develop solutions to pressing real-world problems.
With a planning gift of $25 million from Julie Ann Wrigley, president and CEO (1) (Chief Executive Officer) The highest individual in command of an organization. Typically the president of the company, the CEO reports to the Chairman of the Board. of the Julie Ann Wrigley Foundation (a philanthropic foundation Noun 1. philanthropic foundation - a foundation that provides funds for science or art or education or religion or relief from disease etc.
charity - a foundation created to promote the public good (not for assistance to any particular individuals) committed to the environment, health care, and education), the Global Institute of Sustainability (GIOS GIOS Generalized Infinite Order Sudden ) was launched in November 2004 to catalyze and advance interdisciplinary research on environmental, economic, and social sustainability.
If academic institutions are to succeed, each must leverage its strengths. ASU ASU Arizona State University (Tempe, AZ)
ASU Appalachian State University
ASU Arkansas State University
ASU Angelo State University
ASU Alabama State University
ASU Australian Services Union was already uniquely positioned to play a central role in providing science-based solutions to address the challenges of sustainable development Sustainable development is a socio-ecological process characterized by the fulfilment of human needs while maintaining the quality of the natural environment indefinitely. The linkage between environment and development was globally recognized in 1980, when the International Union , especially as these bear on the burgeoning Phoenix megalopolis megalopolis (mĕgəlŏp`lĭs) [Gr.,=great city], a group of densely populated metropolitan areas that combine to form an urban complex. , including:
* the impacts of rapid growth on a semiarid semiarid
said of regions of the earth which have dry climates but not as dry as those of arid climates. ecosystem;
* water-resource management;
* human health and well-being;
* ecosystem viability; and
* biological diversity.
Leveraging our growing prominence in earth-system sciences, we decided to deploy our capacity to apply authoritative insight, prototype decision-support tools, and institutional mechanisms to improve the relationship between social and ecological systems through a continuum of understanding, prediction, adjustment, and adaptation. Together with resource managers, industry leaders, and local, regional, and state policymakers, ASU has positioned itself to tackle complex issues associated with sustainability.
Our sustainability initiative also provides a framework to connect the university to institutions similarly interested in collaborating on applications relevant to the global community. GIOS thus has developed productive partnerships with a number of premier institutions around the world, including Stanford University Stanford University, at Stanford, Calif.; coeducational; chartered 1885, opened 1891 as Leland Stanford Junior Univ. (still the legal name). The original campus was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. David Starr Jordan was its first president. , Harvard University Harvard University, mainly at Cambridge, Mass., including Harvard College, the oldest American college. Harvard College
Harvard College, originally for men, was founded in 1636 with a grant from the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. , MIT MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology , the University of Washington, the Instituto Tecnologico de Monterrey (Mexico), Cambridge University Cambridge University, at Cambridge, England, one of the oldest English-language universities in the world. Originating in the early 12th cent. (legend places its origin even earlier than that of Oxford Univ. (U.K.), the University of Cape Town
“UCT” redirects here. For other uses, see UCT (disambiguation). (South Africa South Africa, Afrikaans Suid-Afrika, officially Republic of South Africa, republic (2005 est. pop. 44,344,000), 471,442 sq mi (1,221,037 sq km), S Africa. ), and the Indian Institute The Indian Institute in central Oxford, England is located at the north end of Catte Street on the corner with Holywell Street and faching down Broad Street from the east. of Technology in Delhi.
To prepare students capable of integrating a broad range of disciplines in a rapidly changing world, we have conceptualized and launched the School of Sustainability, the first of its kind anywhere in the world. With both undergraduate and graduate degree programs, the school is educating a new generation of leaders through collaborative, transdisciplinary, and problem-oriented training that addresses the environmental, economic, and social challenges of the twenty-first century. Teaching and research in the school seeks adaptive solutions to such issues as rapid urbanization, water quality and scarcity, habitat transformations and the loss of biodiversity, and the development of sustainable energy
Sustainable energy sources are energy sources which are not expected to be depleted in a timeframe relevant to the human race, and which , materials, and technologies.
Time for Commitment
There is much at stake, and now is the time for academic leaders to commit their institutions to advancing what is nothing less than an evolutionary transformation in our collective consciousness. The world is not yet on a trajectory that is sustainable, and thus it is incumbent on academic communities to demonstrate persuasively that the advancement of social interests is wholly compatible with sound environmental stewardship The integration and application of environmental values into the military mission in order to sustain readiness, improve quality of life, strengthen civil relations, and preserve valuable natural resources. .
If we are to harness our knowledge to address the complex challenges we face in reconciling development goals with the environmental limits of the planet, academic leaders must be willing to rethink and reconfigure their institutions to foster teaching and research that seek to guide a conscious transition towards a more sustainable relationship with the Earth.
Sustainability has every potential to become a new principle for organizing knowledge production and application and for reorganizing our institutions. Sustainability is a concept with as much transformative potential as justice, liberty, and equality, and we must foster its discourse and implementation in our academic institutions.
Inflection points such as this are rare, and given what is at stake we must not hesitate to make the necessary investment. We are in the critical early stages of the advancement of a sector critical to the well-being of human society and ultimately crucial to our continued economic development. At this stage there is everything to win and everything to lose in the effort to advance sustainability, and we must maintain our focus if we are not to lose our way.
Michael Crow This article is about ASU president Michael Crow. For the journalist, see Michael Crow (journalist).
Michael M. Crow is the 16th and current (as of 2007) president of Arizona State University, having succeeded Lattie Coor as of July 1, 2002. is president of Arizona State University.