By Mitchell Thomashow, President Emeritus, Unity College and Second Nature Presidential Fellow
Five years ago a small group of visionary college and university presidents gathered to initiate the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). They were motivated by their conviction that higher education had the capacity and responsibility to make a significant commitment to climate and sustainability action for the sake of their students and society.
As we prepare for the 5th Anniversary ACUPCC summit, it’s important to celebrate our accomplishments, especially at a time when higher education’s public image could benefit from some good news. In just five years, 675 colleges and universities have signed the ACUPCC, representing 35% of the national student body. We’ve seen hundreds of institutions implement remarkably innovative sustainability initiatives. We’ve seen the sprouting of hundreds of new sustainability related academic programs, in every conceivable subject, at every educational level.
Yet higher education is also in a crisis. Challenges of accountability, affordability, workforce preparation, and relevance are sweeping the sector. The volatile global economy remains unpredictable, with ramifications impacting every campus. Meanwhile despite our best efforts, the climate issue becomes more daunting daily.
This is an important challenge for the ACUPCC. What should our priorities be over the next five years. How can we build on our accomplishments, broaden our constituencies, and sharpen our impact?
The ACUPCC Summit aspires to directly respond to these challenges. Consider our focus—Economic Renewal: Jump-Starting a Sustainable Economy Through the ACUPCC. It’s up to us to demonstrate how the volatile economy and the global climate challenge are inextricably linked. Our institutions can lead the way in promoting sustainable approaches to the major economic and social issues of our time. We can do this by cultivating preparedness, opportunity, and innovation. The 2012 Summit will have a suite of interactive sessions emphasizing these approaches. How do we best connect a sustainability curriculum with the unfolding job market? How can sustainability initiatives simultaneously promote cost savings and new funding sources? How can we effectively build partnerships with the corporate sector? How can our institutions be the crucibles of innovative sustainability research? How can sustainability programs and projects support retention and graduation rates?
Many of our institutions are already meeting these challenges. At the summit we’ll discuss how we are doing so, as well as the problems we are facing. We’ll summon our collective voice so we can have the most resilient and enduring impact on public policy. We’ll set the agenda for the next five years of ACUPCC efforts.
That’s why we need as many presidents as possible to attend this year’s event. It will be a watershed ACUPCC discussion, building the necessary momentum, galvanizing higher education, and inspiring our deepening effort.