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By Todd Cohen, Director, SEED Initiative, American Association of Community Colleges
(This article appears in the October, 2011 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

The ACUPCCEngaging with the community to build sustainable and thriving regional economies is an important pursuit for higher education. For community colleges, in particular, this quest is also a fundamental part of what they are and who they serve.

Community colleges were founded on the principle of service to the community. Most community college students are local residents who stay in the region. Sustainability practices learned at the college, therefore, are likely to be applied locally as those students become part of the fabric of that community. Colleges also serve thousands of local residents and businesses through continuing education, small business support services, and workforce programs. These are critical vehicles that colleges are using to inform the public (i.e. local consumers) about the importance of environmental stewardship and how to take advantage of green technologies like solar panels or sustainable building products. In addition, outside the campus, colleges are key stakeholders in a growing number of regional climate and energy partnership initiatives to reduce community energy consumption or advocate for revised local environmental policies.

All of these characteristics position community colleges to not only lead in creating  healthy communities, but to build the local green economy—a critical element of what is needed today.

“Knowing and being intimately connected to a particular region and community are hallmarks of the community college and are fundamental components of sustainability,” writes Mary Spilde, President of Lane Community College. “This connection to place makes community colleges particularly well suited to engage communities in living sustainably.”1

The Sustainability Education and Economic Development (SEED) initiative of the American Association of Community Colleges and ecoAmerica aims to advance sustainability and green workforce development practices at community colleges by sharing innovative models and resources and building the capacity of community college administrators, faculty, and staff to grow the green economy. The SEED Strategic Plan, developed by a task force of college presidents, identifies “community engagement” as one of three pillars representing the role two-year colleges can play in advancing sustainable development:2

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