Boldly Sustainable: Hope and Opportunity for Higher Education in the Age of Climate Change

boldlysustainableEarlier this year, the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) released a publication called Boldly Sustainable: Hope and Opportunity for Higher Education in the Age of Climate Change.  Written by Peter Bardaglio, senior fellow at Second Nature, and Andrea Putnam, Director of Sustainability Financing at Second Nature, the book provides a compelling argument for colleges and universities to fully explore the opportunities and business implications of pursuing sustainable business models and integrating the topic of sustainability as a core component of student curriculums.

The book begins by outlining sustainability initiatives to date including the Kyoto Protocol and the subsequent discussions currently underway for the drafting of another version of that agreement as well as the history and efforts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) among others.  The authors contend that colleges and universities are uniquely positioned to make a significant impact in the global struggle to address climate change.  Quoting President John Adams’ statement that “’There are two types of education.  One should teach us how to make a living, and the other how to live,’” Bardaglio and Putnam argue that not only does the pursuit of sustainability in college curriculums and business practices make good financial sense, it is an imperative if institutions are to educate students for the social challenges they will certainly face upon graduation.

The authors point out that “as we move from a postindustrial economy that generates wealth through the production of information to a creativity economy that turns information into knowledge, connecting the dots in new ways rather than just producing the dots will yield the highest rewards.”  Providing numerous case studies to illustrate the ways in which colleges and universities have successfully integrated sustainability into their business practices and curriculums, Boldly Sustainable serves as a comprehensive guide for university administrators pondering the worthiness of sustainability.  Interestingly, as the authors point out, college students are often igniting the spark that leads to institutions implementing sustainable practices.  For example, the authors note that “according to a recent survey of entering freshmen, their ‘number one social concern’ is not getting a job but rather protecting the environment.” 

In Chapter 5, “Transforming Campus Life,” the authors tackle the issues related to greening dining halls, dormitories, campus events, and even wellness centers on campuses.  Though as an online institution APUS only has office buildings, the discussion of the impact of greening various elements of campus life is worthwhile for any college administrator wishing to initiate green programs.  Prior to the last energy crisis, APUS began planning and implementing energy efficient solutions in our building maintenance and upgrade plans.  Communicating those initiatives to our staff has been helpful for creating suggestions for other strategies at reducing energy inefficiencies or consumption.

Many colleges and universities are taking green initiatives outside the campus walls to incorporate sustainable practices in their communities.  Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for example, has taken some very innovative approaches to greening their local community, taking it from the “rust belt” to a burgeoning “green belt.” 

Chapter 7 provides a step-by-step guide for successfully reducing carbon emissions on college campuses.  This chapter examines seemingly all aspects of college life, from lighting efficiency to new construction projects and purchasing.  It is in Chapter 7 that the authors examine the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s (AASHE) Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS) which is scheduled to be released this year and will serve as a voluntary reporting and tracking mechanism for colleges and universities to track their progress as they move toward a greener campus. 

As is the case at many institutions, financing mechanisms can often be the biggest obstacle for initiating new projects.  Green initiatives are certainly no exception but as the authors point out toward the end of the book, greening the campus and operations of any college and university often does not require as much money up front as many think and the return on investment (ROI) is typically well worth any initial expense required.  A variety of case studies from institutions around the country are provided as evidence.  The authors also offer suggestions for various funding mechanisms of which many may not be aware.  Power purchase agreements, grants, and collaborations with other institutions and even different industries are among only a few of the funding mechanisms discussed in the book. 

The authors discuss many aspects of implementing sustainability into college campuses.  From discussions of marketing and branding efforts to gain stakeholder buy-in to methods for integrating sustainability into student curriculums, almost any question a college administrator may have about sustainability efforts are addressed.  One of the intangible benefits of the book is the plethora of resources mentioned and described.  An appendix including suggested readings as well as listings of organizations that can offer additional information provide college and university administrators with a wealth of information.  As a charter signatory to the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), I found Boldly Sustainable a great resource for additional information on ways of implementing sustainable initiatives.  I would strongly recommend this valuable resource to anyone interested in or involved with campus sustainability efforts.

Subjects of Interest


Higher Education

Independent Schools


Student Persistence