The Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus
A college campus offers an ideal setting for exploring and practicing sustainability. Colleges and universities offer our best hope for raising awareness about the climate crisis and the dire threat it poses to the planet. They provide opportunities for both research and implementation; they have the capacity to engage students, staff, and faculty in collaborative enterprises that inspire campus transformation; they take the idea of legacy seriously. But most college and university administrations need guidance on the path to sustainability. In The Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus, Mitchell Thomashow, a former college president, provides just that.
When Thomashow became president of Unity College, a small environment-focused college in Maine, in 2006, he decided to focus his leadership on sustainability. Drawing on his experiences at Unity, Thomashow identifies nine elements for organizing a sustainability agenda: energy, food, and materials (aspects of infrastructure); governance, investment, and wellness (aspects of community); and curriculum, interpretation, and aesthetics (aspects of learning).
Thomashow describes, among other things, how Unity built the first platinum LEED-certified college president’s residence in North America; installed solar panels, wind turbines, and other renewable energy generators all over the campus; became a center for local food growing; reconsidered the college’s capital assets and investment strategy in light of sustainability; revitalized the curriculum; and made the entire campus a canvas for sustainability-inspired public art. Connecting his experiences to broader concerns, Thomashow links the campus to the planet, reminding us that local efforts, taken together, can have a global impact.
About the Author
Mitchell Thomashow is Director of the Second Nature Presidential Fellows Program, which assists colleges and universities in promoting a comprehensive sustainability agenda on campus. From 2006 to 2011 he was president of Unity College, Maine, and from 1976 to 2006 he was Chair of the Environmental Studies Department at Antioch University New England. He is the author of Ecological Identity and Bringing the Biosphere Home, both published by the MIT Press.
“Overall I found Nine Elements an inspiring read. For those already familiar with the field it may not offer startling new solutions to achieving sustainability overnight, but it does provide nuanced insight into how we might undertake the journey in an accessible and engaging way. At a time when we still need many more university leaders who vocally champion sustainability, it is particularly significant that someone in Thomashow’s position has added his weight to the growing body of voices calling for profound sustainability transformation, in universities and beyond.”—Jon Emmett, London School of Economics Review of Books
“There are other books on greening our colleges and universities, but this latest is the best. Thomashow's The Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus is wonderfully comprehensive, clear, and useful. His writing style is efficient but quietly elegant, so the book is actually a pleasure to read. What a huge difference it would make if all of America’s higher education campuses read this book and pursued the good advice in it!”
—James Gustave Speth, author of America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy and former dean of Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies
“This is a trail-blazing book that should be required reading for university leaders at every level. It’s that important. The ideas in The Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus can transform universities, and universities can lead the cultural and structural transformations that are essential to a thriving future.”
—Kathleen Dean Moore, co-editor of Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril
“The Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus is essential reading for those engaged in campus sustainability. It is an insightful, holistic, and thought-provoking book that eloquently integrates the myriad complex elements and immense opportunities of campus sustainability. Mitch Thomashow artfully weaves his personal sustainability narratives for a compelling read which demonstrates an integrated and purposeful approach to campus sustainability.”
—Heather A. Henriksen, director of the Office for Sustainability, Harvard University
“Colleges and universities are idea factories that impact all aspects of our collective ability to adapt to and invent the future. Sustainability of the linkage between our designed environment and our inherited natural environment must be ensured for our future success. Thomashow, in The Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus, provides a great blueprint on how colleges and universities can use their campuses as the teaching platform to make sustainability a core value and a core outcome for all of our planning and thinking. If we can design our colleges and universities to instill these values and ideas then we will see a greatly improved chance of a sustainable future.”
—Michael M. Crow, president, Arizona State University