Institutions of higher learning are unique – they have to build culture in a frequently changing group of community members – every year, one-fourth of the community is completely replaced. A high-turnover community is reliant on cultural traditions that are passed from person to person and on individuals, organizations, and projects that remain with the institution long enough to affect tradition themselves.
Beyond simple comprehension, sustainability culture is the shared commitment to sustainability attitudes, values, and practices, and is a result of education becoming belief and belief becoming action.
Before affecting action, individuals need to be made aware of existing problems and existing solutions in which they can participate. Traditional methods of formal education include classwork, lectures, brochures, and documentaries.
Informal education is real-life learning sessions outside of the classroom. Some examples of informal education include hands-on volunteerism with an environmental initiative or discussion about sustainable food with friends at the dinner table.
Some actions are inherently sustainable, but are not a choice, and therefore do not reflect true commitment to sustainability principles. One example might be someone who rides a bike to school because they don’t have a car.
Intrinsically motivated people do not make choices based on financial motivation or pressure from others. They make environmentally conscious choices because they know the options, know which is best, and they are a product of the culture of sustainability.
Many universities are finding that an Office of Sustainability is an essential liaison between the administration, staff, faculty, and the student body. The office can have two types of setups – a highly structured divisional setup whereas all projects run through one central, guiding source or the unified structure which is less defined and brings leaders of every organization on campus to collaborate on sustainability. A university would obviously be best served by utilizing elements of both strategies.
Recommendations for the University of Notre Dame
- Clarify organizational structure
- Engage freshmen during orientation
- Annual hall staff sustainability training
- Financially incentivize energy savings
- Increase sustainability content in all courses
- Seek feedback through biennial cultural survey
- Measure and publish progress in annual sustainability report
- Develop a central online hub for organization of people, events, and projects
Because of the innate virtue of sustainability and its incredibly broad applications, Notre Dame and other institutions of high learning should have great hope that through well thought-out development, wise leadership, and patient efforts, it will have a great chance of succeeding.