The phrase “Go Green” has been one that most people have heard frequently, especially in today’s times. But what does going green actually mean? For the matter, what does sustainability really mean? Most people can give you the broad answer, having to do with protecting our environment. But why?  The education process pertaining to the environment and sustainability has been scattered over the years. Although there are programs out there to study these specific fields, it is important to have general knowledge about this topic.

 So here is the question, how can we better teach students at college campuses across the United States about sustainability?

 Let’s start out by defining sustainability. You can’t fix the problem until you understand it. Sustainability is the ability to provide for the needs of the current generation with-out compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Put simply, sustainability is living within your own means. Most people believe that sustainability just has to do with the environment. Although that is one important factor, sustainability requires three separate elements, social justice, healthy environments, and strong economics. Before any learning objectives can be designed, a campus must define sustainability and the goals it hopes to achieve in the future.

 Campus-wide surveys are a main way to find out what the students actually know.  Surveys done at certain schools showed that although important elements of sustainability were being addressed, this process seemed to be leaving institutions with big ideas but no set system in place to tie these ideas together. As most education efforts, effective sustainability initiatives on campuses require all community members to participate and work together.

 In a 2010 article published in the About Campus Journal, “What Are Students Learning About Sustainability” the authors, Kimberly Tousey-Elsener, Diana Richter Keith, and Staci Lynne Ripkey provide a model to tie together sustainability efforts, student learning, and the evaluation process into a clear system. This model is a six step system to better teach and understand sustainability.


Step 1. Determining Direction: This step includes a campus wide discussion about a specific direction the institution hopes to take in the future pertaining to environmental health, economic development, and/or social justice. Start small, for example with environmental issues on campus.

Step 2. Getting Buy-In: After the direction is determined, it’s necessary to make sure all constituents are on board, even if they are not 100 percent committed.

Step 3. Focus on Student Learning: This focus needs to be campus wide and include two elements, faculty/staff/administration learning and broad student learning outcomes or goals

Step 4. Program-Specific Learning Outcomes: This is essential to link program-specific learning outcomes to campus wide goals focusing on elements that certain programs can address.

Step 5. Connecting Assessment to Student Learning and the Campus Community: This stage is to assess student achievement of the outcomes. Test them! Find out what they have done or what their ideas are.

Step 6. Using the Data: After all the data has been collected, its important to think about which constituents and institutional leaders might be interested in hearing about the information collected.

 This cycle can be used at campuses nationwide due to its clear cut rules and objectives. This is a perfect cycle for campuses just starting out, ones with little knowledge about sustainability.

Education about sustainability is very important to be able to achieve the main goals in any institution. Without knowing the systems and how it works, no one can fully understand the changes ahead of them. Not only is sustainability important to in today’s society as well as future societies, the education of sustainability is just as important, if not more.

An excellent resource about this topic in universities may be found at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, AASHE.

the author

Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I am a Political Science major at Coastal Carolina University. I am a Student Assistant for Sustainability at Coastal. I have always had a great passion for the environment and plan to continue my education with a concentration in environmental policy/law. Go Green or Go Home!

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  1. tony sargo on August 5, 2011

    very informative but the direction seem to be directed at colleges this only a portion of the population you need to get this to the general population


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