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What leaders need to know for sustainability


Jerry Weber

Community colleges are uniquely positioned to impact the nation in all aspects of sustainability — workforce needs, community education and student skills for the future. No other system in higher education can address the local sustainable development needs of the nation’s diverse communities.

Despite all the mandates, financial challenges and competing priorities thrust upon us, this is the time to deepen or reinvigorate the sustainability commitment. Just as we prepare our students for their future careers, we also need to prepare them and our colleges for the world we will live in, and that world will be shaped by globalization, sustainability and adaptation for resiliency.

The climate around sustainability

Not that long ago, many were asking, where are the green jobs? Now the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that the fastest growing occupation for 2014 to 2024 will be wind turbine service technician. While clean energy has been a small portion of our energy mix, it’s growing fast. Consider the U.S. Energy Administration forecast that 2016 will be the first year in which the largest addition to utility scale electricity will come from solar, and solar and wind will produce more than 60 percent of new electricity generation.

This excerpt comes from the current edition of the Community College Journal, the bimonthly magazine of the American Association of Community Colleges.The five-year extension of tax credits on wind and solar, innovative technologies for energy controls and smart grids, the movement to divest from carbon and consumer preferences are all driving this new energy economy. As green jobs continue to grow quickly, community colleges can play a critical role in preparing students with the skills to meet industry demand.

We are experiencing more extreme weather, including increased drought, flooding and fierce fires and storms. The National Climate Assessment of 2014 shows the need for adaptation to improve environmental resiliency. Community colleges have held a major role in training first responders. We can use our ability to convene and partner to help build climate resiliency and adaptation plans in our communities.

Significant institutional change requires informed leadership. Many resources are available to build your leadership team’s capabilities and accelerate your college’s sustainability initiatives.

Defining sustainability

For some, sustainability is about the energy workforce; for others, the environment or even the planet’s wellbeing. However, senior leaders must define sustainability and understand it themselves in its broadest context. Narrow definitions might limit acceptance by some faculty and staff, leave out sectors that the college serves. The danger is that sustainability initiatives become labeled as the concern of the green committee, biology faculty or the facilities department when, in reality, everyone needs to be engaged.

The American Association of Community Colleges awards cash prizes to exemplary community colleges for their sustainability education initiatives through its SEED Center initiative. The deadline to submit for the Green Genome Awards is September 9. Sustainability can be defined and understood as the policies, practices and behaviors that allow for a future with maximum development and minimum impact on resources. The generally accepted broad characterization of sustainability is referred to as the “triple bottom line” in which decisions are evaluated by three perspectives: Is it good for society (people), the environment (planet) and economic growth (profit)?

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Jerry Weber is president os the College of Lake County in Illinois and a member of the American Association of Community Colleges board of directors.