by Maura Stephens
IC takes a leading role in incorporating sustainability in its operations and curriculum. What's it all about?
President Peggy Ryan Williams arrived on campus seven years ago this summer. It was an exciting time here.
Besides the installation of the new chief executive, the $11.5 million music school campaign was coming to a successful conclusion; the expanded buildings for the Schools of Music and of Health Sciences and Human Performance, as well as the new Fitness Center, were about to become reality; the president was talking of institutional planning that would include staff, faculty, and students; and the College was up for Middle States reaccreditation.
Much has happened at the College since the summer of '97, and this year it feels even more exciting here, with plans underway for campus development (see ICQ, 2003/1, "Blueprint for the Future"), new academic offerings, and the recent positioning of the College as a leader in sustainability among U.S. institutions of higher education.
Sustainability, put simply, is a recognition that the Earth and its systems are finite. We need to protect the planet from further damage and take immediate steps to reverse the damage that we have already inflicted upon it. But that's not all. At the same
time we have to pay attention to how economic development affects all people. These principles go hand in hand with sensible fiscal practices -- using financial resources wisely -- and with understanding the interconnectedness and equality of
all members of our human societies. For example, we would perhaps not spend $100,000 to clean up a polluted pond this year if we only had $120,000 in our entire annual budget for outdoor maintenance. But we might spend that much money if it were made available from other sources; if the cleanup would save more money in the long run; or if the risk to human health posed by the pond's pollution was grave.
Sustainability implies all things in balance. It's a fluid concept and will surely adapt in meaning as more needs are recognized, but an easy way to think of it is as the positive intersection between financial resources, the natural environment, and community/social needs. Many sustainability advocates add a fourth principle: the responsibility of individuals and civic entities to uphold the first three principles.
Ithaca College is in the process of refining its own definition, partly because the term is new to some people on campus, even if they may be familiar with many of its concepts, and partly because the definition needs customization for every organization or society, depending on its environmental, economic, and human resources and needs.
Provost Peter Bardaglio, who has been the driving force behind the College's sustainability efforts, points out that the initiative grew organically from the way things work here. "The framework provided by sustainability thinking -- with its emphasis on interconnectedness, the dynamic nature of complex systems, and the importance of taking the long view," he says, "has much in common with the strategic approach adopted in Ithaca's planning processes."
The College maintains its longstanding commitment to educating global citizens who can think critically, identify and solve problems, and channel their visions into action. What's new is that IC is at the forefront of what many feel certain will soon become a national trend in education as well as in commerce and government. It is the first college or university in the United States to undertake all of the following: a long-term educational partnership with an established, successful cohousing community (EcoVillage at Ithaca); a commitment to review and revise the curricula throughout all five schools to reflect sustainability goals; long-term investment, both scholarly and practical, in the healthy, sustainable growth of the region within which it resides; and the construction of a "green" School of Business building.