Academic journal article The Geographical Bulletin

Sustainable Campus Landscapes in the United States and China: A Comparative Analysis

Academic journal article The Geographical Bulletin

Sustainable Campus Landscapes in the United States and China: A Comparative Analysis

Article excerpt


The campus landscape, like its buildings, can be seen as the physical embodiment of a college's values. It is a vital part of the life of a campus, providing space for study, play, outdoor events, aesthetic appreciation, and even food production, while serving as a 'living lab' (Walton and Sweeney 2013).

The concept of sustainability, though challenged as overly broad and abstract, inspires broad consensus in support of environmental stewardship, fairness, and long-term value (Bookhart 2012, Filho 2000). By adopting sustainable approaches, a university can contribute to solving environmental and socioeconomic problems, both locally and globally. Sustainable universities lead by example through curriculum, research, operations and management, procurement, community and business engagement, policy and planning, and institutional governance (Ferrer-Balas et al. 2008, Sterling 2013). Universities can enhance this leadership by embracing their campus landscape as: 1) the physical testament of the commitment to sustainability and an expression of the university's mission and vision; and 2) a source of resources to enhance student learning and engagement in sustainability. As an enduring legacy of sustainability, the campus landscape can inspire generations to come.

This paper reveals how the campus landscape can enhance a university's path toward sustainability. The argument presented here is that the campus landscape is an asset for sustainability. We illustrate this argument through a comparative case study of two universities - China Three Gorges University, Yichang City, Hubei province, China (CTGU) and the University of Houston Clear Lake, Houston, Texas, United States (UHCL). Though distinct in terms of history and geography, CTGU and UHCL are both growing universities striving to provide the highest quality international, sustainable education and research. Both are regionally important; both are similar to other regional universities across the world. Rather than arguing that CTGU and UHCL are exemplars of innovative university sustainability, we offer a reading of the campus landscape to reveal opportunities. The campus landscape is our "unwitting autobiography," continuously and collectively written through daily life and offering potential for new authors and new stories (Lewis 1979, 12). The ordinary campus landscape - parking lots and manicured greens, loading docks and historic monuments, dirt paths and majestic shade trees, weedy sidewalk cracks and iconic views - are opportunities for CTGU and UHCL which can inspire others.

The paper proceeds as follows. First, we introduce the case study universities, CTGU and UHCL. The second section reviews the key literature of landscape studies and the growing literature in sustainable campus landscapes. Third, we present a comparative analysis of the campus landscape as the physical embodiment of the university commitment to sustainability and a living laboratory to enhance student learning in sustainability. Finally, we discuss the insights a comparison between a Chinese university and a United States university offers to academic leaders and educators in both countries. We hope that the reader will find our results as a point of departure for others to shape more sustainable campus landscapes.


Established in 2000, CTGU is located in Yichang City, Hubei province, China, home of the Three Gorges Dams project (Fig. 1). An ancient trade port, Yichang specializes in transportation, shipping and hydroelectric technologies. CTGU is a comprehensive research institution offering bachelor, masters, and doctoral programs. The student body includes over 20,000 undergraduate students and more than 1,300 graduate students. CTGU is an international university with more than 900 students from the Americas, France, South Korea, India, and other nations. The university maintains a wide range of cooperative agreements, organizes international and domestic symposia and seminars, and collaborates with enterprises, institutions, and local government. …

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