Somewhere in the curriculum, most colleges and universities
include Henry David Thoreau. Now, many of them are trying to emulate
Yes, sweeping the academic world is Walden Pond 101: the art of
living in a sustainable manner. Think environmental and social
One of the best examples of the ivory tower's effort to tread
lightly on the land is at Arizona State University. Next month, ASU
will inaugurate the nation's first School of Sustainability - whose
classes will look at everything from water scarcity to urban air
It is one of many universities putting its intellect and talents
to use in the name of ecology. These institutions are devoting more
research to solving global climate problems, and they're redesigning
their own campuses to be examples of better ways to use and protect
Earth's resources. For some schools, the financial commitment to
these issues has started to run into the millions of dollars, as
they foot salaries for new specialists and pay the costs of creating
green buildings. At the very least, many universities are creating
new courses in response to student interest.
"We have always looked to academia to think creatively about the
larger problems of our day," says Carter Roberts, president of the
World Wildlife Fund in Washington. "There is not a more complicated
problem than how to survive and flourish with a growing population
and finite resources."
Universities are quickly latching onto the issue as several
developments show. The Association for the Advancement of
Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) has quintupled in size
this year, as it went from a West Coast-based organization to a
national group. Also, an increasing number of schools, from New York
University to the University of Central Oklahoma, are getting 100
percent of their energy from renewable sources. And next month, a
group of colleges and universities will launch an effort encouraging
200 universities to develop a plan that would make their schools
"climate neutral," meaning the schools wouldn't adversely affect the
Many institutions are proud of their innovations. At the
University of Rochester in New York, a new optics lab will have
stairwells designed to absorb heat and radiate into the building to
reduce heating costs. At Berea College in Kentucky, sewage from an
"Ecovillage" is treated in a series of tanks filled with plants and
fish. The University of California at San Diego has identified
campus rooftops where it can install 500 kilowatts of solar panels,
which equals the power needed for 325 homes.
ASU's green efforts
But ASU has ratcheted up the effort with "a holistic approach"
that is probably unique in the nation, says Mr. Roberts.
Any new building erected at ASU - a school adding facilities
quickly - must be built to exacting environmental standards. Some
professors in the university's labs are concentrating on
understanding nature and then using the knowledge to solve problems.
For example, a team of professors is growing a strain of bacteria
that feast on carbon dioxide. The bacteria could then be used to
convert emissions from a power plant into bio-fuels.
By the fall, the university hopes to integrate its work so that
students in other schools, such as the law school, can minor in
sustainability. Some students will come from China as part of an
agreement in August to launch a Joint Center on Urban
In October, ASU hosted 650 academics, administrators, and
students from AASHE who took part in a conference on the role of
higher education in creating a sustainable world. The university is
attracting donors and business people, including heiress Julie Ann
Wrigley and Rob Walton, chairman of Wal-Mart, who last month agreed
to chair the board of ASU's Institute of Sustainability.
Behind the university's efforts is its president, Michael Crow,
who arrived at ASU in 2002 after 11 years at Columbia University,
where he played a lead role in founding the Earth Institute. …