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More and More, Students Want Sustainability

By Sharon Chen
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When it comes to choosing their colleges, campus sustainability is becoming more of a factor in student decisions. More and more, prospective students are looking at how schools are addressing climate change: how are campuses reducing their carbon footprints? How well does the curriculum prepare students for an increasingly green job market? Does the university provide preparation for a world in which environmental concerns loom large?

This growing demand for sustainability in higher ed is important in many regards. In a positive sign for the future, this focus on sustainability shows that today’s young people clearly understand the environmental challenges that lie ahead, and that they fully intend on meeting these challenges. Higher ed is often pushing the front lines of climate knowledge; giving students the practical tools to apply this knowledge to our real world problems is the first and most important step we can take to solve our climate challenges. By providing more hands-on sustainability training, incorporating environmental concerns into curriculum, and providing examples of sustainability in dorms and dining halls, higher ed can meet this green demand.

Higher ed has a great influence on students, and it looks like students are also influencing colleges and universities. By responding to increased interest in issues of sustainability, higher ed is pushed to take greener measures and think about more ways to incorporate sustainability into classes and campus life. This will undoubtedly benefit all of us as we work to overcome our climate change challenge. 

At students' behest, colleges add efforts to address climate change

Donnelle Eller | USA Today | January 20, 2016

Sure, prospective college students want to know how their short-list schools stack up on partying, tuition assistance and preparing them for a career.

But more and more, students also want to know what universities are doing about climate change — from reducing their own carbon footprint to preparing students for the environmental challenges ahead.

The reason is obvious: The bulk of the work to solve big climate-change issues will fall to their generation, said Liz Christiansen, director of the University of Iowa Office of Sustainability.

Dozens of colleges and universities — from Ivy League universities Cornell and Yale to small private colleges like Luther and Unity -- incorporate concerns about climate change throughout their operations. For example, they're using wind and solar to heat and cool dorms and classrooms and pushing university-backed funds to dump investments in fossil-fuel industries such as coal, said Julian Dautremont-Smith, director of programs at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

"Students are graduating to a world where environmental and sustainability challenges are likely to become more and more threatening," Dautremont-Smith said. "This is something that students expect."

Students are pushing universities to divest from companies that pollute, Dautremont-Smith said. "The basic idea is: Why is our institution investing in industries that are threatening our future?" he said. "That's a big conversation on campuses."

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