Sustainability and the Academic Senate

East LA College
LA Valley College

Resolved, That the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges strongly support discussions among community college faculty and with colleagues from the University of California and California State University about the development of sustainability curriculum; and

Resolved, That the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges offer breakouts on the development of sustainability curriculum in career technical education, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and liberal arts areas at the Spring 2009 Plenary Session. (Resolution 9.04 F08)

From corporate boardrooms to the halls of Congress and the White House, sustainability has emerged as perhaps the defining issue of the decade. Growing public awareness of the consequences of global warming linked to the burning of fossil fuels (i.e., disappearing arctic sea ice, habitat loss, rising global average temperatures) have spurred calls for action around the world. Architects and engineers early on realized the impacts of buildings and cities on global climate and the environment.1 Through the U.S. Green Building Council, a set of design and construction standards known as LEED (for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design; now entering its third version2) have been established to certify buildings that minimize their environmental impacts. In addition, architects through the 2010 Initiative and the 2030 Imperative3 have sought to mobilize a public response to global warming concerns by holding online teach-ins and conferences. Leading climate experts, such as Dr. James Hanson, the Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies,4 have spoken out sharply, and educational institutions, faculty, students and staff have signed on in support of efforts to curb global warming and to work for a more sustainable future. These are only a few of the many efforts under way to bring sustainability, "green" technology and environmentally-sound practices forward after decades of denial and procrastination in the disguise of debate.

Sustainability has been defined as the ability "[to meet] the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." This definition first emerged from the 1987 Brundtland Commission Report, entitled Our Common Future, which examined development issues in the less developed world.5 The term can now be found in discussions of sustainable cities, agriculture, resource use, renewable energy, economics and consumer goods. In many ways, the term speaks to the long-term in a manner that "green" and "environmental" do not. Sustainability makes an explicit commitment to the future by demanding that decisions we make today consider the future needs of society. In other words, future needs are as important to consider as the demands of the present.

So, why is the Academic Senate involved in this issue and why have there been two resolutions and a plenary break-out session in the past year?

First and foremost, the academic and professional matters that Title 5 charges us with monitoring include curriculum, degree and certificate requirements, educational program development, and processes for institutional planning and budget development. Across the state, faculty in large and small districts, at rural and urban colleges, have begun to write new courses, develop new programs in sustainability, and design career technical education certificates for "green collar" occupations. Others have sought to infuse sustainability into a wide-range of disciplines. As part of our collective mission to address issues of concern to the communities we serve, many of us have also sponsored speakers, held workshops and seminars, and conducted community outreach and education on the issue of sustainability. These efforts call out for some degree of coordination and sharing of best practices and lessons learned. The Academic Senate is best situated to be of service in supporting and facilitating discussions, organizing workshops and conferences, and generally acting as a clearinghouse for all of this innovative and exciting activity. Along these lines, the Spring 2009 Plenary offered a well-attended breakout on sustainability under the aegis of the new Futures Committee and led by the Los Angeles Community College District.

For many of our colleges, it has been a time of rebuilding as bond dollars have poured in and allowed us to modernize infrastructure and refurbish older buildings, as well as to construct new state-of-the art facilities. For some campuses, LEED-certified buildings have been built that offer new teaching and learning opportunities in sustainability for faculty and students. There is also the promise of lower maintenance and operating costs in future years as the result of energy-saving investments in the present. Recent and anticipated legislation promises to provide significant reductions in capital outlay for new green technologies through various investment credits and depreciation methods. In all, it's a very exciting time for the California community colleges.

New work lies ahead for all of us as new opportunities fuel demand for our classrooms and laboratories, and the expertise of our faculty. New disciplines and programs require new faculty as well. Defining minimum qualifications for academic disciplines, new technologies and "green" jobs will be a special challenge, since the pace of change thus far has been rapid and widespread. New job opportunities will require new training programs, new curricula, new facilities and equipment. We will be speaking more to our business leaders and community partners, seeking their guidance and support. Flexibility, agility, and a constant commitment to quality will be in demand as we move forward to "build the road as we travel"6.

6 Morrison, Roy. 1997. We Build the Road as We Travel. Essential Books.