THE 2014 CLIMATE LEADERSHIP SUMMIT: WHAT HAPPENED AND WHAT'S NEXT

The recent White House announcement of a broad reaching United States-China climate policy was surely the single most significant international agreement since the Kyoto Protocol. The two carbon emission leviathans have publicly declared their responsibility and initiated a long and difficult solutions-oriented policy process. Bill McKibben rightfully proclaimed that this announcement may be attributed at least in part to the vocal, persistent, and grass-roots climate action movement. Yet McKibben also emphasized continued vigilance. For sure, the devil is in the details.

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THE ACUPCC CLIMATE LEADERSHIP SUMMIT: WHY IT MATTERS

The sustainability movement has made great strides in the last ten years, especially in higher education. Yet there is a prevailing sense among many of its proponents (myself included) that we’ve only just scratched the surface of what’s necessary and possible. Where do we go next? How do we ramp up our efforts? How do we further enhance the sustainability efforts of higher education?

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THE SUSTAINABILITY MOVEMENT IS THRIVING

The sustainability movement is thriving on college and university campuses. There are scores of people from all corners of campus life who deeply care about human flourishing, ecosystem health, and community empowerment. These folks come from blue and red states alike, with diverse political perspectives. They represent every conceivable academic subject—from art to aviation. They work in a variety of job settings—from the cafeteria to the president’s office. More than anything, they want to know that their efforts are contributing to a greater good. Sustainability initiatives bring meaning to people that work, live, study, and play in campus environments.

How do I know this?

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WHY CHOOSE A SUSTAINABLE CAMPUS?

I’ve participated in the college recruitment process from every conceivable angle. Most recently, when I was a college president, I would study our admissions numbers, assess our marketing and branding, and think about all of the ways that we could attract appropriate students to Unity College. Before that, as a parent, I went on numerous college tours and tried to offer the best advice to my daughter and son. Many years ago, almost fifty (gasp!) I was a high school student trying to figure out where to go.

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A VISIT TO CLARKSON UNIVERSITY

Clarkson University is located in the far reaches of Northern New York State, beyond the Adirondacks on the southern flank of the St. Lawrence River Valley. It's surrounded by rolling hills, expansive landscapes, and lush wetlands, fields, and forests. The small towns in upstate New York have their ubiquitous strips, but they have downtowns reminiscent of the mid -twentieth century. It's a very interesting place.

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THE DEEPER MEANING OF SUSTAINABLE INVESTMENT

There are two crucial obstacles that limit sustainability initiatives on college and university campuses. The first is financing and capital investment. The second is organizational process. I experienced these issues first hand when I was the president of Unity College from 2006-2011. Since then, in my capacity as the Director of the Presidential Fellows Program at Second Nature, I have visited several dozen campuses and spoken with many several hundred senior leaders on other campuses. I am convinced that these challenges are ubiquitous.

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SUSTAINABILITY, CHARACTER, AND LIFE PRACTICE

“Character is higher than intellect. Thinking is the function. Living is the functionary.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

In the early 1990’s, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist presented a series of meditation workshops oriented to the specific challenges of environmental professionals. I had the good fortune to attend one of those workshops. In my experience during the program and in the twenty years since then the reverberating mantra “you can’t take care of the environment if you don’t take care of the environmentalist” resided in my awareness. I used it as a way to balance the challenging demands of professional life, to serve as a way to place aspiration and accomplishment in the deeper perspective of a whole life.

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HAWAII AND SUSTAINABILITY: FIRST IMPRESSIONS

I just returned from an exceptional visit to Hawaii. I spent a week meeting chancellors, faculty, sustainability coordinators, students, and all manner of people who care about the future of our planet! I addressed the Pacific Island Post-Seconday Commission. Talk about being on the front lines of climate change—sea level rise is tangible and threatening on those islands. I gave the plenary address at the Hawaii Sustainability Summit. I met dozens and dozens of interesting people. I came away with the distinct impression that the University of Hawaii system and all of its stakeholders will make a major contribution to how we think about and implement sustainability initiatives. To understand the seeds of this potential, I'd like to share a few ecological and cultural impressions.

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