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.

In the midst of these fields are the towns of Potsdam and Canton, the locations of four universities—Clarkson, St. Lawrence, SUNY Postdam, and SUNY Canton. Last week I was hosted by Clarkson University, but I met with and visited all four campuses in an effort to consult with their sustainability directors. As I spent most of my time at Clarkson, I'd like to report briefly on my visit. Clarkson signed the Presidents Climate Commitment, and to celebrate the accomplishment, I met with President Tony Collins and other campus leaders. I also delivered a plenary address, The Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus.

I derive inspiration and enjoyment from these visit because I get to see so many people doing great work. With each visit, I learn something new about the possibilities and potentials for a sustainable campus. Clarkson University has a great deal to offer. Their Institute for a Sustainable Environment offers undergraduate degree programs in Environmental Health Science and Environmental Science and Policy as well as Minors in Sustainable Energy Systems Engineering and Sustainable Solutions for the Developing World. Along with their Environmental Engineering program, the offerings in the School of Business, the support from the School of Arts and Sciences, and interdisciplinary graduate programs in Environmental Science and Engineering and Environmental Politics and Governance, there's an impressive portfolio of opportunities. Particularly impressive is the hands-on, applied research approach of these programs. Clarkson has five ongoing research initiatives that provide regional economic  and ecological opportunities—the Center for Air Resources Engineering and Science, the Center for Sustainable Energy Systems, the Clarkson BioMass Group, the Great Rivers Center, and the Rivers and Estuary Observatory Network. That's a lot of programs for a small university!

The Institute for a Sustainable Environment is housed in an open concept, green building that epitomizes the research and teaching orientation of the school. I was very pleased to see the impressive first floor signage that explains the basic elements of building design and how Clarkson University research was instrumental in important aspects of the design process. The various bulletin boards demonstrate the vitality and relevance of student and faculty research.

In The Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus, I describe the necessity of integrating all aspects of sustainability thinking. Clarkson's most important contribution is the close integration between research and infrastructure, and the application of that integration to community regional development. Accordingly, Clarkson is investing the sustainable future of the entire St. Lawrence region. I highly recommend that readers of this commentary visit the Clarkson website, and peruse the interesting initiatives of the Institute for a Sustainable Environment. 


Mitch Thomashow

Thomashow devotes his life and work to promoting ecological awareness, sustainable living, creative learning, improvisational thinking, social networking, and organizational excellence. Currently he is engaged in teaching, writing, and executive consulting, cultivating opportunities and exchanges that transform how people engage with sustainability and ecological learning. In August, 2011 Thomashow became Director of the Second Nature Presidential Fellows Program. This new program is designed to assist the executive leadership of colleges and universities in promoting a comprehensive sustainability agenda on their campuses. Fellows provide executive consulting on climate action planning, long-range financial planning, organizational leadership, curricular implementation, and community investment. From 2006-2011, Thomashow was the president of Unity College in Maine. With his management team, he integrated concepts of ecology, sustainability, natural history, wellness, participatory governance, and community service into all aspects of college and community life. This included construction of The Unity House, the first LEED Platinum President’s Residence in North America, and the TeraHaus, a passive house student residence, as well as comprehensive campus energy planning, an integrated approach to growing food on campus, and a new academic master plan. Previously from 1976-2006, Thomashow was the Chair of the Environmental Studies program at Antioch University New England. He founded an interdisciplinary environmental studies doctoral program and worked collaboratively to grow and nourish a suite of engaging Masters programs, geared to working adults. Thomashow is the founder of Whole Terrain, an environmental literary publication, originating at Antioch University New England, and “Hawk and Handsaw,” a journal of creative sustainability, published at Unity College. He serves on the boards of Orion Magazine and The Coalition on Environmental and Jewish Life (COEJL). Thomashow is a founding organizer of the Council of Environmental Deans and Directors (CEDD), a national organization that supports interdisciplinary environmental studies in higher education. He provides ongoing consultation to the Sustainable Endowments Institute and their new Billion Dollar Green Challenge program. His two books have significantly influenced environmental studies education. Ecological Identity: Becoming a Reflective Environmentalist (The MIT Press, 1995) offers an approach to teaching environmental education based on reflective practice—a guide to teachers, educators and concerned citizens that incorporates issues of citizenship, ecological identity, and civic responsibility within the framework of environmental studies. Bringing the Biosphere Home, (The MIT Press, 2001) is a guide for learning how to perceive global environmental change. It shows readers that through a blend of local natural history observations, global change science, the use of imagination and memory, and philosophical contemplation, you can learn how to broaden your spatial and temporal view so that it encompasses the entire biosphere. His essay (2010), “The Gaian Generation: A New Approach to Environmental Learning” provides provocative new concepts for teaching about global environmental change. Another essay (2012) “Where You At 2.0” reasserts the relevance of bioregionalism for digital age learners. A recent essay (2013),“Sustainability as Turnaround” is a case study of his work as president at Unity College. with mandolin.png His new book, The Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus (The MIT Press) provides a framework for advancing sustainable living and teaching in a variety of campus environments. It will be available in January, 2014. Thomashow is currently working on two writing, networking, and teaching projects. Improvisational Excellence suggests that improvisation emulates the patterns and processes of the biosphere. It’s a series of essays linking play, music, and observing nature to the paths of everyday living. It is the philosophical basis for Thomashow’s workshops on global environmental change, music and nature, and ecological perception. Wilson’s Library is a series of prose poems depicting extraordinary moments during the history of life on earth. Thomashow lives in the hill country of southwest New Hampshire in the shadow of Mount Monadnock. He loves to explore the fields, forests, wetlands, hills, and lakes of Northern New England where you can often find him on his bicycle. His recreational interests include basketball, baseball, board games, jazz piano, electronic keyboards, musical composition and recording, guitars, hiking, and lake swimming.