We are really excited to be able to run our Environmental Leadership Academy at Dartmouth College. We think it’s a really unique way for high school students interested in sustainability to explore that interest, enhance their understanding of the subject matter, develop an idea for a sustainability initiative, and have a lot of fun while doing so.
Dartmouth is a sustainability leader among college campuses. The now (sadly) defunct greenreportcard.org gave Dartmouth an A- grade based on 2010 data. The only two areas that Dartmouth did not receive a perfect A grade were “Administration” and (not surprisingly) “Investment Priorities.” OK, why is the latter not surprising? Endowments are a critical source of a University’s operating budget. Ivy League schools – despite pretty uniform desire from students and faculty to divest from fossil fuels – continue to hold positions in oil companies. Here’s a recent Dartmouth article on the subject, and which also references similar divestment movements taken place at other college campuses in the northeast.
On the matter of “Administration,” Dartmouth has made some changes since 2010, such as shifting oversight of the organic farm from the purview of the Dartmouth Outing Club to the Office of Sustainability and adding additional staff to the office, which would likely push that B grade up to an A.
By any measure, Dartmouth is way out in front on an integrated approach to sustainability, in the built environment, academics, student opportunities, and the culture of the school. Here are a five reasons we think Dartmouth’s approach is commendable:
1. An Energy Efficiency Revolving Loan Fund
An environmental studies class came up with the idea for a fund that takes energy efficiency savings and invests in more energy efficiency initiatives. Brilliant!
2. Dartmouth Bikes
As a New Yorker, I love this idea. The humble bike is one of the most important inventions ever! At $25/term for a rental, some enterprising students have found an inexpensive way to facilitate bike use on campus.
3. The Sustainability Minor
Most liberal arts schools now have an Environmental Science or Environmental Studies department and major. However, sustainability, as a concept, is concerned with real-world applications and an interdisciplinary approach to considering human-environment interactions.
4. The Dartmouth Sustainability Project
As a movement, sustainability is about changing culture and norms of behavior. Creating a cross-departmental office that serves as a think-tank for sustainability and that is empowered to facilitate the implementation of initiatives working with various campus stakeholders is a key piece of the puzzle.
5. They aren’t afraid to talk about the things that didn’t work.
Sustainable Summer students often have big ideas, but it’s the execution that is the most challenging part of any idea. We learn from our mistakes, and that Dartmouth is putting those failures out their along with the wins shows that the organization is committed to the project.