Friday, September 23, 2016

Education Leaders Gather to Chart a Future for Sustainability at Universities

International meeting examines progress on campuses, explores goals for coming years.

A panel discussion about the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals and their impact on higher education featured, from left, Peter Blaze Corcoran of Florida Gulf Coast University; John Fernandez, director of MIT's Environmental Solutions Initiative; Monika MacDevette, of the U.N. Environment Program in Nairobi, Kenya; Stephen Sterling, professor of sustainability education at Plymouth University in the U.K.; and Akpezi Ogbuigwe, director of the International Collaboration Center at Rivers State University of Science and Technology in Nigeria. (Photo Credit: David Sella) Click to Enlarge.
Educators and administrators from 33 nations gathered at MIT last week for the third World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities, where they discussed successful programs already adopted at their institutions, and plans for improving and expanding education about sustainability over the coming years.

The first symposium was held in Rio de Janeiro in 2012, in conjunction with the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development.  A second symposium was held in Manchester, U.K., in 2014.  This year’s symposium at MIT featured 175 participants, from six continents, most of whom presented research papers or participated in panel discussions at the three-day meeting.

The meeting was co-sponsored by MIT’s Office of Sustainability, which was formed three years ago.  Julie Newman, director of that office, said her mission, and that of the symposium, was “to generate new and proven ways of responding” to the unprecedented challenges presented by global climate change, “to inspire countries to develop breakthrough solutions, and to connect people, ideas, and systems” to help address those challenges.

Representatives from many universities described their efforts to create educational programs, courses, and research projects to increase their students’ awareness of the many dimensions of sustainability, including technical, social, economic, political, and educational aspects.  They also discussed the process of transforming their own campuses into “living laboratories” to help develop more efficient systems that could persist without depleting resources or exploiting resources or peoples.

Nicholas Ashford, a professor of technology and policy at MIT, said in an introductory panel discussion that “we are actually in the midst of a sustainability crisis.”  He cited not only the rapid pace of global climate change but also “unprecedented rates of income and wealth inequality.”  But, he said, this is not a problem that requires new technological solutions:  “It’s not an innovation deficit, it’s a diffusion deficit.  We have the technologies to solve the energy crisis right now,” if only political, economic, and social factors would enable their deployment.

Read more at Education Leaders Gather to Chart a Future for Sustainability at Universities

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