Environmental sustainability is a term currently in use to describe the relatively simple idea of providing for the needs of people today without compromising the needs of people in the future. Common use of the term began with the publication of the World Commission on Environment and Development report, Our Common Future (1987, also known as the Brundtland Report), which defined sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." (www.sustainability-ed.org/pages/what1-4brundt.htm)
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) defines sustainable development as the combination of two important themes: that environmental protection does not preclude economic development and that economic development must be ecologically viable now and in the long run. This concept of sustainability is intended to inspire public and private organizations to become better stewards of the environment and to promote positive economic growth and social objectives (USEPA Sustainability webpage).
According to University Leaders for a Sustainable Future (ULSF, Washington, DC), use of the term sustainability at higher education institutions implies that critical activities are ecologically sound, socially just and economically viable, and that they will continue to be so for future generations. Emphasis of these concepts should be present in the curriculum, research, and service activities of the university, preparing students to contribute as working citizens to an environmentally sound and socially just society. As a sustainable community, a higher education institution would embody responsible consumption of food, energy, water and other resources, while supporting these values in the surrounding community (University Leaders for a Sustainable Future).
The movement to integrate sustainable practices is being adopted by both private and public sector organizations. Colleges and universities are beginning to recognize that as they prepare most of the professionals who develop, manage and teach in society's public, private and non-governmental institutions, they are uniquely positioned to influence the direction we choose to take as a society, and that they have a fundamental responsibility to teach and model sustainability.
The idea of sustainability in higher education is promoted by national membership-based organizations including the afore-mentioned ULSF and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE, Lexington, KY). The stated mission of the ULSF is to make sustainability "a major focus of teaching, research, operations and outreach at colleges and universities worldwide", and the mission of AASHE is to "promote sustainability in all sectors of higher education - from governance and operations to curriculum and outreach - through education, communication, research and professional development."
Sustainability practices are also being addressed at the federal level. On September 25, 2007, Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Congressman Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) introduced the Higher Education Sustainability Act of 2007, H.R. 3637, which would authorize a $50 million competitive grant program to universities and institutions of higher education to develop, implement and evaluate sustainability curricula, practices, and academic programs. The legislation (an amendment to Title VII of the Higher Education Act) encourages partnerships with non-profits, business alliances, and associations for developing best practices, engaging students in real-world experiences, and ensuring that sustainability programs remain current. The legislation would also establish a national Higher Education Summit on Sustainability to highlight programs and practices of national distinction and identify partnership opportunities for the US Government.
The integration of sustainable practices fits well with Missouri State University’s Public Affairs Mission, which encompasses public education and modeling of environmental issues. While the basic idea of sustainability may seem relatively straightforward and simple, implementation of this concept encompasses a broad range of issues, including energy use, "green" buildings, storm water management, landscape restoration, "green" purchasing, and waste reduction and recycling, just to list a few. It also has critical implications for such broader issues as global climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss, and global hunger. The purpose of this report is to provide some ideas and recommendations for Missouri State University to move toward becoming a community leader in promoting and implementing sustainable practices.