This week members of Congress introduced a bipartisan bill in the House of Representatives that would provide support to colleges and universities that promote sustainability education through multidisciplinary research. On Monday, Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Vernon J. Ehlers (R-MI) introduced the Higher Education Sustainability Act of 2007 (HESA), which would secure $50 million in competitive federal grants for colleges and universities to use to teach students about sustainability. The bill would also allow the Department of Education to award grants for campuses that wish to shift to more sustainable operations.
Of the legislation, Rep. Blumenauer argued that the bill supports the American economy: “By providing grants to universities and institutions to develop sustainability programs, we not only protect the planet, but we also help maintain America’s economic competitiveness. 90 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs want sustainable development to become part of their mission, and the Higher Education Sustainability Act is an opportunity to meet this need, protect our planet, and ensure that the American economy is well-equipped for the 21st Century.”
Congressman Ehlers tapped into the inherent sustainability of the legislation: “What better way to promote sustainability than to encourage our institutions of higher learning to create academic programs to teach its concepts, and to implement sustainable practices themselves. Society will reap the benefits of the excellent return on investment gained by educating students in sustainable practices.”
This statement certainly rings true to me given student involvement with sustainability projects at Carleton. Projects completed in service learning and independent studies have had an impact upon the college’s involvement with the wind turbine, the green roof, and now composting. HESA encourages colleges to not only connect what is happening in the classroom to what is happening on the campus, but to also form partnerships with other stakeholders such as non-profits and businesses so that students can gain real-world experience in the field. The bill would also initiate a national Higher Education Summit on Sustainability in order to help colleges and universities develop best practice guidelines for curriculum and operations.
HESA has been unsuccessfully introduced in the past, although Judy Walton of AASHE believes that this year’s bill has the best chance of passing. I’ll write updates as they are available.