The Mac Weekly - February 6, 2009
Defining Sustainability at Mac
By Daniel Kerwin, Managing Editor
This semester's Environmental Studies senior seminar class is faced
with theseemingly simple task of answering what sustainability means to
The problem is that it's hard to find a definition for sustainability at all.
Last semester the Sustainability Office met with small groups from all around campus and formed a Sustainability Advisory Committee in the initial stages as an effort to answer this question. In all, 17 small group meetings and three core planning sessions were held throughout the semester. As of last week, the committee produced this definition:
"Sustainability is the continuous effort to integrate Environmental, Social and Economic goals to meet our current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
Creating a definition of sustainability specific to Macalester is the vital first step in designing the college's long-term sustainability plan. As a part of the President's Climate Commitment, the college is required to finalize its sustainability plan by September 15 of this year.
The goal for the Environmental Studies seminar class is to have the necessary benchmarks and recommendations for climate neutrality by the end of the semester. Their findings will be presented at the Environmental Studies department's last weekly Enviro Thrusday meeting of the semester.
The first Enviro Thursday of the semester showed just how far the process has to go. Sustainability Manager Suzanne Savanick Hansen led a brainstorming session, during which the goal was simply to define what sustainability measures Macalester already has in place. It seems that tackling sustainability is one of the most complicated challenges currently facing the college, and it's a challenge that certainly will not diminish in the near future.
"All students graduating now will have to deal with climate change and sustainability when they get out, it's such a big topic now," Hansen said.
The Sustainability Office is hoping that the results of its strategic planning session and the senior seminar class will develop the necessary backbone that Macalester's sustainability efforts needs to carry it into the future.
It has tried to make the process as participatory as possible, already talking to around 360 staff, faculty and students, including around 30 at the Enviro Thursday meeting on Jan. 29. As evidenced at Enviro Thursday, the process is still open to further input.
"If there are groups or anybody who wants to get their input into this plan, let us know, it's a good time," Hansen said. "The pieces we haven't got much feedback on are the pieces that link to academics, both formal and non-formal education."
Despite a reputation as being a hotbed for environmentalism, this kind of process is brand new for the college. Hansen was hired only last year, and this year has been given a helping hand in the form of Justin Lee '08, who has been occupying a three-quarter time position in the office.
The office has made strides such as developing a sustainability tour of Macalester, and both Hansen and Lee played a vital role in helping with last year's senior seminar project, a comprehensive carbon audit for the college dating back to 1990. The carbon audit was also a requirement for the President's Climate Commitment.
Despite the relatively new territory the sustainability office is navigating, the efforts aren't completely new in themselves.
"There are schools that have done this apart from the President's Climate Commitment, so there are a few models to work with," Hansen said. "We are definitely a leader in our regional level, and people do think of us at a national level but we're not one of the top schools people look at."