Sharing Vision and Perspective with Campus Leaders from Across the Nation

December 7, 2010

By Christopher Blake, President, Mount Mercy University

(This article appears in the December, 2010 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

Positions of leadership, whether within a multi-billion dollar company or a tiny non-profit, require a level of perspective that encompasses a 360-degree angle. Administrators must have vision for multiple demographics, constituents and audiences – but most importantly, view their organization in the broader context of humanity. This vision must speak to the masses, yet resonate with small departments.

While attending the ACUPCC Summit in Denver, I was witness to remarkable vision and perspective that showcased the level of commitment and commonality that too often goes without recognition in higher education. While networking with colleagues from institutions throughout the country – all of which have  differing student demographics, academic programs, enrollment, and alumni engagement levels – it can be all-too-easy to feel as if we are “one man upon an island” when it comes to issues facing our respective colleges and universities.

However, after meeting with my counterparts, it is obvious that we share an overarching commonality –sustainability. I was struck by the strength of the common will between the institutions. Sustainability is an issue affecting all of us, regardless of the institution, resources, leadership, or size. And with this perspective of commonality comes new vision, renewed motivation and a greater appreciation for the task ahead.

There is a common goal, and perhaps too, a common challenge, that colleges and universities share in our very real desire to change how we live, think and react to the global environment around us. These goals and these challenges can look different for each institution – but the ACUPCC Summit impressed upon me the fact that much progress has been made in creating a level of flexibility for our institutions. We are encouraged to develop and implement a plan that will work within our budgets, our facilities and our campus culture.

At Mount Mercy University, our campus culture thrives on following the tenets of the Sisters of Mercy. It is with their spirit that we embark on our own journey of sustainability, charting a course that aligns closely with that of our founders. More than 30 years ago — long before sustainability, green technology and renewable resources were buzzwords — the Sisters of Mercy heralded an environmental movement on campus that is growing and thriving. In 1978 the Sisters planted more than 300 trees and shrubs on campus, followed by 290 more the next year. Four of those trees were recently named “County Champions,” designating them as the largest of their species in Linn County. In the decades since the Sisters’ trees took root, Mount Mercy’s environmental efforts continue to develop and broaden.

Today, environmentalism has assumed a greater role in the public sphere and weighs heavily on the public conscience. Through advocacy, education and hands-on efforts, Mount Mercy is reducing its carbon footprint, thanks in part to the challenge of and guidance from the ACUPCC and our fellow signatory institutions.

Like all institutions, Mount Mercy approaches its sustainability efforts in a way that will engage the campus community. This does not mean, of course, that the same message will speak to every individual. With thought and foresight, the common thread can be woven into multiple messages, speaking the same vision to students, faculty, staff, trustees, alumni and community members.

Stewardship. Fiscal responsibility. Sustainability. Global issues. Carbon neutrality. All of these aspects of sustainability resonate with audiences on different levels. The task, and it is a great one, is to speak with one voice, and multiple chords. How do we spark that same level of enthusiasm that I felt after leaving the ACUPCC Summit into all aspects of campus life?  How do we move forward to a point where sustainability ceases to be a word that means simply “green” and “environment,” but becomes instead a way of life – a way of viewing all aspects of daily routine in a new light – from finances and purchases to food choice and lifestyle habits.

At Mount Mercy we have accomplished a great deal in the last five years. A sampling of our achievements include instituting an active recycling program on campus that engages and educates students, faculty and staff; moving to trayless dining in the cafeteria, which has reduced food waste by 67 percent; and the completion of a comprehensive energy audit that has resulted in a 25 percent reduction of electrical usage and a 20 percent reduction of natural gas usage.  These are significant achievements that underscore our commitment to sustainability – but there is much more to address. In the next few years, we plan to investigate opportunities to harness wind energy on our hilltop campus, eliminate the use of bottled water by 2013 and set a date for climate neutrality in keeping with the ACUPCC commitment.

The tasks are formidable. But the benefits far outweigh the challenges. I am encouraged by the vision and perspective I have found in the leadership across the nation, and I am convinced that by sharing our successes and the occasional road blocks, the reality of a sustainable campus becomes even closer.

Add new comment