Higher Education & Slow Living

June 8, 2012

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to participate on a panel at the 2nd Annual Slow Living Summit in Brattleboro, VT.

‘Slow Living’ as described by the organizers; “…is shorthand for taking a more reflective approach to living and work; an approach that is mindful of  impacts on the environment, on Earth, and on communities; and that incorporates resilience —  our ability to “bounce back” from the consequences of climate change, resource depletion and other changes and stresses...“Slow” encodes the transformative change from faster and cheaper to slower and better—where quality, community and the future matter.”

The Summit program was broken into multiple tracks, covering a range of topics including community supported agriculture, media & journalism, sustainable investing & finance, community building, renewable energy, and education to name a few. For a detailed description of the program click here.

Our session was titled, EDUCATION: Sustainability in Higher Education: Leadership by Example? It was moderated by Jerelyn Wilson, Outreach Director at Building Green LLC, and included the following panelist:

  • David Orr, Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies & Politics, Oberlin College
  • Philip Ackerman-Leist, Director, Farm & Food Project, Green Mountain College
  • Anim Steel, Director of National Programs, The Food Project

Each panelist gave a 10-minute presentation describing our organization, role, and the personal connection to the work that we do. I led off with an overview of Second Nature, the ACUPCC, and a high level assessment of the US college and university sustainability movement. For my personal connection, I gave an abbreviated version on what I shared last year in our Second Nature team series about why we do what we do.

David Orr provided his usual terrific commentary on the higher education sustainability movement, including some historical  context on how formal education contributes to perpetuating an unsustainable society. He also shared his background in the movement including starting the Meadowcreek Project, a 1600 acre wildlife preserve in Arkansas devoted to sustainable education and recreation. He concluded his presentation with his current focus on revitalizing downtown Oberlin, OH. Called The Oberlin Project, it aims is to build a resilient local economy by eliminating carbon emissions, restoring local agriculture, the food supply and forestry, and creating a new, sustainable base for economic and community development.

Philip Ackerman-Leistdiscussed Green Mountain College’s (GMC) efforts to support Vermont’s rich farming heritage. Current research being conducted at GMC includes the Long Term Ecological Assessment of Low Energy Farming Systems (LEAFS), the Sustainable Purchasing Initiative, the Viability of Flash-Freezing Technologies for enhancing local foods in the institutional and charitable food systems, and Integrating High Tunnel Crop Production & Renewable Energy Systems. GMC is a terrific example of institution’s positive community impact when it makes sustainability a strategic imperative.

Anim Steele, discussed his role in creating the Real Food Challengeand his support of students to have a dialogue with their institutions to commit and help create a healthy, fair, and green food system. The Real Food Challenge is working “to shift $1 billion of existing university food budgets away from industrial farms and junk food and towards local/community-based, fair, ecologically sound and humane food sources—what we call “real food”—by 2020.” Anim shared that he sees a new generation of students that are comfortable with ‘peapods’ and ‘ipods’, and are integrating their world of technology with the need to move forward to the land.

After the presentations, we engaged in a lively discussion with the participants. We covered a range of topics from how we learn to what is community? I continue to be amazed at the level of work and sophistication that colleges and universities are undertaking to advance sustainability. I want to thank the Slow Living Summit for the opportunity to participate and to share the excellent work being done by colleges and universities to an audience beyond its borders!

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