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Campus and Community: The New Sustainable Inclusivity

Co-authored by Paul Jenny, Vice Provost for Planning and Budgeting, University of Washington

Universities are not isolated ivory towers; they are attached to surrounding communities. So, one of the most important questions is how do on-campus sustainability efforts ripple out, well beyond the quadrangle, to the non-collegiate neighborhood at large?

The answer, in a word, starts with humility. From the very beginning, the university must openly acknowledge that it doesn’t have all the answers on its own. This is critical for success when dealing with complex issues centering on sustainability and climate change. And so is the notion that there is no right path or direction.

Indeed, everything in the “green” world is iterative, and ongoing conversations between the university and community are critical. Both parties must come to the table and share best practices, pragmatic solutions, and a host of substantive alternatives. At the end of the day, we believe that a sense of discovery must pervade this sustainability dialogue.

Carbon reduction is a good example. We’re doing a good job on our campus, but we realized that one entity can’t solve this problem alone, and so we opened up avenues for the community to get involved in much of what we do.

It’s a very porous and productive relationship – a real partnership. On the one hand, we have the energy, enthusiasm and passion of our students, combined with a serious academic underpinning; and, on the other hand, we have the “real-world” experience and experiences of the community’s developers, activists and public officials.

Transportation is another strong case study. The University of Washington’s U Pass program, which gives faculty, staff and students access to a complete package of low-cost transportation options – from buses and commuter train service to discounted vanpooling – is helping to reduce carbon emissions from automobiles. But the program wouldn’t be nearly as effective without Seattle’s robust transit systems.

There’s no one leader when it comes to collaborative sustainability partnerships like this.
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