Environmental Literacy and Sustainability InitiativeEnvironmental Literacy & Sustainability Initiative

ELSI's History

ELSI has its roots in the Environmental Literacy Working Group of the Indiana University Council for Environmental Stewardship (CFES, a group that disbanded in 2006 after its university budget was cut).  In 2001, the CFES Environmental Literacy Working Group began to focus on increasing undergraduate environmental literacy on the Indiana University's Bloomington campus (IUB).  The group's work began by updating a list of IUB environmental course offerings compiled by an earlier CFES working group.  This work revealed that there was no mechanism for promoting environmental literacy as a basic competency across the entire spectrum of IU students.  The CFES Environmental Literacy Working Group's focus thus became the development and promotion of such a vehicle for IUB. 

The Environmental Literacy Working Group wrote a grant proposal to obtain funding for convening an interdisciplinary seminar series on fostering environmental literacy campus wide. (Note: while the initial grant proposal focused on freshman, the initiative quickly expanded to embrace all students and indeed all campus personnel).  Funding and matching donations were secured from several IUB programs, including the College Arts and Humanities Institute, the Multidisciplinary Ventures and Seminars Fund, the CFES, the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL), Campus Instructional Consulting (CIC), the School for Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA), and the College of Arts and Sciences (COAS).  Faculty members from Biology and Anthropology, with support from CIC and graduate students in Biology and the School for Public and Environmental Affairs, co-convened the seminar series in the fall of 2003.  The seminar series addressed two key questions: "What constitutes the basic level of environmental literacy that all citizens should have?" and "What teaching and learning strategies are most effective in promoting this level of environmental literacy campus wide?"  The seminar series featured IU speakers from a variety of schools and departments (including Religious Studies, Physics, and Law among many others), and two off-campus speakers: David Orr (Oberlin) and Christopher Uhl (Penn State).  

Interest in the seminar series was so great that it was extended over the following semester.  A core strategy for promoting environmental literacy on the IUB campus, entitled "A Pedagogical Approach to Greening IU", was developed by the seminar participants at the close of the year.  Because the group had become so large and independent, the participants also voted to formally establish ELSI as a separate entity from CFES.  A second, more informal seminar series was held in the Fall of 2004, focused mainly on building coalitions with students and staff on the IUB campus in an effort to further plan, develop, and implement the core strategy developed the previous year.  As a result of these meetings, ELSI members developed a proposal for an institutional framework capable of bringing faculty excited about ELSI’s pedagogical goals together with CFES’s broader membership and mission. Although the CFES subsequently fell subject to university wide budget cuts and ELSI’s proposal has not been funded by the university, ELSI is continuing its work to institutionalize environmental literacy and sustainability on campus (see Projects).