Environmental Literacy and Sustainability InitiativeEnvironmental Literacy & Sustainability Initiative

Learning Goals & Core Strategy

Environmental Literacy: A Pedagogical Approach to Greening IU

Rationale:Global environmental crises and the growing interdependency of environmental, social, and economic issues motivate environmental literacy as a basic competency for 21st century education. By environmental literacy we mean an understanding of the ecological, social, and economic dimensions of human-environment interactions, including how to live day to day in a sustainable fashion.  We submit that higher education has the responsibility and resources to lead the way in meeting this new educational challenge and see environmental literacy as a fundamental civic necessity and a core learning goal for all students.

Learning Goals:Environmentally literate graduates will possess the information, skills, and values to help  our complex, global society move toward sustainability -- meeting present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. The basis of sustainable societies are socially just economies that run on renewable, non-toxic sources of energy and resources with ecologically appropriate levels of population and consumption.  Broadly, environmentally literate graduates will have gained information, skills, and values in the following areas:         

  • The fundamental life-support processes that ecosystems provide ("ecosystem services")
  • The status of the global environment (humanity's "ecological footprint")
  • The theory and practice of sustainability
    • A sense of place: personal, cultural, historical
    • An understanding of the social and environmental outcomes of individual behavior (e.g., consumption)
    • The interrelationship of economy, environment and social equity
    • The role of policy and market forces (e.g. ecological economics)
    • Ecological design principles and their application to the built environment and to agriculture

Strategy:ELSI recognizes that the university learning environment itself is a powerful form of pedagogy, ideally as a deliberate positive model of sustainability (Orr, 1994). Our core strategy is therefore to create an experiential learning initiative to green the IUB campus. This strategy will integrate activities across departments and schools, offering learning experiences beyond any one academic specialty. 

  • "Greening" refers to changes in academic programs, physical operations, and purchasing that move a campus towards sustainability, and stems from the recognition that the learning environment itself is a powerful form of pedagogy. As students move about campus buildings and grounds every day, they receive important messages about human-environment interactions. Typically, these messages reinforce the paradigm that the Earth's resources and capacity to assimilate wastes are infinite and that each individual's energy and resource use is disconnected from the welfare of other humans, other organisms, and the local to global ecosystems in which they are embedded.  Alternatively, the campus environment, including buildings, grounds, energy and resource use, waste production, and academic focus, can foster an understanding that humans are embedded in and dependent upon the web of life, that our personal and collective lifestyle choices have both local and far-reaching impacts on other humans, other organisms, and ecosystems, and that sustainable societies must live within the regenerative and assimilative capacity of Earth's biosphere.  The campus greening movement gained strength in the 1990s and now involves hundreds of campuses nationwide (examples include Penn State, Oberlin college, and University of Georgia). In addition to educational benefits, the greater resource use efficiency of "green" campuses can lead to considerable economic savings and help to stimulate the local economy.  Furthermore, green campuses haves also become an important recruiting draw.
  • Because it connects meaningful community service with academic learning, personal growth, and development of civic responsibility, service-learning is a natural educational framework for greening activities. While 'community' has traditionally referred to the local municipality, it can also apply to the campus community.  IU already has a strong service-learning presence on campus through the office for Community Outreach and Partnerships in Service-Learning (COPSL, http://www.indiana.edu/~copsl/). COPSL has been an active participant in the environmental literacy working group and is enthusiastic about expanding service-learning opportunities to green IUB.
  • Sustainability is inherently interdisciplinary, and we plan to promote campus greening service-learning projects throughout and between a wide range of disciplines and courses at IUB.  We will adopt Penn State's categorization of the campus environment into 10 sectors: energy, water, material resources and waste disposal, food, land, transportation, built environment, community, research, and decision making. Green service-learning projects with strong environmental, economic, and/or social emphases will be promoted within each of these 10 sectors.

Key Components:    

  • Environmental Literacy and Sustainability Coordinator - A position dedicated to developing, coordinating, promoting, and acquiring funds for this initiative will be key. We recommend that this be a top-level administrative position.
  • Website Interface - An engaging website will provide a high profile presence for this initiative and serve as an important means to communicate information and opportunities, to present the results of greening projects, and perhaps ultimately to provide "virtual tours" of "Green IUB." We would like this website to have a link from IUB's homepage.  We are hoping to partner this website with a web-based course on the "Green Campus of IUB." The course would examine our local environment using ecological concepts and findings from a variety of disciplines and perspectives. The course design, inspired by the successful "Traditions and Cultures of IU" web course co-developed by Jim Capshew and Tom Gieryn (with logistical and technical support from Instructional Support Services), is in the planning stages.
  • COPSL Grant Program - Small grants for development of green service-learning projects will be an important incentive for faculty. COPSL has successfully used grants to promote service-learning throughout the campus curriculum.
  • "Green Diploma" Certification - Students who complete a given amount of green service-learning could be eligible for a green diploma certification (perhaps also accompanied with a green banner to wear over the graduation gown, similar to those given out for honor students). Such a program would help promote awareness of our program.  Various kinds of green certification for graduates already exist at other universities, and are an appealing form of recognition for many students.
  • Signage - Attractive and eloquent indoor and outdoor signage will be an important means of making the pedagogical nature of greening projects explicit. We envision that each greening project will culminate with such signage. A few examples already exist on campus, such as the signs posted at a green landscaping project behind Jordan Hall (see Projects).
  • Union Board "Bioneers" Speaker Series - "Bioneers" is an educational nonprofit that promotes solution-oriented ecological and social strategies for sustainability. David Haberman, Chair of Religious Studies, has spearheaded an effort to bring, via teleconferencing, the annual Bioneers Conference Plenary Speakers to the IUB campus. The Union Board has agreed to sponsor the 2004 event and we hope to make this an integral part of the IUB greening strategy. City of Bloomington community groups sponsored the Bioneers telecast at IUB in 2003, and the faculty and students that attended were inspired and impressed.
  • Community Outreach - collaboration with like-minded City of Bloomington groups can allow sharing of resources and knowledge, enhance a sense of place and civic ethic in students, and support IUB's role as a productive member of the larger community. One particularly exciting prospect is partnerships with the City of Bloomington  Sustainability Commission that Mayor Kruzan has recently initiated.
  • Assessment - Evaluating progress through time is essential.  Initially, we envision developing a survey to gauge the  baseline level of environmental literacy at IUB (e.g. via random samples of graduating seniors), with annual follow ups to assess progress. Longitudinal audits of IUB's course offerings, operations, and purchasing practices would be a complementary form of assessment, some of which would naturally take place as a part of service-learning projects.