UC Faculty Lead the Shift in Sustainability Education

It is important for universities to prepare students—future leaders in sustainability—on how to tackle environmental issues. Unfortunately, the curriculum at many universities sometimes lags behind. However, UC faculty are leading the charge in furthering sustainability education at each of their universities through the UC Carbon Neutrality Initiative. They are working to incorporate sustainability into a variety of fields, including those not typically associated with environmental studies.
In a recent workshop hosted at UC Irvine, faculty gathered at the Steele/Burnand Anza-Borrego Desert Studies Center for a Teaching Climate and Sustainability Workshop. Twenty faculty members from ten different UCI departments met to discuss how they could incorporate climate and sustainability into their courses. A similar workshop took place on each UC campus this spring. The workshops were organized by the Faculty Engagement and Education Working Group of the UC Global Climate Leadership Council.
Motivations for implementing sustainability varied widely. For some faculty, sustainability helps push the limits of their field. In turn, this encourages students to do the same and implement sustainability into their daily lives. In the applied sciences, many faculty see teaching sustainability as a way to encourage practical solutions for environmental problems. In life sciences, professors are finding ways to promote sustainability as a way to apply the theoretical lessons taught in the classroom. Preserving the natural environment is a top motivation for incorporating sustainability into a syllabus. Regardless of the field, the faculty want to create a sustainability culture across campus.
Many participants also expressed that sustainability is an excellent way to “shake up the field.” They are pushing the traditional boundaries we think of as environmental fields. For example, in the arts, faculty members are working to create a culture of sustainability both in the classroom and within the university community. To do this, some instructors created workshops in which students collaborate on green designs. Other faculty members have used sustainability as a way to engage English as a Second Language (ESL) students on environmental issues in the United States in order to broaden both their linguistic and cultural horizons.
On top of teaching sustainability, many workshop participants are pursuing collaborations with groups like university housing to promote sustainable practices throughout the university.
Although their motivations vary, many of the participants in the workshop want to create a vibrant sustainability culture within the UC system. In the short term, this can take the form of student-led discussions. These changes can be applied to the arts, social sciences, and natural sciences. In the long term, faculty are hoping that their work will lead to a “revolution” in how we think about our environmental impact and ways that we can reduce it.

Written by: John McCollum, Guest Contributor