While humans must consume in order to survive, the environment must survive in order for us to consume, in light of this, the question of sustainability arises: how do we meet current needs without jeopardizing the future? While attention aimed at this predicament is increasing, its levels remain low within the Christian community. Houghton has stepped outside this trend, partnering with other leading Christian colleges in order to pursue future environmental stability. The Symposium for Sustainability Leaders provides a networking opportunity for representatives from these colleges and organizations to exchange ideas for furthering a long-term approach to the natural world.
On October 19-21, 2011, 13 leaders from various Christian colleges and environmental organizations gathered in Buffalo, N.Y. for the inaugural symposium held by the Center for Environmental Leadership. Among these leaders was Brian Webb, Houghton’s sustainability coordinator and a representative for Blessed Earth. Following the success of the first meeting, members of the group convened again a year later, accompanied by new representatives, for a second symposium held October 12-13, 2012, in Pasadena, Calif.
Like any new project, the young sustainability programs will be more successful and innovative if a network collaborates on new ideas. The 2011 symposium provided a unique opportunity for sustainability professionals on Christian college campuses to exchange plans and create a support system. “The first thing we wanted to do,” stated Dr. Chris Elisara, founder of CEL, “was convene sustainability coordinators and leaders at Christian colleges and institutions to look at what their needs and concerns were, so the center could help facilitate and meet those needs.”
To achieve this mutual goal, the leaders who attended the symposium formed the Association of Christian Sustainability Leaders. ACSL will not only provide the necessary networking for the success of the emerging sustainability profession, but also assist institutions in the establishment of new sustainability coordinator positions.
The 2012 symposium picked up where the first one left off, developing a step-by-step methodology for how ACSL could move forward. One point in this process is the development of a pracademic journal, providing communication for professionals outside the symposium and reaching a wider audience. The journal will provide easy access for sustainability coordinators to topics of interest and suggestions for action. By collaborating through writing, the networking that occurs at the symposium can continue throughout the year.
"In addition to providing new ideas and resources,” Webb reflected on the impact of ACSL’s formation, “the association creates a close-knit, professional network of peers who can relate to the unique challenges and opportunities of sustainability work in Christian higher education. This network enables me to explore new possibilities and to implement best practices in my sustainability work at Houghton."
Equipped with insight gleaned from collaboration offered by the symposiums, Webb takes a broad approach to reducing energy use at Houghton. Some of his efforts include reducing fossil fuel use, maintaining water quality through monitoring field treatment, involving students and faculty in sustainability education, and participating in the President’s Climate Commitment, a challenge to be carbon neutral by 2050.
As Houghton takes steps toward wisely utilizing resources in light of a long-term view of the natural world, the networking provided by these sustainability symposiums is valuable. By gathering leaders who share a vision for the future of sustainability within centers of Christian higher education, this movement gains momentum. There remains much to be learned about how to run sustainability programs, and these first two symposiums have begun a process of collaboration that ensures this progress.
To learn more about the Center for Environmental Leadership and their partners, please visit www.center4eleadership.org