by Polina Bakhteiarov | These days, almost anywhere you go, the green economy is a hot topic. But at many American universities, few courses focus on the “triple bottom line” of sustainability to comprehensively examine the interrelationships between the environment, economy, and community equity. Furthermore, there is a lack of practical training on sustainability issues, and sustainability is often segregated into an isolated academic pursuit in place of full integration into students’ lives.
The green economy is not just about making businesses green; it also provides a framework for reducing disparities within and across our communities. And while many college classes focus on two of the three aspects of the triple bottom line – environment and economy – the third aspect, equity, is often overlooked: there is limited opportunity in the mainstream curriculum to explore historic inequality in housing, education, healthcare, and the job market. Without tackling issues of equity, we miss a critical opportunity to educate students on the potential of sustainable approaches not only to “green” our society and create jobs, but also to improve communities and foster equality. As a result, college graduates emerge unprepared to fully embrace all that sustainability has to offer, including the potential to improve quality of life while growing labor force participation and developing local, regional, and national economies.
So how do we turn the tide and begin to prepare young people to embrace the full range of potential benefits in the green economy? First, we address college curricula and ensure that broad sustainability concepts, including economy, environment, and equity, are incorporated into core classes and institutionalized across disciplines such as management, engineering, and public policy. Second, we instill green habits in students’ daily routines using a diverse and innovative toolkit of sustainability practices, including:
- Competitions among or within university campuses to reduce energy and water use
- Accessible and enjoyable walking and biking routes (with sufficient bike parking) throughout the campus to discourage automobile use
- Campus-wide recycling and composting training, infrastructure, and enforcement
- On-campus food production (using campus compost as fertilizer) and farmers markets
Third, we invest in practical learning. Students with an interest in sustainability should have opportunities to participate in hands-on instruction in areas such as weatherization, recycling and waste management, and other experiential learning. Thus, through practical experience, a focus on education and behavior change, and inter-disciplinary curriculum development, the next generation will be well prepared to live, work, and succeed in the new green economy.
Polina Bakhteiarov is a Capital City Fellow in DDOE’s Office of Policy and Sustainability. She is a recent graduate of the Master in City Planning program at MIT, where she concentrated in community and economic development.