In 2007, former Temple President Ann Weaver Hart assembled a Sustainability Task Force made up of students, faculty and staff. One of the outcomes of the task force was the Office of Sustainability, which began operation on July 1, 2008. As a department, it assesses Temple’s sustainability efforts and researches the best methods to reach short and long-term goals.
The department’s focus is what it calls the “three pillars of environment, economics and social justice.” The office has a thorough 53-page Climate Action Plan with extensive research on Temple’s campus emissions and energy use, as well as directions on how to approach sustainability when teaching students.
In hopes to educate the student body and staff, it offers classes and events that teach more sustainable and environmentally friendly ways of living in an urban environment. One of the larger programs, which is hosted every semester, is Sustainability Week. During the week, the office organizes various activities to engage students in learning more about sustainability.
This semester’s Sustainability Week, April 7 to April 13, featured events such as Cobbs Creek clean up, an urban farm work day and tours of the Liacouras Center and Lincoln Financial Field to highlight its sustainable features.
Though these activities are good introductions to sustainability and get students active, they aren’t the most effective or educational way to teach sustainability at the collegiate level.
The type of education the department is offering is called “shallow” sustainability. It puts a heavy emphasis on recycling, biking and other small efforts to obtain what it considers a more sustainable lifestyle. But in reality these small efforts make little-to-no real contribution to the larger issue.
Though these small changes may add up, there is little that challenges the students’ perception of what sustainability is or would get them thinking about deeper issues when it comes to the environment.
Even though the department claims to abide by the three pillars of environmental change, better known as the triple bottom line, it fails to include these throughout Sustainability Week. There is no effort in connecting social ecology and real cultural change.
Instead of focusing on being environmentally friendly, there should be more of a push for environmental justice.
When it comes to sustainability, there needs to be a bit of a shock factor. When people can really see the damage that can be done alongside the immediate and long-term effects, they can understand the impact it has on their own environment as well as others.
For students living in North Philadelphia, a rapidly changing community, the activities during Sustainability Week should bring them closer to the environment they live in. Giving tours of the infrastructure development on and off campus as well as pointing out the blight and abandoned lots can spark new, innovative ways to better Temple’s approach to expansion. This will also better the community and Temple’s overall relationship. There is no real change being made by touring the Liacouras Center, an already established building.
Since there are two Sustainability Weeks per year, there should be a focus on one or two environmental issues per semester. This way, students can learn about new issues directly affecting them followed by discussion that can lead to real change.
As for the three pillars for environmental change, economically the office should push Temple to build more buildings such as The Modules, which is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certified. Environmentally there should be discussion about blight and how the community and Temple can work together to effectively use the land. For justice, Temple’s behavior toward the expansion should be analyzed.
The environment is a much deeper conversation than just physical landscape. It has to do with the people living in the spaces and how they interact with it.
As of now, the office is just another PR department for Temple. It should take better responsibility on providing the most information to Temple and the North Philly community about sustainable practices.
Saba Aregai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.