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Future of Higher Education

The Climate Crisis and Higher Education’s Challenge for a Sustainable Future

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climate crisis-higher education-sustainable-aashe-scup-education

Higher education institutions have been significant contributors in addressing complex social, economic, and scientific challenges, and assisting society in its ever-changing evolution. Now, it has the opportunity to once again lead another critical rapid transformation: addressing the world’s sustainability and climate change crisis.

Michael D. Moss

President, Society for College and University Planning (SCUP)

Meghan Fay Zahniser

Executive Director, Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE)

The term “sustainability” has its most known roots in the 1987 Brundtland Report, which officially defined sustainable development for the first time: “Development which meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

The intention of this definition aligns perfectly with the mission of higher education. Colleges and universities are hubs of creativity and innovation, where societal solutions are discussed, challenged, researched, and tested with students who are increasingly seeking institutions that are leading on sustainability in the classroom and beyond. 

Higher education influences every sector of our society — from policy and research to production and manufacturing. Developing sustainability and climate change literacy will help empower students and the public to participate effectively in civic dialogue, which is increasingly focused on the management of sustainability challenges. 

So how do we launch this rapid transformation? Higher education can once again lead this critical moment with administrators and faculty working together within an integrated planning approach. Aligned with the academic mission of our institutions, and embedded into our strategic planning, all stakeholders of the academy and the community will need to come together, just as we did when the pandemic challenged us to keep education viable. We do it at all levels of leadership, together with our students and our communities, and we do it with an aligned sense of purpose to address climate change effectively and urgently.

AASHE and SCUP strongly advocate that higher education administrators, at all levels, have the responsibility to integrate sustainability and climate change needs into every aspect of higher education: strategic plans, department plans, curriculum, research, operations, and community partnerships. The power of our synergy can lead to unexpected ways to work together to address a warming climate, and can prepare students to champion strategies that mitigate climate change in whatever field they choose to pursue. Our organizations and members stand ready to assist higher education in this critical transformation.

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