The panelists of this session were all in agreement about the critical role that students, professors and others involved in higher education can play in the environmental movement. Panelists included Jerelyn Wilson of Building Green LLC, David Orr of Oberlin College, Philip Acherman-Leist of Green Mountain College, Anim Steel of The Food Project and the Real Food Challenge, and Stephen Muzzy of Second Nature.

Higher ed. institutions such as Oberlin College, Green Mountain College, and hundreds of colleges involved with programs run by Second Nature have the spotlight on them as environmental initiatives. As large-scale consumers, academic institutions can use their purchasing power to make critical statements such as highlighting the importance of local and nutritious food, reducing energy consumption, decreasing waste, etc. Orr highlighted the progressive Oberlin Project, which aims to eliminate greenhouse emissions, implicate local agriculture and forestry while reviving the local economy and promoting community development. Higher ed. institutions, like Oberlin, can use their buying power to invest in the communities around the institutions, such as in local farms. The Oberlin Project has many accomplishments to date and, as Orr demonstrated with his excitement for the program, there are many goals to pursue!

One of the most valuable outcomes of academic institutions are educated people. Students, professors, and other members of academic institutions are key to spreading the theoretical knowledge, practical skills, and eagerness regarding environmental issues. As Ackerman-Leist said,

“It’s a really neat time to be in higher eds. Colleges are the places where movements and sustainability have taken foot.”
Not only are these environmental ambassadors products of the higher ed. institutions, they are promoting the changes that the institutions are adopting. Steel spoke passionately about the role of students he works with: they are the ones to put the pressure on people making the decisions, such as those in food service, to make change. For Steel, the students’ interest, motivation, creativity, and willingess to get dirty in the field are invaluable.

Bringing the conversation back to the overlying theme of the summit, Steel expressed the importance of higher ed. systems and educational programs in general in making “the pea-pod as interesting as the iPod.”

Inspired by that notion, Orr thought out loud about the fast iPods compared to slow-growing pea-pods. Orr said,

“The most important things that we know, you could put under the term ‘slow knowledge.’ You can’t eat good food fast, you can’t do crafts fast.”

Orr believes that we need to embrace a different clock speed and that is a change that can be practiced in higher ed. programs and by the educated, collaborative, resourceful, and proactive people involved with such programs.