University of Delaware
Debra Rowe delivers the keynote address at the sustainability institute.

Sharing sustainability

Institute provides a network of ideas for improving campus sustainability


1:18 p.m., Nov. 17, 2011--On Friday, Nov. 4, the University of Delaware’s Sustainability Task Force hosted the Mid-Atlantic Regional Institute on Sustainability in Higher Education to encourage collaboration between campuses committed to sustainability. The one-day institute was held from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Perkins Student Center and included about 60 representatives from schools across the region.

The task force capped attendance at the conference so participants could openly share ideas about creating sustainable campuses, in hopes that interaction would serve as a catalyst for future collaboration.

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In addition to representatives from UD’s campus, others attendees included students, faculty and staff from Towson University, American University, University of Maryland, West Chester University, Shepherd University, University of Baltimore, Wesley College and the University of Pennsylvania. 

The institute consisted of small breakout sessions and group discussions led by featured keynote speaker Debra Rowe, president of the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development

“She will commit you to sustainability for life,” Kathleen Kerr, UD Sustainability Task Force chair, said of Rowe.

“Blame and guilt are a waste of time,” Rowe said. “Celebrate what you are doing and be active about your next steps.” 

Rowe stressed that relationships are the key to reaching a more sustainable future and suggested that institutions of higher education should teach courses on how to build healthy relationships. 

“We have a shared responsibility for improving quality of life,” Rowe said.

Rowe told participants to ignore the feeling of being overwhelmed in order to move forward. She also talked about implementing sustainability strategies into elementary schools to further push change.

“Dr. Rowe did an amazing job of motivating and educating the participants,” said Dan Kasper, conference co-chair.

After Rowe’s opening speech, participants had the opportunity to attend smaller breakout sessions. The morning sessions included talks categorized under sustainable land-use on campus, sustainability beyond the campus, sustainability metrics and overcoming the fallacy of sustainability education.

Then participants attended a vegan lunch, where Rowe asked participants to write down skills they have to offer and tasks they need help completing. She read the notes to the entire group and solicited volunteers to take on the initiatives. 

“Importantly, she facilitated the formation of an inchoate regional network during the lunch session in an effective and unusual way,” Kasper said. “What is particularly interesting about this method is that none of the participants knew that this foundation would be laid until it was happening.”

After lunch participants attended the final breakout session, with talks about interdisciplinary approaches to sustainability curricula, sustainability from the bottom up and students’ sustainability resources.

“There were lots of great ideas shared and groundwork laid for future networking opportunities,” said Kerr, who is also UD’s director of residence life.

The event ended with a poster session, which gave participants the opportunity to network and learn about UD’s commitment to sustainability.

“I believe this event has and will continue to serve the University of Delaware and other regional schools well in their continued efforts to integrate sustainability into all aspects of higher education,” Kasper said.

The event was cosponsored by the Delaware Environmental Institute (DENIN), the Delaware Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the UD Office of Residence Life

“I hope the success of the institute breeds greater collaboration between the different schools in the future,” said Robin Dutta, Kasper’s conference co-chair and fellow graduate student in the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy. 

According to Kerr, the task force has agreed to host the second annual Mid-Atlantic Regional Sustainability Institute next year. 

“We can choose to create the future,” Rowe said. “We have the power.” 

Article by Brittany Barkes

Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson and Lane McLaughlin

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