September 8, 2017

Greening Lafayette: A Model for Building Sustainable Community

 

The Greening Lafayette project is a year-old initiative at the College that seeks to develop an ethos of sustainability across campus. While the initiative is a campus activity, Kira Lawrence (Professor of Geology), Ben Cohen (Associate Professor of Engineering Studies), and Prof. Andrea Armstrong (Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies) are finishing a yearlong research project with two Lafayette recent graduates, Miranda Wilcha ’16 and Alexa Gatti ’16 that documents the process by which a senior class of students designed and implemented the initiative as one of the modules for The Commons in the College’s Connected Communities Program. The research is aimed at characterizing a model of interdisciplinary environmental education for other campuses.

In 2015 a coalition of students, professors, and administrators at Lafayette College designed and began to implement an environmental module that could integrate in-class curricular education with out-of-class environmental engagement. The college’s motivation was for the module, “Greening Lafayette,” to provide a platform from which to build an ethos of campus sustainability. The module was constructed on the premise that attending to the culture of sustainability is as crucial as promoting its technical features, a premise brought to campus from the literature on sustainability in higher education.

It isn’t just what we do, that is—turning the lights off, using a more sustainable dining provider, building paths for more walking and less driving, certifying new construction through LEED—but how we think, who we are, and what we want. This research corroborated evidence from the field that coalition building is a necessary prerequisite for the successful development of environmental campus programing.

Prof. Ben Cohen says, “We also found that the crucial variable for building effective new environmental programming is organizational sustainability. Maintenance, durability, and personnel who are invested with an understanding of the ways resilience and sustainability play out in daily decisions by small communities are the most important factors for colleges, institutions, and communities who seek similar goals of building an ethos of sustainability.”