Starting a Sustainability Forum

Here at the Community College Sustainability Collaboration (CCSC) our motto is a bias toward action. This means we’re less concerned with talking about the fact that sustainability is a good idea and much more interested in providing examples.

Toward this end for today’s post I want to talk about something we have done at Sierra College  that has been very successful.  We have struggled at Sierra College implementing sustainable initiatives for a very simple reason.  There is no one who works at the college who has the word sustainability in their job description.  Up until recently we actual had administrators who were philosophically opposed to implementing any kind of sustainability initiatives at the college. 

This of course didn’t prevent groups of students, faculty and staff from conducting their own low-level initiatives, there is a student club that focus on sustainability, a seventh generation group and a relatively new program entitled Environmental Studies & Sustainability from forming.  The problem was that we didn’t have a central point of coordination that was easily accessible to the campus and broader local community.

As such I set out to find a way to try to do exactly that, of course like most of you, no one was throwing money at our sustainability efforts.  So stealing an idea, with the founders permission of course, I started a monthly sustainability forum.  The format of the forum is pretty simple, an hour and a half meeting once a month.  We welcome folks, remind them of the Brundtland Commission definition of sustainability and that sustainability consists of environmental, economic and social components.  Then we give any groups in attendance an opportunity to announce events, ask for volunteers, or share any news.   We then have a speaker come and speak for 20- 30 minutes and follow their talk with a group discussion.  We very much instill in our speakers that we want discussion, not question and answer as there are often local experts in the audience.

We do not pay speakers and we use a classroom at the college for the forums.  We have had several speakers from the college community but typically we use people from the local community who are involved in local sustainability efforts.  We have had presentations addressing: the history of sustainability at our college; our renewable energy efforts; the basics of sustainability; local climate action planning; sustainable business; solar energy; and the local food movement to name a few.

At the first forum we had a whopping four people in attendance besides the speaker and myself.  Over the last two years attendance has grown to a steady 20+ at each forum.  Occasionally we’ll get a really large crowd but that has a tendency to be directly correlated to the number of teachers offering extra-credit.  At each forum we pass around a pad for new attendees to continue building our e-mail distribution list and use that list to advertise upcoming forums.  We make a point of limiting the number of e-mails that we send out.  We also use our campus event calendar and partner organizations as well as the speakers themselves to advertise the events.

Finally we are currently working on adding some minor sponsorship for the event, we will be approaching our campus food service to sponsor some snacks at each event as well as asking our bookstores  to sponsor some small gifts of appreciation to the speakers.  At this point, we have one instructor who brings a bag of Chips Ahoys and I buy the speaker gifts, usually college pens, mugs and the like.

The forum has paid some benefits for us, it has served as a focal point to coordinate folks as well as raising awareness of our campus sustainability efforts.  Additionally it has been a vehicle for creating partnerships between local organizations, one made a forum night their monthly meeting, and even campus partnerships we did our first talk this year as part of our campus’ social justice days.

If you are interested in creating a forum on your campus and have any questions, please feel free to contact us here at ~ Michael Kane