Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Sustainability Institute

Our degree program in Sustainability Design and Technology will soon be three years' old, and because our first intake included transfer students, will likely graduate the first students this spring.

At the time we began the program, a fairly substantial debate was held over the name. We were groping. And for good reason. The emerging nexus of climate concern with energy policy and implementation of renewables and efficiency measures was beginning to occur, had been occuring for several years already, but no-one really knew what it was called.

A debate ensued. It lasted a while. A short while, as academic debates go, but a long while relative to the world of energy ideas, which changes much faster.

We settled on "Sustainability Design and Technology" and went on to concentrate on implementation. I for one breathed a sigh of relief and got back to real things. Teaching is a very grounding process. Instant feedback is available in the eyes and minds of the students. Unless you're the kind of flimmer Barbara Ehrenreich complains about in her new book, all positive thinking and no bottom as we say in Yorkshire, you have to have something solid to teach. We also knew we were providing useful information based on the response of dozens of professional people in the enegry business with whom we remain in almost daily contact.

A fairly evolved praxis in green building, building energy retrofit, solar and wind mapping and assessment, the economics of energy and efficiency, related cost analysis, and climate accounting was what emerged as the subject matter of our "Sustainability Design and Technology" degree, once we connected all the dots. I wouldn't say our program is complete. We're still plugging away at it. In fact, it never should be complete. If it doesn't change fairly frequently, as the field changes, then we are doing students a severe disservice.

Imagine my surprise, however, when, in 2008, I happened to share a conference podium with another program director of an identically titled program, a year younger than ours!

Imitation is the sincerest from of flattery. But what's in a name?

Quite a bit, actually, if the basic starting point for 98.5% of information searches is a search engine such as Google. (I just made up that number, but you get the point.)

Now, the Guardian reports, there's to be a very high-powered Sustainability Institute in east London, working with many of the same ideas and technologies, albeit at a much more massive scale.

Clearly sustainability technology has legs.

Here's another relevant piece:

As Colleges Add Green Majors and Minors, Classes Fill Up

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Classes are filling up as fast as colleges can add new major and
minors in green programs, as students demand the courses and employers
wanted trained students, reports USA Today.

More than 100 majors, minors or certificates were added this year in
energy and sustainability-focused programs at colleges nationwide,
according to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in
Higher Education (AASHE), reports USA Today. This is up from three
programs added in 2005. Click here for AASHE’s list of academic
programs in sustainability.

As an example, the Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State
University started an undergraduate program in sustainability studies
with a focus on solar about 18 months ago, which now has about 600
students who have declared sustainability a major, reports USA Today.

Rob Melnick, executive dean of the institute, told USA Today that the
growth rate is unprecedented even though the program has the toughest
admission standards of any school at the university.

Other schools including Illinois State University, Massachusetts
Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of
California-Berkeley are also seeing big demand for green-geared
programs, reports USA Today.

The Illinois State University in Normal, Ill., offers 65 majors in
renewable energy, a program started in 2008 with help from a $1
million Department of Energy grant. Richard Boser, chair of the
Department of Technology, told USA Today that employers, including
those in wind energy, hope to hire future graduates.

Other schools, including the Oregon Institute of Technology,
Wisconsin’s Mid-State Technical College, John Brown University and
University of Dayton, also offer renewable energy programs. The
University of Toledo (UT) is another school that hopes to combine some
of its faculty and researchers into a new school dedicated to
alternative energies.

MIT launched a minor in energy studies in September, pressed by a
student survey that revealed that 43 percent of freshmen and
sophomores were very or extremely interested in it, while the
University of California-Berkeley’s has seen its introductory energy
class grow from about a class size of 40 students to 270 students,
over the past ten years.

The same trend is occurring for MBA programs in response to growing
interest from students.

The Obama administration estimates that energy and
environmental-related jobs will grow 52 percent from 2000 to 2016
compared to 14 percent for other occupations, reports USA Today.

A recent report prepared by the Political Economy Research Institute
at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst says the U.S. can create 2
million jobs over two years by investing in a rapid green economic
recovery program.

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