Crain's Cleveland Business Features Fowler Center
Fowler Center for Sustainable Value
10900 Euclid Avenue • Cleveland, Ohio 44106-7235
November 20, 2009
A new chapter
Area colleges and universities increasingly are adopting courses into curricula to meet business sector's sustainability push
By SHANNON MORTLAND
4:30 am, November 16, 2009
Sustainability is no longer a just a movement or point of discussion on today's college campuses — in increasing frequency, it's become a formalized course of study.
Northeast Ohio's higher education institutions have an array of classes, certificates and degrees focusing on sustainability, and more are in the works.
“This is the sustainability revolution,” said Roger Saillant, executive director of the Fowler Center for Sustainable Value at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management. “No course should be taught without some mention and some infiltration of the word "sustainability' and the principles it embodies.”
CWRU, Baldwin-Wallace College, Cleveland and Kent state universities, along with Cuyahoga and Lakeland community colleges are just a few of the Northeast Ohio schools that are preparing students to help the world become a greener place — and they have plenty of company.
Colleges and universities across the country are adding sustainability programs and courses at a fast pace, said Paul Rowland, executive director of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education in Lexington, Ky. He said two to four sustainability degrees are announced each month at colleges spanning the United States.
Baldwin-Wallace became one of those schools last year when it launched its undergraduate sustainability degree. Students in that program focus on global issues such as climate change and the decline in fossil fuels, said David Krueger, professor of business, co-director of the sustainability program and director of the Institute for Sustainable Business Practices.
With so much talk about sustainability by journalists, businesses and the federal government, students are becoming increasingly aware that they need to be environmentally conscious and they should know how to apply those practices to their future jobs, he said.
Cuyahoga Community College hopes to prepare Northeast Ohioans for what it believes will be the hot jobs of this century, such as wind turbine technology and hybrid automobiles, said Craig Follins, executive vice president of Tri-C's Workforce and Economic Development Division.
The school's auto repair program has evolved to include cars fueled by alternative energy, which are expected to become more popular among consumers as more automakers roll them off assembly lines, he said.
Tri-C students also can learn how to winterize homes, install solar energy panels and assemble and install wind turbines — all of which likely will become booming industries as American companies and individuals look for ways to conserve energy, Dr. Follins said.
Lakeland Community College is preparing itself for an onslaught of students wanting to conserve energy by launching a program on solar panels in fall 2010, as well as by creating a wind technology course, said Ken White, a professor of electrical engineering technology at Lakeland.
The solar panel class will be offered as a for-credit course to teach students how the technology works, as well as a noncredit course designed for those who might be considering installing them in their own homes, he said.
Mr. White said the federal government is expected to push the use of such technology through a bill that would limit the amount of electricity made by power plants, therefore driving up costs. People then will be looking for ways to get free energy through solar or wind power, he said.
Businesses initially are expected to install small solar panel or wind turbine systems as backup power generators, but they eventually will move on to larger systems as they become more affordable, he said.
“The technology is not there yet for a standalone system that we can all afford, but it will be,” Mr. White noted.
Still, an ever-increasing number of companies are looking for other ways to save energy and be kind to the environment, so they're seeking employees trained in sustainability practices, said Verna Fitzsimmons, interim dean for the College of Technology at Kent State.
The college is responding to those calls by further weaving sustainability across its curriculum and developing a bachelor's degree in applied sustainability, which it hopes to launch by fall 2010, she said.
“Companies are becoming more aware of the environment,” Dr. Fitzsimmons said. “If you have a broader knowledge of sustainability, you are more desirable” as a potential employee.
Under its Fowler Center, CWRU is trying to increase awareness among businesses about sustainability issues, executive director Dr. Saillant said. The idea is to help companies determine how they can design products and processes to solve problems such as energy consumption, he said.
The center is holding public seminars on sustainability as well as weaving sustainability into its courses, added David Cooperrider, CWRU's Fairmount Minerals Professor of Social Entrepreneurship and a professor of organizational behavior.
“We're teaching in everything we do ... design for sustainable products, how to use sustainability to grow jobs,” he said. “How do we turn every global and social issue into a business opportunity?”