A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
May 11, 2006 Volume 36 / Number 8


Sustainability: Building Community and Creating Distinctiveness

Though we have grown accustomed to the beauty of our campus, we are reminded of it every time alumni and other visitors remark on it. Crossing one of our bridges, guests may notice salmon spawning in the creek below or hear and then see the nesting raptors in the trees. As they cross the campus, see the rose garden, and walk through an arboretum, they are delighted by the place that is Chico State, and by the friendly community of which we are a part. Caring for the land and helping to nurture a sense of community has distinguished this campus in the past and will continue to distinguish it in the future. But this is not something that happens without effort on our part. It happens because we have made the physical beauty of our campus a priority, and we have focused our energies to this effect.

We have defined sustainability before, but it is important to note what it implies and the issues it embraces. It is a values-based effort that focuses on achieving and maintaining healthy ecosystems, maintaining and supporting economic viability, and assuring social justice. It requires us to understand our role as members of a natural world. Sustainability draws on projects related to conservation, globalization, corporate business practices, climate change, ecofeminism, social and environmental justice, conflict resolution, public policy, and farming practices.[1]

A sustainable community is one in which we recognize that growth is limited by environmental carrying capacity, not just locally but globally. A sustainable community respects diversity. It recognizes that we live in an interconnected world of competing ideas and values that no person or group has all of the knowledge necessary to address environmental problems. We must draw on and respect the knowledge of everyone, especially members of the larger community. This is why the role of our university, or any other, is paramount. We have an obligation to help people understand how to live responsibly in a global environment.[2]

As both of us have noted on many occasions, we have developed substantial campus capacity to achieve distinction in several related areas: student learning and leadership, sustainability, civic engagement, and service to our region. At the beginning of the academic year we posed a question: “Should we add a sixth strategic priority to the Updated Strategic Plan for the Future?” Several things have combined this year to provide a convincing and positive answer to this question. First, a number of faculty, staff, and students came together to assess what we were doing in the area of sustainability. They examined research and creative efforts, business practices, the curriculum, outreach to the community, the built environment, public policy, and how to bring all of these wide-ranging activities together. Our students, individually and through the Associated Students, demonstrated an abiding interest in creating community, providing opportunities for leadership, and helping to assure a sustainable future. On their own, they sponsored a conference, “This Way Toward Sustainability,” in the fall that brought together faculty, staff, students, and community members. This spring they voted a fee increase of $5 a semester, which will yield about $165,000 every year, to use for sustainable efforts, such as reducing the waste stream in food services. They are responsible for the Green Campus program, which, with the help of University Housing, now has a Green Residence Hall Project designed to reduce energy consumption and help to create environmentally literate students.

Faculty, staff, and students also worked with Regional and Continuing Education this spring to offer “Towards Sustainability: Western Regional Conference and Expo,” which drew to campus national speakers, community members, policy makers, builders, architects, and vendors all interested in sustainability. New academic programs were created together with new courses and revised ones. Another event, “Restoring Nature: Recreating Natural Processes on California Rivers,” sponsored by the Department of Economics and committed community partners, took place in April. Next year the University will work with the Associated Students to host another sustainability conference that will serve not only our own educational needs, but help address the needs of the larger local community. The point to underscore is that, just as place matters, matters of sustainability have deep support on and off campus, and these efforts provide an opportunity to do unique and important things such as serving as good stewards of the land, providing opportunities for student leadership and learning, fulfilling our obligation to train committed and caring citizens, and connecting to the community.

We are pleased, therefore, to note an important addition to our updated Strategic Plan, a sixth priority. Like our other strategic priorities, it is a statement of belief. Believing that each generation owes something to those who follow, we will create environmentally literate citizens who embrace sustainability as a way of living. We will be wise stewards of scarce resources and, in seeking to develop the whole person, be aware that our individual and collective actions have economic, social, and environmental consequences locally, regionally, and globally. To achieve this priority we will draw on all colleges, units, and departments. Every single discipline and every individual has something important to say about what one generation owes to the next and about how we will protect the values of place and of community. In implementing this priority we can deepen disciplinary knowledge through civic engagement, and help students develop an understanding of what it takes to maintain a community and a nation. A democratic, just society is neither given nor ordained. It is something people must work to achieve and strive to maintain.

John Muir saw a need for us to be good stewards of the land, not only because its bounty is needed for a prosperous society, but because nature has healing properties. “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.” (The Yosemite, 1912) Community is lived in a particular place. Introducing our students to the land we manage for the common good, helping students to understand the history and diversity of the land that makes up our campus, caring and being on our system of preserves, connects them to a place, to the community, and to one another. Because we are part of a larger community, where many share our values, we seek to reach out and draw on the knowledge of all willing partners. This will make us a better and more distinctive university—one chosen by students because they share our values, and one supported by the community because we show respect, model citizenship, leadership, and stewardship.

—Paul J. Zingg and Scott G. McNall


[1] For a more complete definition of sustainability and the movements and issues linked together under this heading see, Andres R. Edwards, The Sustainability Revolution: Portrait of a Paradigm Shift (Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers), p.8.
[2] This definition of a sustainable community comes from the Ontario Roundtable on Environment and Economy (ORTEE), 2004, and bears a strong resemblance to the principles articulated in Butte County in the Update of the General Plan. For ORTEE see www.law.ntu.edu.tw/sustain/intro/ortee/20/23vision.html