Archive for August, 2012

Back to School

August 27, 2012

The presence of academic courses on a given topic in the business world is proof that the topic has “arrived”. By that metric, sustainability has “arrived” in the corporate world in a big way. “Sustainability” is not just something many companies are working into their operations and reporting, it is becoming something to be researched and studied at the university level. The Philadelphia area (amongst others) offers a remarkable array of offerings in the field—both obvious and not so obvious.

The offerings range from functional areas like buildings and construction, food, engineering and so forth all the way to systemic (management) approaches to the topic. Equally impressively is the range and location of institutions offering courses. The geography covers nearly the entire Delaware Valley; the institutions range from smallish colleges like Delaware Valley College to the very large University of Pennsylvania and many more in between.

I happen to be a proud Penn Stater, so when I saw that the Great Valley campus had a Graduate Certificate in Sustainable Business Practices I paid attention. I thought the emphasis on a systems perspective, as well as the financial and accounting aspects, was pretty unique. This was the first program I had noticed that focused on the organizational management of sustainability initiatives.

Pretty soon thereafter, I found other “sustainability management” programs at other universities (i.e., Penn). Penn’s Management of Environmental Sustainability program is specifically aimed at training future “Sustainability Coordinators” (at least the website says so). Across campus, the Organizational Dynamics program recently kicked off a program that teaches executives how to build a culture of sustainability at their companies. If I want to start my own company incorporating sustainability, the “Green Entrepreneur” course at Bucks County Community College can probably help me out.

On a more functional level (engineering), Villanova has a pretty comprehensive program in sustainable engineering, including both an MS and graduate certificates. Their offerings not only include courses used in traditional environmental safety and health fields (hazardous waste, pollution control), but also watersheds and “sustainable infrastructure”. This is the first program I’ve noticed with such a broad array of engineering courses with a sustainability twist. They even have a course on “sustainable pavements”. I know that some parking lots have special pavement that essentially drains itself. Maybe this is what they mean by “sustainable pavements.”

In a related topic, “green building” is getting a lot of traction. I’ve heard that any new Class A office building must incorporate significant green building elements or else no one will rent any space there. So I assume that the Sustainable Building Advisor course at several community colleges in the area (for example, Montgomery County Community College) would be a popular option for many people. Philadelphia University offers a more formal degree/certificate program in Sustainable Design essentially dedicated to green building techniques.

Beyond the business world, there is also a sustainability program for those in the education field. West Chester University has a certificate they are calling the Education for Sustainability program. Apparently many of the graduates of this program work in schools, either integrating sustainability in to curricula and/or encouraging “green school” efforts.

As it happens, I was reading my local school tax bill this week—and my school district credits its energy efficiency programs for playing a major role in keeping the educational quality high in the face of the outrageous cuts to public schools by the current Administration in Harrisburg. I try not to think about what would have happened to my local schools if they had not invested in energy efficiency several years ago.

Trying to comprehend all of the available choices (and I just barely scratched the surface) is making me hungry. I happen to be a big fan of organic and/or local food. In addition to the obvious environmental benefits, I think it tends to taste better. And if I ever wanted more education in that, there is a program for “Sustainable Agriculture Systems” at Delaware Valley College mostly focused on sustainable agriculture techniques.

I was very happy to discover that there are so many educational options about sustainability in town. I’ll bet that pretty soon a Philadelphia-area institution of higher learning will upgrade its sustainability course/certificate programs into a full fledged “School of Sustainability” not unlike the one at Chatham University in Pittsburgh with its Master of Food Studies and Master of Sustainability programs. The existence of these various sustainability programs (and Chatham’s School of Sustainability) in the academic world parallels the diverse ways sustainability is growing in the corporate world. This parallel growth is mutually reinforcing.

School of Sustainability at Chatham University:

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