Commuter-Rail Reading: ‘The Green Campus’

The Green Campus: Meeting the Challenge of Environmental Sustainability opens on a light note, despite the throwing-down-the-gauntlet subtitle of the book. What you encounter first is a cartoon by Tom Toles, the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist from The Buffalo News and The Washington Post, and it depicts a billboard that reads “Honk if you love the environment.” It sits next to a jammed highway, full of honking cars.

The cartoon actually sets the agenda for The Green Campus, recently published by APPA. “This book is about getting beyond all the lip service and horn honking to actually doing something to protect this beautiful planet that is our home,” writes Walter Simpson, who is the energy officer at the State University of New York at Buffalo and a prominent advocate for sustainability.

With that, the book begins a series of instructive essays from people in the trenches about the nuts and bolts of running a sustainable campus. Mixed in are some more philosophic discussions about sustainability.

The opening essays, by sustainability advocates like Anthony Cortese, of Second Nature, and Jim Hansen, a climate scientist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, lay out the problems we face. David Orr, a well-known environmental studies professor at Oberlin College, writes about sustainability rating systems, and he outlines some areas of sustainability that colleges should pay particular attention to.

Chapters that follow get into the nitty-gritty in sections devoted to green power, green purchasing, recycling, green-campus profiles, and so on. Mr. Simpson describes his experiences setting up an energy policy at Buffalo. Karyn Kaplan writes about her work as the recycling coordinator at the University of Oregon. Alex Wilson, the executive editor of Environmental Building News,, outlines the qualities that make a building material green. Carol Franklin, Teresa Durkin, and Sara Pevaroff Schuh, all landscape architects, discuss the role of landscape in creating a sustainable campus.

Overall, the book is a trove of great information for any administrator trying to get on the road to sustainability. It even includes a helpful appendix with a checklist of things to do and a directory of organizations that can help.

The final section of the book, called “Overcoming Existential Paralysis,” brings it all back to the beginning. There are no essays in the section; just one more Tom Toles cartoon. It shows a man watching TV as a broadcaster says, “Worldwatch Institute says we need to stop consuming the planet immediately or we lose it. It’s as simple as that.”

The man sits silently on the couch for a moment, then a thought bubble appears above his head. It says: “Decisions, decisions.” —Scott Carlson

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