From These Grounds
by William G. Durden '71, president
April 1, 2010
Environmental sustainability has become a defining characteristic of a Dickinson education. While our nation and its colleges and universities come to grips with the sustainability issues that must become global priorities in the 21st century, Dickinson is maintaining and accelerating a focus on the environment that dates back to our founder, Dr. Benjamin Rush.
As a physician, Rush understood the interplay between the environment and public health. He specifically rejected one proposed site for Dickinson College because he believed the swampy environment would lead to unhealthful conditions for the campus community.
While arguably behind the advance of medicine in his advocacy of practices such as bloodletting, Rush was more characteristically ahead of his peers in the medical community when he hypothesized that the 1793 yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia was somehow tied to the stagnant water that existed in the city. Although Rush neglected to identify the mosquitoes that bred in the stagnant pools as the ultimate cause, his assertion that the disease was linked to natural environmental conditions rather than imported from abroad was pathbreaking and bold for its time.
Dickinson has continued to be a leader in the exploration of the impact that environmental factors have on quality of life. More than a quarter century ago, we were one of the first institutions of higher education to establish programs in environmental science and environmental studies. These programs, in turn, spawned the highly regarded ALLARM (Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring) initiative that helps central Pennsylvania communities monitor the quality of their water.
Our efforts to promote sustainability through sound operational practices are no less impressive. Since September, 100 percent of the college’s electricity consumption has been offset through the use of wind power.
Our utility trucks run on vegetable oil recycled from our dining services, and most of our fleet vehicles are gas/electric hybrids. Our new facilities and renovation construction projects are earning LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, while the College Farm supplies dining services with locally grown produce. All of these efforts contribute to our pledge to the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment to become carbon neutral by 2020.
Our historic focus on environmental sustainability was sharpened two years ago when we received a $1.4-million grant from the Mellon Foundation. This funding allowed us to bring Neil Leary, a national leader in the study of climate change, to campus as the director of the Center for Environmental and Sustainability Education. Through his leadership—which you can read more about on Pages 16-18—Dickinson is infusing creative concepts about sustainability and the natural world throughout the curriculum, and the center has become a central, integrative hub for all of our sustainability initiatives.
Our comprehensive approach to sustainability reflects our belief that issues related to the environment will be absolutely critical in the 21st century. Irrespective of one’s political point of view, our students must be prepared to address these global issues knowledgeably, constructively and critically when they depart these limestone walls for the wider world.
Dickinson’s leadership in this key area is gaining considerable national attention. In the last year alone, Dickinson was:
- given an A- on the 2010 Sustainable Endowments Institute Green Report Card, the highest overall grade given by the institute
- listed as a “cool school” by the Sierra Club and as one of the top-20 greenest colleges in America
- placed on The Princeton Review’s Green Honor Roll
- listed by Forbes magazine as one of America’s top-10 greenest colleges
- and awarded the 2009 Pennsylvania Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence.
Although many colleges and universities now tout a commitment to environmental sustainability, Dickinson’s focus is genuine and deeply rooted in our history. As Neil Leary notes, we’re not just following the pack, “We’re the real deal.” We are, in short, renewing and refining our historic commitment to a useful liberal-arts education and, in so doing, positioning Dickinson College and its graduates for global leadership as we confront the pressing environmental challenges of the 21st century.