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Sustainability is, will be way of life for Doane

April 22, 2014

20140421_PresidentandStudents.jpgHere, in our 300-acre haven in Crete, is a living, breathing reminder of why we teach the liberal arts and sciences.

When our founder, Thomas Doane (an avid horticulturist), plotted Doane’s Crete campus, he planted the first trees and shrubs on a barren hilltop. It was the start of a mesmerizing campus landscape, an homage to the English Cottage garden style reminiscent of his New England roots. Meandering paths became the arteries of a wooded campus that, a little more than a century later, became the state’s first registered college arboretum.

Thomas Doane; the college’s first President, David Brainerd Perry; and myself all share one thing in common—we all hail from New England.  But unlike these men nature’s impact on my life was not landscape but seascape.  As a marine biologist I gained a deep understanding of the interconnectedness and the interdependence of life itself and the importance of balance.  And the power of unspoiled nature’s beauty to inspire the mind and spirit to achieve great things.  This lovely campus can teach our students what the sea has taught me.  But we must work to make sure both land and sea remain as nature intended.  

That’s why today, for Earth Day, Doane is embracing sustainability – I will sign the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, aligning our college with nearly 700 other institutions in higher education taking an actual step toward going green.

Environment is everything in the liberal arts and sciences. A sense of place is the glue that binds our students to their college experience.  Our physical environs are as important as the ones we’ve created in our fearless, bold education, where we teach students to look at the greater context. And care and regard for our surroundings – the practice of sustainability – is a hands-on application of that education.

Over the coming academic year, the college will produce an action plan with specific steps we can take over time like passing mileposts on the road to sustainability.  We will incorporate these goals and objectives into our campus Strategic and Master Plan for the residential Crete campus and our adult learner campuses in Grand Island, Lincoln and Omaha. We are positioning ourselves – as an administration, community and culture – to lead in sustainable practices and nurture our piece of this world.

We’re ready to use our campuses as living, learning laboratories for sustainability, where students can practice the best methods for fundamental liberal arts and sciences skills: critical thinking, problem solving, analytical observation. That’s how students can be prepared for a world where complex scientific and socioeconomic issues arise daily. Sustainability is among those challenges.

Our students in Crete were the catalysts in this process. They were the ones who showed real initiative when they established a green fund – student fees for sustainability – a few years ago. We want to encourage that behavior by investing at an institutional level and creating a culture of sustainability. We’ve started coordinating our actions through a green committee that brings together faculty, staff and students, and they’ve given grants to groups and individuals with projects that will reduce Doane’s carbon footprint. Going forward, our newly created Sustainability Council will work with the college community to produce a Strategic Sustainability Plan, too.

We’re in the process of measuring our carbon footprint and, in our ambitious goal to expand, we will aim to build LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design)-certified facilities.

Using our resources wisely and caring for our local environment has always been part of our mission and values.  How we react, respond and meet the challenges of protecting an environment that other faculty, staff and students before us have worked so hard to build matters if we are to honor our past and secure our future. 

So if this is to be our endeavor, we will commit. Not just through our education, but through our finances and operation.

When I look out my window from the “College on a hill,” I see the genesis of this institution. But I also see the purpose-driven people at this college who will make protecting nature second nature.