Allegheny College Brings Together Global Educators to Discuss Teaching Sustainability to a New Generation
September 20, 2022

​Dozens of experts in environmental sustainability gathered this summer to strategize about the field’s future at the Fifth World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities. ACE member Allegheny College—a trailblazer in campus sustainability—became just the second U.S. institution and the first liberal arts college to host the symposium, which took place on its campus in Meadville, Pennsylvania in June. Attendees from universities in eight countries, including professors, sustainability directors, facilities staff, and students, contemplated “Educating the Sustainability Leaders of the Future” over two days of meetings and presentations.

The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities began alongside the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012. It has since evolved to focus on implementation of the sustainable development goals, a 17-part agenda the U.N. unanimously adopted in 2015 that recognizes the interconnectedness of a sustainable future with a healthy, wealthy, and equitable one.

Allegheny has sent delegates from its Environmental Science and Sustainability (ESS) department to each of the symposium’s iterations, impressing other participants. At the third conference in 2019, Allegheny professors Beth Choate and Eric Pallant received an award for best research paper. Choate, who now chairs the ESS department, and Pallant, who is the Christine Scott Nelson Endowed Professor of Environmental Science and Sustainability, co-chaired this year’s symposium.

“I think that our winning entry paper in 2019 was what secured our designation as hosts. Allegheny has developed a very good reputation in the conference by continuing to provide high-quality research,” Pallant told The Campus, Allegheny’s student newspaper.

Choate said Allegheny’s invitation to host the conference indicates the quality of its environmental science and sustainability program. She added that she was proud that Allegheny, a liberal arts college with about 1,500 students, was asked to host, noting that large research universities hosted the previous four symposia.

The college has been a leader in promoting sustainability on campus. It has adopted numerous practices, including sourcing all of its electricity from wind power, installing a solar array and low-flow faucets, and opening a campus garden that produces food for its dining hall. These efforts contributed to Allegheny achieving carbon neutrality in 2020, becoming the eighth American college to do so.

The ESS curriculum encourages students to develop interdisciplinary thinking and leadership skills. Students majoring in ESS study how environmental issues interact with economics, ethics, and psychology and complete at least three practical research projects. They also help maintain and improve the campus’ sustainable infrastructure.

Six teams of Allegheny professors and students presented papers to the symposium, including one on engaging an entire campus community in sustainability efforts.

“We chose this theme for the conference because that is what we do at Allegheny,” Choate said regarding the event’s focus on the field’s future leaders. “Many other participating institutions are larger than us and focus more on research with graduate students, whereas Allegheny prepares its environmental science undergraduates for work in the future.”

Speaking to The Campus, Pallant was hopeful that more student interest and collaborative opportunities would result from the increased attention to the ESS department in the wake of the conference.

“Allegheny is now in a great position to showcase its abilities on the international stage and beyond.”