Making the Case for Sustainability in Higher Ed


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Aired November 10, 2022

Now more than ever, colleges and universities are taking action to address climate change by embedding sustainable practices on their campuses and conducting research to advance climate science and climate solutions. Heidi VanGenderen, chief sustainability officer at the University of Colorado Boulder, talks about why higher education is perfectly poised to take on the climate crisis, despite the political divides.

First, Jon and Mushtaq talk about how the midterm elections could shape higher education policy moving forward and the growing national movement of dual mission colleges and universities.

Here are some of the links and references from this week’s show:

Dual Mission Summit
Colorado Mountain College

Dueling Purpose: Can The Dual-Mission College Change Higher Education?
Forbes | March 16, 2021

Sustainability at CU Boulder

Five Questions with Heidi VanGenderen, Co-Chair of the Right Here Right Now Global Climate Summit
CU Boulder | May 9, 2022 

Right Here Right Now Global Climate Summit

Why Climate Action Is in Higher Education’s Best Interest
Higher Education Today | Nov. 10, 2022

Climate Change Rises as a Public Priority. But It’s More Partisan Than Ever.
The New York Times (sub. req.) | Feb. 20, 2020

Global Education Coalition


 Read this episode's transcript

Jon Fansmith: Hello and welcome to dotEDU, the higher education policy podcast from the American Council on Education. I’m your host, Jon Fansmith, and a little later in the episode, we’ll be joined by Heidi VanGenderen, who is the chief sustainability officer at the University of Colorado Boulder. She’s, in fact, the first chief sustainability officer of the University of Colorado Boulder. But prior to that, she also served as a director of public engagement and external affairs at the Department of Energy in the Obama administration.

Today, I am joined by one of my two co-hosts. Mushtaq Gunja, how are you doing, sir?

Mushtaq Gunja: I’m doing really well. One of the things that happens every time you start the intro of this podcast is that Sarah and I look at each other, and we try to figure out who’s going to say hi first. And then we never figure it out. We never plan in advance what we’re going to do. So this is great. I’m able to very easily say hi, Jon. How are you?

Jon Fansmith: You can run the show now.

Mushtaq Gunja: Really miss Sarah. She’s not here. She’s at the APLU conference in Denver, and we miss her. We’ll see her next time.

Jon Fansmith: Ironically enough, we will be speaking to Heidi VanGenderen from the APLU conference in Denver. So it’s a very Denver-focused episode this week.

Mushtaq Gunja: Do you think Heidi is going to be auditioning to take Sarah’s job? Because I think that, although I know that Heidi is lovely, I think we should keep Sarah. I think she’s really good as a co-host.

Jon Fansmith: I don’t know if you remember. We talked in the beginning of the season about some teaser things, that we might have some dramatic cliffhanger endings, and one of those was we’re going to get rid of Sarah. I assume she doesn’t listen when she’s not on, so we’re going to get-

Mushtaq Gunja: I think that’s right.

Jon Fansmith: Right. So I don’t know. The producers, we’ll talk to them later about if we’re auditioning or we have people in mind. It’s always sort of a complicated process, but your vote for Sarah’s noted.

Mushtaq Gunja: That’s good. I’m certain that Anthony is going to edit this out. If he does not edit this out, I guess we will know whether Sarah actually listens to the podcast when she’s not on. This is going to be good.

Jon Fansmith: We should definitely leave it in for that reason alone. It’ll be a test.

Mushtaq Gunja: Obviously, dear listeners, we are filibustering here because we do not want to talk about the election. We are recording on Election Day. As I told Jon, it is my most stressful day of the year. I can’t sleep the night before. And then I stay up all night watching election results and returns come in. So this is a rough, rough 36 hours, 48 hours, 72 hours, depending on how long it takes to count the votes.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. I mean we will see. It’s probably going to be a few days before we know, maybe even a week or so, before we know all the results are in. I was actually thinking about this. I was with a group of people today and people were saying, “happy Election Day.” It’s not Merry Christmas. I don’t know if “happy Election Day” is the right way to frame that. But it is a very consequential election in a lot of ways for a non-presidential election.

I think particularly for us in Washington, DC, it’s not just who controls the House and the Senate but, particularly within the House and the Senate, who will be heading up the various committees. Because every time there’s an election, members come, members go, members retire. There’s shuffling. There’s seniority. So I know you will be looking at the grand scope of the elections, Mushtaq. I will be doing a little bit of that too, but I’m going to be paying a lot of attention to see what is happening with some of the seats where the committee control may shift.

I think particularly the one that’s interesting is in the Senate, the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. That is currently headed by Senator Patty Murray of Washington, who’s in a surprisingly close reelection campaign and one I think nobody thought would be as close as it seems to be heading into the polls. And then her ranking member, the Republican on that, Senator Burr from North Carolina is retiring. Normally you’d say, “Okay, so new Republican would step up.” But the other thing that’s happening is on the Appropriations Committee, the money committee, both the chair and the ranking member, Senators Leahy and Blunt, are both retiring. That opens up the chairmanship of that. It has been widely speculated that Patty Murray would take over appropriations if she had the choice. If she does, then you will be having two new chairs and ranking members on the Senate’s Education Committee.

Hard to tell exactly what will happen, but the two people next in line for seniority, for the Democrats, it would be Bernie Sanders. For the Republicans, it would be Rand Paul. It is an interesting outcome to watch. I don’t know if you can think of two more diametrically opposed, and publicly so, members of the United States Senate than those two. So the idea of bipartisan collaboration, maybe we’re struggling with that concept.

But again, all of this is still up in the air. We will see how that all shakes out. Certainly, control of the House, control of the Senate is on the ballot, and that may have a lot of impact on some of these decisions, too. But that’s what I’m checking out. Mushtaq, I know you’re following the elections. What else are you doing?

Mushtaq Gunja: Besides just mindlessly scrolling Twitter for the latest polls, which I guess I can stop doing now, we’ve been doing a whole bunch of Carnegie outreach. It’s been really, really good. Speaking of Colorado, I was at a dual mission summit in Glenwood Springs, hosted by Colorado Mountain College. The whole set of institutions that label themselves dual mission is these sets of institutions that try to be sort of a one-stop shop for all types of degrees and certifications for their community. So you can imagine in mountainous Colorado, there aren’t a lot of easy options other than the one college that’s there, Colorado Mountain College. They’re really great. They offer certificate programs, they offer bachelors, they offer associates that are all super tailored to the economy of the region. So we’re hearing a little bit about their avalanche studies program, and they’re training all sorts-

Jon Fansmith: You learned about avalanches?

Mushtaq Gunja: Say that again.

Jon Fansmith: I said you learned about avalanches, Mushtaq?

Mushtaq Gunja: I did. I learned about how to prevent them, how to treat them afterwards. This was great. I mean this is the sort of really community-tailored, focused, value to the community sets of institutions that are out there in the country.

Interestingly, from a Carnegie perspective, they don’t really fit in the current classification regime very neatly where we have associate’s colleges, and then we have baccalaureate colleges and master’s colleges. These colleges that bridge multiple boxes aren’t particularly well represented in this classification regime. So got a little bit of feedback about what we might want to do going forward there, which was valuable, and got to learn a little bit about mountains, so that’s good, too. So all is good.

How about you? What are you up to these days? In the week straddling an election, are things really quiet in Congress? Are things happening in the executive branch? What’s going on?
Jon Fansmith: Yeah. I mean the executive branch doesn’t slow down and, particularly this administration, they focus so much on higher education. We’ve had two regulatory packages that were announced at the end of last month. There is the ongoing legal travails of the Biden administration’s loan forgiveness program. I mean, as it relates to the administration, that never stops.

Congress, you would think normally... I mean we have reached a new stage, I think. Sarah and I always complain about this, but recess isn’t a recess anymore. Everybody works through recess. And it used to be the election season, October through the first couple weeks of November, really till they come back from recess, were quiet, too. But I’ve been taking meetings on the Hill, sometimes big group meetings, sometimes individual meetings. There is a lot going on.
I think one of these things is you’ve had one-party control over the last cycle. Republicans, in particular, are looking ahead. They are hopeful and, I think, pretty optimistic that they might control at least one, if not two, chambers in Congress. So they’re laying out their plans. They’re thinking about the policies they want to implement. So there’s a lot of interest in the policy space.

And again, higher education, in a way it really hasn’t before, is front and center as a national news item that’s getting a lot of attention, too. Not just affordability and loan forgiveness, but accountability and quality and all of these things. And we’re 14 years past reauthorization of the HEA, so there’s a lot of opportunities to bring policy perspectives in. So busy, busy, busy, busy. Lots of talking to people.

Mushtaq Gunja: Speaking of speaking to people, we will be joined by Heidi VanGenderen, the chief sustainability officer at the University of Colorado Boulder. Jon, are there lots of chief sustainability officers in campuses around the country? I’m not sure that there are.

Jon Fansmith: I don’t know that there are. I will admit my ignorance on this. I will say I have not encountered a lot of chief sustainability officers across the other divisions of university administration and faculty. We tend to see a pretty good sampling of people at ACE. So we should ask Heidi that. We should find out.

Mushtaq Gunja: I think this is going to be great. I’m really looking forward to learning more about her work and the ways that Boulder’s thinking about tackling our climate problems.

Jon Fansmith: I think it’s going to be a great conversation, and we encourage you all to stay with us through the break and listen for yourself.

And welcome back. As we mentioned at the front of the show, we are joined by Heidi VanGenderen, who is the chief sustainability officer at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Heidi, thank you for joining us. Welcome to our podcast.

Heidi VanGenderen: Thanks so much, Jon. A pleasure to be here.

Jon Fansmith: One of the things we wanted to talk to you about, in general we have a lot we want to talk to you about, but one of the things we wanted to talk to you about is you are the first chief sustainability officer at Boulder. Kind of curious, I mean I’m not sure every campus has a chief sustainability officer, but can you talk a little bit about how campuses are involved in sustainability, what your role is on the campus?

Heidi VanGenderen: Well, happy to address that. I am the first chief sustainability officer. It’s my honor to be that. Our university has a long, strong history in sustainability. The gentleman who hired me, the vice chancellor for infrastructure and safety, who became the vice chancellor for infrastructure and sustainability, observed the need for a position that could help connect some dots across our campus.

So in my job description, it notes that I am in charge of driving a campuswide vision for sustainability in support of the university’s aspiration of becoming a national model of excellence in this arena. Practically speaking, what this means is that my job involves building bridges between the constituents on our campus: the research and academic side; faculty; students, importantly, at the core of the mission of our university; and the operations side, so the physical function of our campus. All of those constituencies are very important in demonstrating and driving toward what it means to be a national model of excellence in sustainability.

In the operations side, it means that we want to be walking our talk in every aspect of the operations across our campus, whether that’s energy use, transportation, the materials economy, waste diversion and reduction, soil health, the grounds, food.

And importantly, the most important element of sustainability really is social equity. And that’s something that has come to the fore. So how do you transform those systems to become as sustainable as they can through the lens of equity to all parties involved?

Jon Fansmith: Very interesting. I’m curious if you’re willing to elaborate a little bit and maybe give an example of how that plays out in working with the different constituencies on campus and in your community.

Heidi VanGenderen: Yes. Boulder’s an interesting community. I mean let me state plainly, Boulder, Colorado, is 86% white and it’s an affluent community. We are a state public university. We are the flagship campus with 35,000 students, undergraduate and graduate, and that is a more diverse population. But again, for the most part, we are ... To afford college these days tells you that you’re attracting a certain segment of society.

So equity more broadly is at whose expense is this transformation expected to take place. For example, we just recently established a campuswide sustainability council, which was created by the chancellor in his call to climate action. That body, there was no cohesion across campus, and the chancellor said, “I want to appoint 15 members from students, faculty, and staff who can make recommendations to campus leadership for goals, policies, programs, and investments that will, in fact, advance the reputation and reality of sustainability on our campus.”

We went through a nomination process to identify who those council members ought to be, and one of the members grew up and has lived a life. Her name, I think she’d be okay with me telling you that she is Teresa Ortega and she grew up in Commerce City, Colorado, which was a community where climate justice was not in the forefront. An interstate was put through the middle of her community. Her community is next to one of the largest coal plants ever constructed in Colorado. She lived a life as a child where she withstood environmental injustice, and she wanted to come on to the council so that she could make sure what her childhood was like was not going to be repeated for the generation of students that she sought to help. That’s where equity comes into play. That’s what we mean by climate justice, by social justice.

Jon Fansmith: Thank you for sharing Teresa’s story. That’s a really great example. One more question, maybe, before I turn it over to Mushtaq because I know he has a few things he wants to ask too. But we have lots of campus leaders who come on the show, and they talk to us about initiatives they’re pushing across the campus. I don’t think any one of them has ever said that it’s been a seamless process where everyone jumps on board and says, “This is great. How can I help?” I imagine you’ve had some of those challenges even at a campus as focused toward sustainability as Boulder. I’m just kind of curious. What is the process? You talked about a council. How do you bring the community together around something like this when, frankly, faculty say, “I’m here to teach,” or staff may say, “My focus is on X, Y, or Z”? How do you work through that?

Heidi VanGenderen: My overarching observation for you is that we are a species that is largely good at our base. We are of good heart. We are of good minds. People want to do the right thing, and they want to do the right thing now in light of seeing the reality of human contribution of climate change coming into our daily lives on a literal basis. So my original posit to you is that the more that people are educated, the more empowered they become to actually join the band. That’s where we want to head ultimately because if we offer that factual, good information that empowers people to take action not only in their individual lives, but also to join in an effort that looks at the institutional leadership required for the transformation that we seek, we’re going to be stronger, and we’re going to get there at sufficient speed and scale.

Mushtaq Gunja: Heidi, I love so much of what you’ve talked about. I was hoping to maybe let you brag a little bit about some of your work at Boulder, of the many ways in which sustainability’s been infused through your institution. Are there a couple of things that you’re particularly proud of over the last four or five years?

Heidi VanGenderen: Well, what a good question. Thanks, Mushtaq. I don’t know where to begin on that. It actually goes back to Jon’s last question, in a way, because there are institutional barriers to accomplishing all that we would wish to have accomplished in the last four or five years, and primarily lack of upfront resources for the capital investment remains a constant need, especially for public universities.

So we have not been able to do everything that we have wanted to do. We have an additional 3.2 megawatts of solar power that are ready to roll. If anybody out there wants to provide us the $7 million of upfront capital so that we could get those solar carports and those ground-mounted arrays in place, we would take it in a flash minute.

Actually, we’ve made good progress in our energy profile to help lead the way in achieving our greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. Our campus has grown by several million square feet in the time that we’ve had specific GHG goals, but we have actually held energy use steady and it’s declined because of efficiency measures that we’ve put in place. Energy efficiency can never be mined enough, and there’s a steady drumbeat on that. We have achieved a 51% waste diversion rate. This was pre-COVID. We have significant and ambitious goals for a zero waste aim.

The interesting thing about waste is it’s sort of the neglected arena often in the climate realm when you look at where those emissions are coming from. We have ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, 50% from a 2005 baseline by the year 2030. That’s going to be a big lift, and we seek to achieve carbon neutrality by no later than 2050.

The materials economy. The city of Boulder, for example, just updated their greenhouse gas emission inventory and, in fact, discovered that 60% of their emissions now come from what’s called scope 3 emissions because of the materials economy. So that leads to working with the supply chain, working with the vendors from whom you buy all goods and services to say, “What is the embodied carbon in all the stuff that we consume?”

But that 51% diversion rate at least gets us a step further toward the circular economy. The national recycling rate, it’s about 35%. The state of Colorado is really not doing well at about 16%. So we are demonstrating our abilities to both rely on education and outreach that enable people to use that three-bin strategy, which is key to... So you’ve got your recyclables. You’ve got your compostables, and then you’ve got the landfill trash. So we’re pretty proud of that.

We have four new electric buses that are coming into our 22-bus fleet, the first two of which just got delivered. A key strategy in looking at the transportation contribution to those greenhouse gas emissions is electrification of transport. We also are very proud of the fact that we’ve been able to expand our van pool program, bringing us back to equity. The frontline workers of the University of Colorado often are the people who get up at 3:00 in the morning, come to work to prepare food for all of the students and faculty and staff. Buses don’t run, so their bus passes are not very useful in that regard. But we have successfully expanded our van pool program, which provides home-to-campus service in a sustainable transportation system for those frontline workers. I could go on and on. Tell me if you’d like me to stop.

Mushtaq Gunja: Well, I would love to hear about all of it, but I am slightly mindful of time. I think that you probably could talk about all the accomplishments of Boulder for another 20 minutes. But you are at the APLU conference in Denver right now. Right, Heidi?

Heidi VanGenderen: I am, indeed.

Mushtaq Gunja: I know that you were just on a panel about sustainability. Do you want to tell us a little bit about what the topic was?

Heidi VanGenderen: The topic for the panel was the role and mission of universities in bringing forward a green economy. I was privileged to be on a panel with one of my former bosses who’s a former governor of Colorado. I was privileged to be appointed by Governor Bill Ritter as the state’s first gubernatorially-appointed climate czarina, which I, again, noted on the panel this morning as I beamed his way, that that was obviously one of my favorite titles in a several decade-long career now.

The provost from the Colorado School of Mines and the director of the Denver Climate and Sustainability Office were also on this panel. We looked at a broad swath, again, at that basic question, what is the role and mission of universities in bringing forward a green economy? What’s the definition of a green economy, one topic of discussion this morning.

Certainly, we explored the multitude of the roles that a university holds. One, starting with the fact that all universities are a business, and the University of Colorado alone purchases over $1.2 billion of goods and services every year for its function. Much like the greening of state government executive orders that are found around the country, how does a university walk its talk in how it functions? That’s one.

Two, we talked about the convening power of universities. The importance of the policy platform in bringing forward a green economy cannot be understated. Universities have a strong neutral convening power where they can bring, and we do this often, bring together the public sector, the private sector, civil society, and have academics both contribute to the substance of the conversation, but also act as that neutral convening authority where you can bring those sectors together to help build bridges across the very divisive political divides that are evident in our society right now.

How do we ultimately recognize that a good policy platform, in fact, is one that supersedes partisanship and political divides? That’s got to happen for those policies to be successfully implemented. We talked about the partnership role of the universities.

I specifically talked about a wonderful endeavor that we’ve got underway with a number of partners in our region, and that is a shared electric vehicle charging, repair, maintenance, and workforce development facility that we are working to design and hope to see constructed with the Boulder Valley School District, the city and counties of Boulder, Via Mobility Services and, of course, the university. We all have our fleets. We all have an aim to electrify those fleets. This facility will be an important element in that workforce development because the training element there is going to be key. So we talked about that.

And last but not least, of course, we talked about the basic mission of universities, which is to educate the leadership of the future.

Mushtaq Gunja: Oh, sure. Can we stay on that educating students for the future theme for a quick second?

Heidi VanGenderen: You bet.

Mushtaq Gunja: We talked a little bit about embedding sustainability into the research enterprise of the university function, but so many of the listeners to this podcast come from universities that don’t have heavy research functions. How are you thinking about embedding sustainability into more of the core curriculum and into the ways in which students experience the topic in their classrooms and elsewhere?

Heidi VanGenderen: The fantastic news for us is that there has been an endeavor at our university just over the last six months to actually create a specific core curriculum, and it’s entitled The Future Is Sustainability, which I can’t tell you how thrilled all of us were to learn about that endeavor. That is coming. That is a faculty-led effort, obviously. I suspect that many universities are like ours.

As humans, we’re pretty effective at constructing barriers for our own selves, in a way. Sometimes it’s hard to take a deep breath in and say, “Hey, maybe we should recognize that, and what do we do to lower those?” One of those is that various departments at the University of Colorado Boulder end up creating coursework that they provide because they are rewarded in the whole of the budget model for support that they receive in providing those services to the students. They have now recognized that there is, with a topic like sustainability, climate, that the university would be better served by having a core curriculum that all departments could draw on, and the expertise for that core curriculum actually also necessarily comes from a multitude of disciplines across campus. So you draw on the faculty expertise, but you build a unified curriculum through that.

I just have immensely high hopes for how that will come forward because there’s the core of your basic undergraduate education. There’s only going to be a segment of those students who, in fact, are those brilliant researchers in environment, in electrical engineering, or name the arena. This is a basic approach that’s going to arm the students who will absolutely be accepting the mantle of leadership to see this transformation successfully take place. So it’s very exciting.
I think, from the panel this morning, the other universities have... Those represented on the panel, the Colorado School of Mines and CSU—school of Mines already has that core curriculum, Colorado State University’s working on it as well.

Jon Fansmith: That is really interesting, Heidi, and thank you. You probably saw this question coming, but it is Election Day as we record this. So people are going to the polls nationally, if they haven’t already submitted their ballots. You are a person who has served in the federal government, at the state government level, as we just pointed out. This is an issue that can be political, right? There are, at times, very heated debates over climate change and sustainability. I’m curious to get, having served in those variety of roles, your perspective a little bit on the political implications, the challenges maybe of the political environment, how that works out.

Heidi VanGenderen: I wish sometimes that I could speak to both my parents and my grandparents as I loved to do when they were all still on the planet because I’d love their perspective. They lived through some pretty hairy times: World War II, they lived through the Great Depression. As you point out, these issues are being seized for perceived political advantage in a way that, truthfully, it confounds me, and it disheartens me tremendously.

You think about the generation of student today. They’ve grown up with knowing climate change the whole of their lives now. They have grown up seeing a degrading political discourse in a way that also has to be disheartening. But I have to say that my source of hope is, in fact, those students who are proving to be incredibly resilient and remarkably energetic toward the fact that... And they’ve been taught well, that there are cycles in history, absolutely no doubt about that.

And we are, hopefully, in the midst of, perhaps, a defined crisis. I think it’s clear that if you find credibility in the science of climate change, you would admit there is a climate crisis at the moment, but that we are going to redouble our efforts as a consequence of that, not cave into it, and come forward and know that there are common ground arguments to be mode. Again, who doesn’t like clean air? Who doesn’t like potable water? Who doesn’t like safe and luscious food that can sustain a planetary population that is larger than ever before? Find that common ground. Build those platforms of solutions. Go forth and prosper.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. I share your optimism for the younger generations that are coming up and their understanding of the challenge here. In fact, like Mushtaq, I’m going to give you an opportunity to brag a little bit about Boulder. Boulder is about to host a summit in partnership with the United Nations that’s focused specifically on climate change and the impact on youth across the world. I think that’s something our listeners would be interested in. Could you talk a little bit about that?

Heidi VanGenderen: Yes, thank you so much. An alumnus of the University of Colorado Boulder brought this opportunity to us. He has worked with the United Nations and the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights for many years, and he formed the Right Here, Right Now Global Climate Alliance. He was seeking a partner, as was the UN, to host what will be a global climate summit, the Right Here, Right Now Global Climate Summit, December 1 through 4, coming right up.

This summit frames the climate crisis as the humanitarian and human climate crisis that it is. If you look at what is happening globally, the world’s most vulnerable populations are those that are being most deeply affected. It circles back to our conversation today about equity. Think about the very young, the very old, the disabled, the ill, Indigenous populations in particular, whose lands and waterways and air is being decimated and trashed, women, another population that is keenly affected.

This summit is literally going to connect people from around the world who are interested in and looking for actionable climate solutions. The truth of the matter is that global climate change is a global issue, no doubt. But the implementation of solutions will happen at a very local level, is happening at a very local level. University campus by university campus, building by building, neighborhood by neighborhood. This summit is going to help connect people globally in a way that recognizes that we really need to build a global partnership unlike any that has ever before been built to see the solutions that we see implemented at sufficient speed and scale.

So it’s very exciting. We’ve got a remarkable lineup. We encourage the world to attend. All you need to do is go Google Global Climate Summit, University of Colorado. It’ll pop right up for you. You can register to attend virtually. That will also give you access to all of the great panels and the keynote speakers that we have. For the indefinite future following the summit, if you happen to be in a time zone that doesn’t work to be with us in real time, it’ll be there thanks to the miracles of Dr. Google, the worldwide web, YouTube. In our world of technology, we really, really would look forward to any and all coming into cyberspace to join us for that.

Mushtaq Gunja: That’s great.

Jon Fansmith: We will definitely post links to that, too, on the show notes, so people listening can find that relatively even easier than going to Google, hopefully.

Heidi VanGenderen: Beautiful. Beautiful. Sorry, wasn’t shilling for... Don’t get me started on Bill Gates.

Mushtaq Gunja: Maybe one last question for you. So let’s assume that there’s a campus leader out there, maybe a president or a provost who listens to this conversation, is inspired to go to Right Here, Right Now or maybe isn’t going to be able to make all of it. What advice might you have for somebody who was thinking about really becoming serious on their campus about transforming their institution into something around sustainability? Where might you direct an institution to start thinking about this?

Heidi VanGenderen: Well, thank you for that question. One of the things that’s coming together through the Right Here, Right Now Global Climate Summit is actually a global education coalition.
So, again, not to drive people back to that very website, but that is step one that I would ask every university leader’s consideration of is join the Global Education Coalition to be connected literally to your peers around the world who are on this trail to exchange best practices, to build the collaborative, to know the assets of universities in particular, to bring forward these actionable solutions in a way that really is such a distinct position of privilege, if you think about it. For colleges and universities to help be able to accomplish that core mission of educating future leaders, but also to then be networked with other institutions that, in fact, have solutions at hand that we respectively have thought about, perhaps, but collectively have not really implemented in a way that needs to happen.

So come on down to the Global Education Coalition. There are many, many resources out there. The American Association for Sustainability in Higher Education is another key organization that has the metric by which most campuses, certainly in the United States, are measured in how they’re doing in this realm. That’s obviously a great resource as well, as are the multitude of research consortia that folks are, I’m sure, familiar with. But join the Global Education Coalition. It’s been a long morning here, gentlemen.

Jon Fansmith: We’re making you talk a lot. But good news, you have given us an extraordinary amount of time and information, Heidi. We were talking actually, before we started recording, that this may be the first time we’ve addressed sustainability on this podcast and clearly long overdue. But as a way of addressing the long overdue nature of it, you really covered a lot of ground, and we’re tremendously grateful. So thank you so much for coming on.

Heidi VanGenderen: Thank you so much for having me, and do more on sustainability going forward. A lot of good speakers out there I can recommend.

Jon Fansmith: We will. Send them our way. Just to note, all the things that you mentioned, we’ll try to get links up on the website. So, people listening, check the show notes, get active. There are opportunities out there, as Heidi has made clear. Heidi, once again, thank you so much for joining us. It’s been great.

Heidi VanGenderen: Thank you.

Sarah Spreitzer: As always, you can check out earlier episodes and subscribe to dotEDU on Apple, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. For show notes and links to the resources mentioned in the episode, you can go to our website at While there, please take a short survey to let us know how we’re doing. You can also email us at to give us suggestions on upcoming shows and guests.
And finally, a very big thank you to the producers who help pull this podcast together. Laurie Arnston, Audrey Hamilton, Malcolm Moore, Anthony Trueheart, Rebecca Morris, Jack Nicholson, and Fatma Ngom. They do an incredible job making this happen and making Jon, Mushtaq, and I sound as good as possible. Finally, thank you so much to all of you for listening.

About the Podcast

​Each episode of dotEDU presents a deep dive into a major public policy issue impacting college campuses and students across the country. Hosts from ACE are joined by guest experts to lead you through thought-provoking conversations on topics such as campus free speech, diversity in admissions, college costs and affordability, and more. Find all episodes of the podcast at the dotEDU page.

Listen and Subscribe

Apple PodcastsSpotify  

Stitcher Google Play Music

Amazon Music 


Tell Us What You Think

Are you a regular dotEDU listener? Does it help you think through the policy issues that impact your campus? How can we make it better?


​​Connect ​With Us

​Tweet suggestions, links, and questions to @ACEducation or email