Western Kentucky University is featured as a model institution in a textbook on sustainability. The Palgrave Handbook of Sustainability, published by Palgrave Macmillan, utilizes case studies to outline and describe practical ways to achieve sustainability throughout diverse disciplines. The chapter featuring WKU was written by Dr. Leslie North of the Department of Geography and Geology and Center for Human GeoEnvironmental Studies (CHNGES) and Dr. Christian Ryan, the University Sustainability Coordinator.
Dr. North and Dr. Ryan drew upon their own experiences as leaders for CHNGES and the Office of Sustainability, respectively, to create a portrait of sustainability at WKU. Currently, CHNGES encourage students to pursue meaningful research that inspires long-term, responsible changes in our global community. Moreover, the Office of Sustainability enables and encourages the WKU student body to get engaged in local efforts toward environmental and social sustainability. Whether it is generating and implementing unique solutions to complex social, cultural and environmental problems or engaging students in their community garden, the Office of Sustainability is on the forefront of innovative solutions on campus.
Throughout the chapter, WKU’s achievements and actions toward sustainability are utilized to generate a model for holistic and intersectional sustainability in higher education. Here at WKU, sustainability is not just environmental protection. Instead, sustainability at the University is understood to be an environmental, social, cultural and economic mindset that fosters a forward-thinking and socially conscious learning environment.
Dr. North and Dr. Ryan explain how WKU embraces the concepts of sustainability in decisions on student life, student retention and energy conservation. The chapter also outlines the ways in which sustainability has encouraged students to become active participants in campus life, whether is it through representation at the Student Government Association or participation in the annual Earth Day event. Western Kentucky University’s student body is diverse and so is its approach to sustainability. It is through this very mindset, and accompanying behaviors, that the University acts as an ideal model for practical and successful sustainability at universities.
“Our sustainability efforts have provided endless opportunities for student engagement and collaboration among faculty and staff,” Dr. Ryan said. “Given that sustainability is all about creative problem solving and making a better world, the high level of interest and support by the WKU community is not surprising. Even so, we know change can be challenging. The commitment and energy directed toward sustainable change at WKU has resulted in an extraordinary culture shift on our campus. I hope that our demonstration of concern for the environment and each other, along with the practical ideas and initiatives we share in our chapter, will inspire and empower others.”