Grist.org published a list of 15 "green" colleges and universities across the globe. What makes a college green?, I wondered. There's several factors, to be sure. And one important component to consider is the students. I was struck by how students have successfully advocated for environmentally-productive changes on their campuses. Take Middlebury College, for instance. There's a student group called MiddShift that's effectively managed to get their Board of Trustees to agree to make their school carbon-neutral by 2016. This is the same institution, by the way, that launched Step It UP 2007, which we participated in at BagFest.
Anyway, without listing the myriad of possible factors that makes a college "green," one theme I gathered from reading this Top 15 list was that students, faculty, and administrators alike collaborated to reach a common goal at their institutions.
This got me thinking about a classic research study conducted in the 1950s. A researcher by the name of Muzafer Sherif (University of Oregon) was interested in how people formed positive interpersonal relationships with others. He predicted that when people lacked a shared history or some kind of established relationship, they created their own roles and a group structure so that members of a group would know how to interact with each other to acheive a common goal.
This "common goal" goes beyond organizing and attending an ice-cream social (or any kind of contrived social setting). Instead, the goal has to be large (beyond the resources and capacity of a single individual) and important (catering to our basic needs for survival, like drinking water or breathing clean air). That way, everyone will understand what each person needs to do in order to transform a lofty goal into reality.
This 1954 study reminds me about the importance of identifying a common goal and collaborating with others who passionately want to attain that goal. I take comfort in knowing there are colleges out there with folks working together to make a positive impact on the environment. I think my institution is trying to make a difference, too. It will be interesting to see what environmental initiatives will take place at IU South Bend during this new academic year.