President Signs Legislation for Greener Campuses, Sustainability at Colleges and Universities

Bill Creates First New Federal Authorization for Environmental Education in 18 Years

08-14-2008 // Patrick Fitzgerald

WASHINGTON, DC -- Today President Bush strongly bolstered environmental education by signing into law the Higher Education Sustainability Act (HESA) as part of the new Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HR 4137). The bill creates a new "University Sustainability Grants Program" at the Department of Education that will provide competitive grants to institutions and associations of higher education. The grants are intended to help colleges offer more academic programs that address sustainability and aid campuses in becoming more energy-efficient.

"This is a huge victory for college campuses around the country," said Kevin Coyle, Vice President for Education and Training at the National Wildlife Federation, which has championed more federal support for environmental education. "We have to prepare the next generation for a new energy economy and give them the skills to address future environmental challenges, like global warming. And sustainability education is the right way to do it."

The bill also directs the Department of Education to convene a national sustainability summit to support sustainability curriculum development and sustainable management practices on college campuses. The Senate bill was introduced by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) in 2007. The House bill was introduced in September 2007 by Representatives Earl Blumenauer, (D-OR), Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), Rick Boucher (D-WA), and David Wu (D-OR).

"We couldn't have passed HESA without the leadership of Senator Murray, Representatives Blumenauer and Ehlers, and the Campaign for Environmental Literacy," added Coyle.

Endorsed by more than 220 colleges and universities, higher education associations, NGOs and corporations, the Campaign for Environmental Literacy (CEL) led the coalition effort to pass this landmark piece of environmental education legislation.

"As we begin to connect the dots among our nation's many challenges in energy, national security, sustainable economic development, environmental protection, and social justice, it is imperative that our schools incorporate this fundamental perspective in their teaching and practice," noted Jim Elder, the director of CEL. "We gratefully applaud Congress for recognizing the need to help."

In addition to college campuses being centers for training and educating young people in sustainability, they also can be like towns and small cities in their size, environmental impact, and financial influence. Campuses use vast amounts of energy to heat, cool, and light their facilities. Roughly 1,000 schools in the United States have 5,000 or more students. Some, counting faculty and staff, have weekday populations of more than 60,000. In all, the nation's 4,100 campuses educate or employ around 20 million individuals. The economic clout of these schools is further multiplied by the hundreds of thousands of business suppliers, property owners, and other commercial and nonprofit entities involved with higher education.

"This is a much-needed shot in the arm for the campus sustainability movement," stated Julian Keniry, Senior Director and leader of NWF's Campus Ecology program, which encourages student leaders to promote environmental education and reduce the carbon footprint of college campuses. "Given the idea power and economic power of higher education, Congress has made an excellent investment. Federal support for sustainability education will lead to a significant return on this taxpayer investment as we prepare future leaders, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and promote energy-efficiency."

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TheĀ National Wildlife Federation is America's conservation organization inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children's future.

Contact: Patrick Fitzgerald, Senior Legislative Representative, 202-870-0824,