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Presidents of six Tennessee colleges and universities joined Wednesday at Baptist-affiliated Belmont University in Nashville pledging to lead their campuses to “go green” in teaching, research and operations.

Belmont President Bob Fisher was scheduled to be joined by presidents of Fisk University, Meherry Medical College and American Baptist College for a ceremonial signing of the Talloires Declaration, a pledge to incorporate environmental sustainability in higher education. The chancellor at University of Tennessee in Knoxville and president of Nashville State Technological Community College were unable to attend but fixed their signatures electronically.

Nearly 350 colleges and universities in 49 countries have signed the 10-point pledge, named after the international conference in Talliores, France, where it originated in 1990. It was the first statement made by university administrators to commit their institutions to environmental sustainability.

“Sustainability” means ecologically sound, socially just and economically viable. Institutions signing the commitment pledge to emphasize those concepts in curriculum and research, preparing students to work as citizens toward a society that reflects those values.

According to the association of University Leaders For a Sustainable Future, a committee formed in 1992 to promote the declaration worldwide, universities play a special role because they educate most of the people who develop and manage society’s institutions.

As such, they bear heavy responsibility to increase awareness, knowledge, technologies and tools for sustainability. The university also is a microcosm of the larger community, and therefore models environmentally responsible living for other parts of society.

Presidents are important, because they are the only academic leaders capable of focusing all the academic disciplines on large, complex issues.

“We, the presidents, rectors, and vice chancellors of universities from all regions of the world are deeply concerned about the unprecedented scale and speed of environmental pollution and degradation, and the depletion of natural resources,” begins the Talloires Declaration, authored by 31 university leaders and environmental experts representing 15 nations from the global North and South.

“Local, regional and global air and water pollution; accumulation and distribution of toxic wastes; destruction and depletion of forests, soil and water; depletion of the ozone layer and emission of ‘green house’ gases threaten the survival of humans and thousands of other living species, the integrity of the earth and its biodiversity, the security of nations, and the heritage of future generations,” it says. “These environmental changes are caused by inequitable and unsustainable production and consumption patterns that aggravate poverty in many regions of the world.”

The document calls for “urgent actions” to “address these fundamental problems and reverse the trends.” Crucial elements, it says, include stabilization of human population, adoption of environmentally sound industrial and agricultural technologies, reforestation and ecological restoration.

Specific actions in the pledge are to:

–Increase Awareness of Environmentally Sustainable Development. Use every opportunity to raise public, government, industry, foundation and university awareness by openly addressing the urgent need to move toward an environmentally sustainable future.

–Create an Institutional Culture of Sustainability. Encourage all universities to engage in education, research, policy formation and information exchange on population, environment and development to move toward global sustainability.

–Educate for Environmentally Responsible Citizenship. Establish programs to produce expertise in environmental management, sustainable economic development, population and related fields to ensure that all university graduates are environmentally literate and have the awareness and understanding to be ecologically responsible citizens.

–Foster Environmental Literacy For All. Create programs to develop the capability of university faculty to teach environmental literacy to all undergraduate, graduate and professional students.

–Practice Institutional Ecology. Set an example of environmental responsibility by establishing institutional ecology policies and practices of resource conservation, recycling, waste reduction and environmentally sound operations.

–Involve All Stakeholders. Encourage involvement of government, foundations and industry in supporting interdisciplinary research, education, policy formation, and information exchange in environmentally sustainable development. Expand work with community and nongovernmental organizations to assist in finding solutions to environmental problems.

–Collaborate for Interdisciplinary Approaches. Convene university faculty and administrators with environmental practitioners to develop interdisciplinary approaches to curricula, research initiatives, operations and outreach activities that support an environmentally sustainable future.

–Enhance Capacity of Primary and Secondary Schools. Establish partnerships with primary and secondary schools to help develop the capacity for interdisciplinary teaching about population, environment and sustainable development.

–Broaden Service and Outreach Nationally and Internationally. Work with national and international organizations to promote a worldwide university effort toward a sustainable future.

–Maintain the Movement. Establish a Secretariat and a steering committee to continue this momentum and to inform and support each other’s efforts in carrying out this declaration.

Belmont is one of the few Christian colleges to join the list of signatories. Hong Kong Baptist University has signed the declaration. So have Stetson University and University of Richmond, historically Baptist schools that several years ago severed ties with their sponsoring state conventions.

The signing ceremony was part of Belmont Goes Green Week March 26-30, featuring events to inform the campus community about ways to create a more environmentally sustainable campus, and a March 29-30 Campus Sustainability Conference sponsored by the Tennessee Pollution Prevention Roundtable Committee on Higher Education.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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