Education provides us with the knowledge and critical thinking we need to be better global citizens. Some of the common themes in a sustainable education include partnerships and collaboration, multicultural perspectives, lifelong learning, and empowerment.
Education plays an integral role in building a more sustainable community on two levels. First, a liberal education provides the broad perspective that helps people understand the world and its needs, along with the interconnectedness of the various aspects of sustainability. Second, education provides practical skills, knowledge, and opportunities to apply that know-how for the betterment of society.
Sustainable agriculture is a way of producing food that’s healthy to eat, doesn’t harm the environment, is humane for workers, respects animals, provides a fair wage to the farmer, and supports and enhances local communities. Since there is no “sustainable” label, eating sustainably means understanding the issues, getting involved with your food, and knowing the people who grow and sell it. Learn more about how to do this at sustainabletable.org/.
Waste is a distinctly human problem. In nature, there is no waste, as all is recycled back into the earth, while humans use landfills that have significant negative impacts on our society. Landfills are a big ticket expense for municipalities and local governments to maintain. Landfills also can leach toxic chemicals into the environment, and they tend to be disproportionately located near marginalized communities. Therefore, working to minimize waste has social, economic, and environmental benefits.
Reliance on fossil fuels has numerous negative environmental consequences, including climate change and pollution of the air and water, along with social effects like higher asthma rates for inner-city children and political instability in oil-producing nations. Reducing reliance on fossil fuels through energy conservation and development of renewable energy sources is a way to lessen these impacts.
Water is an essential building block of life, so the growing demand and pollution of it is gaining increasing attention. Along with thinking about how to reduce the amount of water we consume, we also need to be conscious of what we put down the drain and how pollutants are ending up in our water systems through runoff. Water that originates from rain, snowmelt, or too much irrigation and that does not soak into the ground becomes surface runoff, carrying with it pollutants from impermeable surfaces. Government studies have shown that up to 70 percent of the pollution in our streams, rivers, and lakes is carried there by storm water.
Reliable transportation is essential in day-to-day life, and the method of transportation we choose has a direct impact on our environment, health, and pocketbook. Reducing the number of vehicles on roads minimizes traffic congestion, accidents, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and air pollution.
Sustainable purchasing is all about taking environmental and social factors and considerations into account when making purchasing decisions. It is about looking at what your products are made of, where they come from, who has made them, and how they can be disposed. For every dollar you spend at a local business, 68 cents will stay and circulate in the local economy. However, if you spend that same dollar at a nonlocal business, only 43 cents of that dollar will stay in the local economy.
Fiscal sustainability is the ability of an organization or entity to meet its existing spending commitments with its existing resources. These groups may be government departments, businesses, or nonprofit organizations. Fluctuations in the regional economy and housing market, debt crises, and structural fiscal discrepancies have all raised concerns about fiscal sustainability. Grand Valley is committed to maintaining fiscal sustainability for the institution today and in the future.
Health and wellness is an integral part of sustainability. Healthy lifestyles help to create balanced, fit, and vibrant individuals, families, and communities. With rising health care costs, there has been increased focus on health and wellness programs, as it is more cost effective to prevent issues than treat the problem after diagnosis. Feeling connected with our bodies and achieving a healthy state of mind through eating well, enjoying leisure activities, and living an active lifestyle can lead to a higher quality of life.
In addition to the positive changes that are possible when you become involved with your community, there are numerous personal advantages. Community engagement can enrich your life by helping you connect with others, giving you the opportunity to develop your personal interests, and providing a way to “give back.”
Grand Valley is dedicated to being a good neighbor in the West Michigan community and to engaging with the community in a leadership role. GVSU faculty and staff members and students have developed collaborations, working relationships, and partnerships with numerous businesses and organizations to benefit the community.
As an institution where “shaping societies” is part of the mission statement, Grand Valley offers students multiple opportunities to make a difference. Sustainability is incorporated into almost every field of study, from the humanities to business to health sciences, so students can learn about the topic and then share their knowledge and service with the community.