Sustainability and the Strategic Planning process

Macalester’s newly-released Strategic Plan opens with a bold aspiration: “We hope that [this Plan] will position [our college] on a more sustainable path and as a leader in liberal arts education.” In this document, however, ‘sustainability’ is narrowly conceived as a concern for financial security. The Plan thus presents a narrowing of the concept from the previously-penned Sustainability Plan of 2009, where Macalester defined sustainability as “the continuous effort to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs by working toward a healthy environment, social justice and a strong economy.” This year’s Strategic Plan bypasses a more holistic understanding of sustainability as an essential component of the school’s future and our education.

Incorporating ‘sustainability’ into this Strategic Plan could accomplish several objectives. Firstly, such language would acknowledge Macalester’s current sustainability goals. In 2009’s Sustainability Plan, we committed to Zero Waste by 2020, Climate Neutrality by 2025 and prioritizing comprehensive sustainability education across the college. The timelines for these first two objectives overlap with the lifespan of this Strategic Plan, yet neither goal appears in the document. Neither does sustainability education, a framework that both reflects the mission of the college and could iconify our distinctiveness in an increasingly competitive higher education market.

Sustainability interfaces effectively with Macalester’s emphasis of a broad understanding of the liberal arts – especially through our key focuses upon global citizenship and internationalism. Geography Professor Dan Trudeau notes that “we have crafted a concept of global citizenship being important to a Macalester education… and if [that] means anything, it means being aware of and concerned with sustainability and its incarnation as [an] environmental, economic and social issue.” The Strategic Plan lauds internationalism as perhaps our greatest strength: viewing internationalism through a sustainability framework can only enhance and deepen our understanding of global citizenship, further highlighting the unique education Macalester has to offer.

Internationalism and sustainability each encourage us to think self-reflexively about our actions as citizens, workers, consumers and human beings within global contexts. These types of critical systems-level thinking are increasingly essential given the issues Macalester graduates will contend with in the uncertain decades ahead. While globalization has benefited some with the burgeoning movement of capital, goods, technologies and ideas, it simultaneously has brought about significant dislocations and marginalizations that require in-depth reflection of the dominant notions of modernization and progress. Any discussion of internationalism must encompass interlinked issues such as climate change, massive biodiversity losses, 10 billion global population by mid-century, resource depletion, income inequality and countless other issues. We overlook essential relationships if we think about issues of internationalism without considering the underlying interplay of environmental, social and economic factors.

The Strategic Plan notes that our college faces increased competition as more colleges express a similar commitment to internationalism. Yet we believe that Macalester stands uniquely poised amidst others, especially if we incorporate sustainability as a lens through which to interpret our roles and responsibilities as global citizens. Macalester’s current approach to sustainability stands unique within the field of liberal arts colleges. Our urban Twin Cities location offers relevant lessons globally in a world where over half the population lives in urban centers. Our interdisciplinary emphasis is already well-suited to accommodate sustainability discourse across academic departmental offerings intertwined with our civic engagement, internship and study away programs. To omit the full scope of sustainability education from the Strategic Plan disregards a fundamental principle that has successfully set Macalester apart from other institutions.

“Sustainability” is not an end goal: it is a never-ending exercise of self-questioning and adaptation in an attempt to ensure the viability of future generations in a world of limited resources. Sustainability, in essence, is a Strategic Planning process. To think sustainably is to actively fight against the insularity and complacency that the Strategic Plan rejects. And to think sustainably – in the most holistic sense of the word – is essential to plotting the future success of Macalester in our global community.

We encourage members of the Macalester community who share our concerns to submit feedback to the Strategic Planning Committee through the Campus Input Form on the Strategic Plan 2014 section of Macalester’s website.

Rick Beckel – Chair, MCSG Sustainability Task Force Lisa Hu – Student Liaison to the Board of Trustees Zhe Yu Lee, Dylan McAdam, Jenny Grischuk – Sustainability Advisory Committee Gabby Queenan – Sustainability Student Coordinator in Facilities Services Rothin Datta – President, Macalester College Student Government Macalester Conservation and Renewable Energy Society (MacCARES) MPIRG – Environmental Justice Task Force