Talk on sustainability literacy underscores need for more sustainability courses at Lafayette

The talk, held on Zoom this past Wednesday, was the penultimate event hosted in celebration of Earth Month. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Alongside their many recent efforts promoting sustainability on campus, the Office of Sustainability has aimed their sights on another area of improvement: sustainability education.

This past Wednesday, faculty and students joined the Office of Sustainability in a virtual event where presenters shared research on how sustainability education can be integrated into curricular and co-curricular opportunities at Lafayette. The talk was the penultimate in a series of events hosted in celebration of Earth Month.

Sustainability Director Delicia Nahman began the session by sharing research conducted during the fall semester around areas of improvement related to sustainability on campus by Christine Pak ’23 and Marina Cantor ’21, who are both members of the office’s Metrics & Reporting team. Nahman explained that Lafayette uses a tool called the Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System (STARS) to evaluate the college’s sustainability.

Nahman said the office has been specifically focusing on two areas in academics and in the curriculum: sustainability literacy and integrating sustainability content into courses. These have been long-held priorities for faculty and students, she said.

In a follow-up presentation focused on sustainability in academic courses, Pak elaborated that STARS is intended to encourage transparency within institutions regarding efforts to measure sustainability performance. The rating system is divided in multiple categories. Based on an institution’s performance in each category, schools are then ranked into recognition levels from Platinum to Bronze. Each STARS report is valid for up to 3 years, and schools can resubmit one updated report per year.

In its 2020 report, Lafayette College was at the Silver level, with 7.78% of the institution’s courses being sustainability course offerings and 40.82% of academic departments having sustainability course offerings.

Cantor then presented findings on sustainability literacy assessment. She discussed developing a survey that assesses the knowledge of students on sustainability topics and challenges regardless of their major. Cantor explained that with her project, she hopes to include an assessment of how students feel towards sustainability in their courses and in campus engagement.

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