Education for Sustainability: Engaging the Polytechnic University


Warren J. Baker


Earth Day 2004



This year, Cal Poly has joined UC Santa Barbara and CSU Chico to become the third California   public university to sign the Talloires declaration,  a statement by university leaders around the world in support of "environmental citizenship."



The international Talloires movement began in 1990, when Tufts University convened a conference in Talloires,  France. At this conference, educational leaders voiced their concerns about the accelerating degradation and depletion of the world’s natural resources. They created a document that spelled out key actions institutions of higher education could take to ensure a more sustainable future.



Their 10-point plan,  captured in the Talloires Declaration,  has since been signed by the presidents of more than 300 universities around the world.


Cal Poly finds it fitting and appropriate to associate itself with the Talloires declaration. As a polytechnic university,  it is at the core of our mission to examine the ways in which knowledge may be applied to improve society, manage scarce resources and preserve the precious environmental values that support us physically as a species and uplift us spiritually.   Indeed, the University has already undertaken many activities outlined in the Talloires Declaration.


 Cal Poly’s Master Plan includes a statement of core values that calls for development of an environmentally responsible  campus that demonstrates high regard for bio diversity and energy conservation.


 The Master Plan envisions a socially responsible,   polytechnic university that meets growing public demand for affordable access to higher education in polytechnic and other University disciplines and for access to careers in high-demand fields in the state’s increasingly science and technology-based economy.


 The Master Plan also envisions a supportive campus environment that accommodates a moderate increase in students from all walks of life in California,  a campus that is physically comfortable and attractive, personally safe, culturally diverse, and intellectually stimulating.


In the implementation of the Master Plan, we are striving to strike a balance among several values and principles  that we believe are all essential elements of a comprehensive vision of sustainability– including  academic excellence, social justice,  economic growth and efficiency and environmental protection.


As you can see on their Web page, our Facilities Planning Department has embraced key principles of environmental,  social and economic sustainability. Through awareness activities and events, energy conservation initiatives, environmentally sensitive planning and environmental review protocols, the department has integrated principles of sustainability in  its mission and day-to-day practice. 


As called for by the Talloires Declaration,  Cal Poly provides education for environmentally responsible citizenship,  through its educational programs, in polytechnic and other emphasis areas. For example, several colleges offer degree programs, minors or other areas of emphasis: such as Natural Resources Management, in the College of Agriculture, Civil and Environmental Engineering,  in the College of Engineering,  and in the College of Architecture and Environmental Design,  the interdisciplinary “Sustainable Environment Education” emphasis provides exposure to principles of sustainability across the College’s programs.


In addition,  Cal Poly is home to a number of learning centers and institutes which advise industry and government on a variety of projects. These include the Environmental Biotechnology Institute,  the Coastal Resources Institute, the Irrigation Training Research Center,  the Renewable Energy Institute,  and the Evelyn and Harold Hay project, which supports solar building design.


The Cal Poly Land Project is another important example of the University’s growing engagement with issues of sustainability.


Cal Poly has also been active in promoting principles of sustainability on a global scale. The University’s  College of Agriculture took the lead, for example, in establishing EARTH University in Costa Rica, an institution dedicated to the conservation and sustainable development of the humid tropics.



By signing the Talloires Declaration, and associating the University formally with the declaration’s sustainability principles,  we wish to communicate Cal Poly’s commitment to play a strong and positive role in applying sustainability principles locally,  in our education,  research and in the further development of our campus.  We are also committed to advocating these principles more globally,  in University System deliberations and in policy dialogues beyond the University.




Text of the Talloires Declaration 


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.


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. These environmental changes are caused by inequitable and unsustainable production and consumption patterns that aggravate poverty in many regions of the world.


We believe that urgent actions are needed to address these fundamental problems and reverse the trends. Stabilization of human population, adoption of environmentally sound industrial and agricultural technologies, reforestation, and ecological restoration are crucial elements in creating an equitable and sustainable future for all humankind in harmony with nature.


Universities have a major role in the education, research, policy formation, and information exchange necessary to make these goals possible. Thus, university leaders must initiate and support mobilization of internal and external resources so that their institutions respond to this urgent challenge.


We, therefore, agree to take the following actions:


1. 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.


 2. 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.


3. 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.


4. 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.


5. 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.


 6. 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.


7. 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.


8. 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.


9. Broaden Service and Outreach Nationally and Internationally

 Work with national and international organizations to promote a worldwide university effort toward a sustainable future.


10. 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.