The University Sustainability Program

A new “University Sustainability Program” (USP) was authorized at the Department of Education as part of the recently enacted Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HR 4137). USP is an outgrowth of the Higher Education Sustainability Act, introduced in the House as HR 3637 by Representative Earl Blumenauer along with Representatives Vernon Ehlers, Rick Boucher, and David Wu; and in the Senate as S 2444 by Senator Patty Murray along with Senators Jeff Bingaman, Christopher Dodd, Edward Kennedy, and John Kerry. This is the first new federal environmental education grant-making program authorized in 18 years.

Endorsed by over 240 colleges and universities, higher education associations, NGOs and corporations, this grant program will provide the catalyst for colleges and universities to develop and implement more programs and practices around the principles of sustainability. The bill also directs the Department of Education to convene a national summit of higher education sustainability experts, federal agency staff, and business leaders to identify best practices and opportunities for collaboration in sustainability.

At the original intended authorization level of $50 million, USP will annually support between 25 and 200 sustainability projects at individual higher education institutions and higher education consortia/associations. Individual institutions are eligible for funding to:

a) develop and implement administrative and operations practices that test,
model, and analyze principles of sustainability;
b) establish multidisciplinary education, research, and outreach programs that
address the environmental, social, and economic dimensions of sustainability;
c) support research and teaching initiatives that focus on multidisciplinary and integrate environmental, economic, and social elements;
d) establish initiatives in the areas of energy management, green building, waste management, purchasing, toxics, transportation, and other aspects of sustainability;
e) support student, faculty, and staff work at institutions of higher education to implement, research, and evaluate sustainable practices;
f) establish sustainability literacy as a requirement for undergraduate and graduate degree programs; and
g) integrate sustainability curriculum in all programs of instruction, particularly in business, architecture, technology, manufacturing, engineering, and science programs.

Associations and consortia are eligible for funding to:

a) conduct faculty, staff and/or administrator trainings;
b) compile, evaluate and disseminate best practices, case studies, and standards;
c) engage external stakeholders such as business, alumni, and accrediting agencies,
d) create analytical tools to assess and measure institutional progress; and
e) develop educational benchmarks.

The immediate purposes of USP are to:
(1) support faculty, staff, and students in their efforts to establish administrative and academic sustainability programs on campus;
(2) promote and enhance research by faculty and students in sustainability practices and innovations; and
(3) support to colleges and universities in their work with community partners from the business, government, and nonprofit sectors to design and implement sustainability programs for application in the community and workplace.

The goal of this program is to help tip the higher education system so that it:

- produces 3 million “sustainability-literate” college graduates each year
- educates and trains the next generation of scientists, engineers, planners, and business leaders for 21st century careers in the private and public sectors, and
- fully embeds sustainable practices in higher education, a $350 billion enterprise.
In the process, USP will:
- strengthen the ties between business and academia,
- help in the development of new tools and strategies for environmental and resource conservation, energy efficiency and sustainable development,
- promote good business practices in higher education
- provide real world examples to the business and government sectors of how sustainability practices result in greater productivity, and
- help build a large market for sustainably-produced goods and services by establishing a new generation of better informed consumers.

Next Steps:

1) We need to call upon Congress to appropriate funds for this new program at a level as close to the originally envisioned $50 million as possible. While funding is unlikely for the FY09 budget since this process is now well underway and Congress is also likely to “level fund” almost all government programs, we need to start now to build momentum for the FY10 budget.

If/when Congress appropriates funds, the Department of Education will then set up the grantmaking process and issue a RFP. The very earliest this might happen is late spring 2009 but far more likely to be late spring 2010.

For further information, contact:
James L Elder, Director
Campaign for Environmental Literacy


USP / Higher Education Sustainability Act Sponsors


Representative Earl Blumenauer (OR-3) introduced HESA (HR 3637) with:
Vernon J. Ehlers (MI-03)
Rick Boucher (VA-9)
David Wu (OR-1)

21 additional Members signed on as co-sponsors:
George Butterfield [NC]
Yvette Clarke [NY]
Susan Davis [CA]
Bob Filner [CA]
Barton Gordon [TN]
Al Green [TX]
Raul Grijalva [AZ]
Phil Hare [IL]
Paul Hodes [NH]
Rush Holt [NJ]
Michael Honda [CA]
Darlene Hooley [OR]
Zoe Lofgren [CA]
Carolyn Maloney [NY]
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen [FL]
John Sarbanes [MD]
Carol Shea-Porter [NH]
Michael Thompson [CA]
Lynn Woolsey [CA]
Albert Wynn [MD]
John Yarmuth [KY]


Senator Patty Murray (WA) introduced HESA in the Senate (S 2444) with:
Jeff Bingaman (NM)
Christopher Dodd (CT)
Edward Kennedy (MA)
John Kerry (MA)

3 additional Senators Members signed on as co-sponsors:
Susan Collins (ME)
Richard Durbin (D-IL)
Barbara Mikulski (MD)