Sustainability Working Group Review: Developing Our Report and Plan

Executive Summary

This review outlines the guiding principles, strengths, challenges, and opportunities for Carleton that will form a foundation for the Sustainability Working Group Report and Plan. The goal is to finalize the plan and submit a report to President Alison Byerly by the end of Winter Term 2024. As a quick summary, the review itself includes current sustainability data and successes at Carleton; input from students, faculty, staff, and alumni; advice from sustainability leaders at peer colleges; and models and ideas for deepening sustainability and updating Carleton’s climate actions across operations, education, and our local-to-global engagement.

The Sustainability Working Group Report and Plan that this review underpins will include defining next operational actions to reduce emissions as well as expanding climate action to include planning for biodiversity, adaptation, and resilience on our campus (including in the Cowling Arboretum and McKnight Prairie), all in connection with Indigenous community priorities and frontline partners. It will also include strategies to support robust opportunities in sustainability education and collaboration, on campus and through broader networks. Our recommendations will be framed to support our bold institutional strategic plan, which establishes a vision for a new Center of Sustainability, strengthening the Environmental Studies Program (ENTS), and creating broad opportunities in sustainability across the curriculum. Sustainability education is also deeply intertwined with our work around inclusion, diversity, and equity (IDE), and we envision intentional design of resources and community building support to co-advance both sustainability and IDE.

The members of the Sustainability Working Group (SWG) bring considerable expertise and capacity to this endeavor, but have also engaged with many students, faculty, staff, and alumni, reflecting a considerable amount of community input. This includes the engagement and ideas within the Environmental Advisory Committee’s 2020 Climate Action Plan Review as well as input gathered from many meetings conducted by the SWG during the 2022–23 academic year with faculty, staff, administrative offices, academic departments, student organizations, and others. We have developed ideas on education interests after hearing feedback from students and faculty, exploring models for deepening sustainability education, and seeking advice from sustainability leaders at peer colleges that have supported change.

This review stages the recommendations we will make and is intended to stimulate further conversation! All members of the Carleton community are encouraged to provide feedback on any aspect of this review.

Guiding Principles

  • We will propose bold action and investment for climate action, including reducing and offsetting carbon emissions, supporting climate adaptation, and supporting equity and justice.
  • We seek outcomes that span operations, education, and community engagement.
  • We will seek and center input from people and groups advancing equity and justice for systemically marginalized communities.
  • We will align our commitments with Carleton’s strategic goals of building a community of belonging, advancing the liberal arts, and expanding the College’s reach to maximize opportunities for collective action.
  • We will find ways to support the special talents of our community and our location.
  • We will propose sustainability education strategies that support every discipline and work across disciplines.

Sustainability Working Group Members

Faculty and Staff

  • Sarah Fortner, Director of Sustainability (co-chair)
  • Aaron Swoboda ’01, Director of Environmental Studies and Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and Economics (co-chair)
  • Nancy Braker ’81, Puzak Family Director of the Cowling Arboretum and Senior Lecturer in Biology
  • Rob Hanson, Manager of Campus Energy
  • Erica Helgerud ’20, News and Social Media Manager
  • Kenta Hikino ’23, Educational Associate in Sustainability
  • Dan Maxbauer, Assistant Professor of Geology
  • Kate Meyer ’09, Assistant Professor of Mathematics
  • Arjendu Pattanayak, Professor of Physics
  • Erica Zweifel, Assistant Director for Community Impact in the Center for Community and Civic Engagement (CCCE)


  • Julianna Baldo ’25
  • Grace Bassekle ’25
  • Sadie DiCarlo ’25
  • Jeremy Fleishhacker ’23
  • Elliot Hanson ’23
  • Simran Kadam ’23
  • Gabe Kaplan ’25
  • Eva Leikikh ’26
  • Peter Sallinger ’24
  • Eli Watt ’25
  • Beck Woollen ’23

Timeline of Actions

  • 2011: Carleton releases and starts to follow a Climate Action Plan (CAP).
  • 2020–21: The Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC) reviews past progress on climate action, identifies gaps in the 2011 CAP, recommends new high-level goals and updates to CAP sections, and recommends forming a Sustainability Working Group (SWG).
  • December 2022: Sarah Fortner is hired as director of sustainability and the Office of Sustainability moves to the academic side of the College to deepen its impacts.
  • February 2023: President Alison Byerly and her cabinet initiate the SWG as a replacement of the EAC to support revising the work of the sustainability office and updating the climate action plan in order to accelerate carbon neutrality, strengthen education and community engagement, and continue operational success.
  • February–September 2023:
    • The SWG deepens exploration of models.
    • The SWG meets with the President’s Cabinet to discuss establishing a carbon neutrality date and a possible offsets policy or strategy to address the emissions we have not yet reduced.
    • The SWG meets with faculty, offices and departments, and many student groups to gather feedback and input, including focus work for IDE to understand priorities.
  • August 2023: The draft institutional strategic plan names sustainability as an institutional commitment that should inform “every aspect of our operations and education.”
    • Carleton’s carbon neutrality date is announced as 2025.
    • Ideas for education include establishing a Center of Sustainability—most likely including the Arb, the Office of Sustainability, and the Environmental Studies Program—and supporting the scaling of sustainability across the curriculum.
  • September 2023: The SWG releases this review of what we found in our input sessions, model exploration, and conversations with partners, alumni, and sustainability directors.

Top Strengths by Category

Climate Action

  • Carleton College stands at the forefront nationally for its remarkable achievements in mitigation (reducing carbon emissions). As of 2022, we have achieved an impressive 58% reduction in emissions since 2008. These substantial reductions have been made possible through ongoing investments in renewable energy systems, including a district geothermal (ground source heat pump) system, two industrial-scale wind turbines, and a rooftop solar panel array. Furthermore, our commitment to operational efficiency enhancements—such as energy retrofits, building upgrades, waste system improvements, and robust outreach and community engagement led by Facilities, the Office of Sustainability, the CCCE, and numerous dedicated student, faculty, and staff partners—has played a pivotal role in this success. We have achieved success across all three scopes of emissions.
Graphic visualizing Scope 1 (direct emissions from operation), Scope 2 (emissions from utility supplier operations), and Scope 3 (emissions from materials production, transportation, waste, etc).
Figure 1: Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions described.
  • Our geothermal (ground source heat pump) system has garnered recognition beyond our campus, attracting sustainability experts from across the Midwest and earning recognition from the Department of Energy’s Better Building Solutions as an education sector case study in renewable heating systems.
  • The unwavering support for our operational initiatives has been fortified by contributions of the EAC, coupled with the guidance set forth by the 2011 CAP in defining ambitious emissions reduction targets. Strong collaboration across campus operations and investment in state-of-the-art technology has kept us ahead.
  • Carleton’s exceptional leadership in climate also includes our work in conservation and biodiversity stewardship, focused on the prairies and forests of the approximately 800-acre Cowling Arboretum as well as the 33.5-acre McKnight Prairie. This work supports our adaptive capacity (resilience to impacts caused by climate change).
  • Carleton consistently propels forward on our sustainability-focused operational objectives through the development of impactful policies and alignment with nationally recognized benchmarks, such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certification.

Investment, Financing, and Purchasing

  • As of February 2023, Carleton is one of 100 colleges committed to fossil fuel divestment in its endowment.
  • Carleton has a governance body, the Carleton Responsible Investment Committee (CRIC), which advises ethical, social, and environmental issues with the College’s endowment.


  • An audit of Carleton’s curricular offerings revealed that just over 25% of all courses meet the criteria for the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS), meaning they include at least one sustainability activity (e.g. an activity that includes social, economic, and environmental dimensions, or an activity that addresses at least one of the UN Sustainable Development goals). A total of 40% of all departments and programs at Carleton include courses that meet this definition.
  • There are many examples of using campus as a living laboratory (e.g. geothermal system, energy data, classes and research in the Arb, etc.).
  • Carleton’s Environmental Studies Program provides students with an interdisciplinary platform of knowledge and problem-solving skills to address complex environmental challenges.
  • Sustainability is deeply integrated into major STEM equity initiatives such as Focusing on Cultivating Scientists (FOCUS) and the Carleton Undergraduate Bridge Experience (CUBE), thereby fostering inclusivity in science and math education and preparing students with essential skills. For example, FOCUS and CUBE incorporate authentic sustainability data—like waste stream data, building energy use, and wind turbine data—into their work.
  • Many Academic Civic Engagement (ACE) courses address topics in sustainable development (e.g. social and environmental systems), including courses like Empty Bowls, which support visibility and outcomes.

Education—Co-curricular and Network Building

  • Co-curricular activities like student events, peer mentoring by sustainability peer leaders, and student-managed enterprises enrich the campus experience, connecting students to sustainability initiatives.
  • Strong partnerships with the local community, equity-focused collaborations, and initiatives like Lighten Up (Carleton’s zero-waste move-out program) enhance community connections, fostering equity and sustainability synergies. The Lighten Up program diverts on average 50,000 pounds of materials from the landfill each year. This material is collected and sorted by community volunteers and student workers and turned into a huge community garage sale.
  • Student organizations like 1Gen, Environmental Carls Organized (ECO), the Student Organic Farm and Farm House, and Sunrise Carleton, along with CCCE programs like Food Recovery Network, Clothing Recovery Network, Biodiversity Counts, and Housing Minnesotans Everyday (HOME), drive sustainability and environmental justice initiatives, amplifying the student-led commitment to these causes.
  • Sustainability internships are offered by the Sustainability Office.
  • CCCE fellows in the food and environmental justice cohort work directly with community partners to address community-identified sustainability needs.
  • Faculty, staff, and student collaborations in public engagement and leadership demonstrate the campus’s commitment to making a broader impact.
  • Carleton’s Science Education Resource Center (SERC) is a national leader in sustainability education within STEM, influencing national standards and systemic change strategies used across higher education.
  • Campus-wide programming, including departmental lectures and convocations, actively promote sustainability awareness.


More than 20 faculty members are dedicated to supporting research and creative work in sustainability (according to an AASHE STARS audit). Among these, numerous researchers are deeply involved in environmental topics (e.g. environmental humanities, applied science projects, etc.), and a substantial contingent focus on the broader spectrum of sustainable development and the pursuit of social and environmental justice.

Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity

The First Generation Forward program, in addition to many faculty members teaching sustainability-related topics, describes the value of sustainability in connecting with students and inviting identities into the work.


We make emissions data transparent and progress on climate action publicly available through nation-wide reporting with AASHE STARS and the Sustainability Indicator Management & Analysis Platform (SiMAP).

Top Challenges, Needs, and Opportunities by Category

Climate Action

While our past climate action plan focused primarily on reducing emissions (i.e. preventing climate change), our next plan must also support resilience (i.e. acting to reduce the impacts caused by climate change and counter inequity and injustice in who experiences those impacts). This includes strengthening our connections to Indigenous priorities and strengthening the relationships important to the social fabric of our climate response. It also includes strengthening our own culture to address systemic challenges we have not yet acted on, monitored, or measured (e.g. food systems goals). The SWG’s report and plan will propose new strategies for mitigation and resilience, as well as describe the need to increase our social and ethical responsibility through financially offsetting any harm.

Here are the opportunities we see as guides:

  • Honoring and Resourcing Indigenous Priorities for Climate Action: State tribal leadership (made up of 11 tribal nations within Minnesota) has identified tribal priorities within the State of Minnesota Climate Action Framework. These include water quality, affordable housing and renewable energy, protecting and restoring native ecosystems, and funding as priorities for Indigenous communities. We must support these priorities, in addition to priorities identified by local Indigenous communities such as the Prairie Island Indian Community, as we learn and find ways to engage that are valued and wanted. There are immediate actions we can take as well as some that will require deepening our knowledge of history and culture and strengthening our new work and relationship-building.
  • Strengthening our Land Planning, Indigenous Relationships, and Social Fabric for Action: Climate-related challenges we experience on our campus, in our community, and in our region include: flooding combined with water quality stress, excessive heat combined with a lack of air conditioning, and air quality challenges. Our vegetation and capacity to restore and protect vegetation is also at risk as climate zones shift.  Potential actions include:
    • Safeguarding the Cowling Arboretum’s Legacy and Supporting Our Students in Climate Change and Nature Co-solving: We see the opportunity to develop a policy or trust to protect the Cowling Arboretum. Climate change and biodiversity threats are dual challenges that we can engage students around and connect to many disciplinary ideas in place, history, culture, and applied science. We should especially explore co-management and collaborative arrangements especially of interest to local Dakota people.
    • Land Use Mitigation, Adaptation, and Resilience: Landscape Master Planning is an opportunity to develop a strategy for a resilient campus that reduces water use, selects vegetation for ecosystem services and adaptive impacts, and connects the Arboretum seamlessly with the rest of campus (see Smith College for an example). We have the opportunity to support the Minnesota State Climate Framework, especially state tribal consortia priorities, by taking action to support biodiversity and water quality.
    • Strengthening Relationships and Care for Community for Climate Action: Our capacity to respond to climate challenges locally such as heat, air quality, flooding, extreme weather, and stress to ecosystems and people—especially those marginalized across social, human, and environmental systems—calls for more collaboration and coordination. We see potential to be more responsive to Indigenous priorities and partnerships here. Many students also expressed interest in more experiences in the city of Northfield or regionally working on climate solutions, which could be synergistic with expanding climate action beyond campus.
  • Reducing emissions: While we have reduced our emissions by 58% since our 2011 CAP, we have opportunities for continued progress in reducing all emissions categories. For more detailed reporting about Carleton emissions with trends, see the slide deck produced by the Office of Sustainability.
    • Addressing Scope 1 & 2 Emissions: Our plan and report will need to describe strategies to continue in operational excellence with mitigation. This will include expanding usage of our geothermal (ground source heat pump) system and/or adding additional renewables, increasing battery storage, supporting energy efficiency in building upgrades, and developing the highest standards for sustainability in new buildings. Additionally, the state of Minnesota has established that all electric energy will be coal-free by 2040, which accelerates how we might act.
    • Addressing Scope 3 Emissions Through New Actions and Offsets: Our Scope 3 Emissions (5500 MT eCO2) are the most difficult to reduce. These include:
      • Directly Financed Air Travel (2500 MT eCO2)
      • Study Abroad (1100 MT eCO2)
      • Staff Commuting (1000 MT eCO2)
      • Solid Waste to Landfill (400 MT eCO2) (e.g. only the landfill stream)
      • Faculty Commuting (100 MT eCO2)
      • Carleton’s Fleet Vehicles (100 MT eCO2)
      • Wastewater, Paper, and Fertilizer (each under 80 MT eCO2)
    • We have opportunities here to:
      • Establish a strategy for fleet vehicles with zero or near-zero emissions.
      • Encourage commuters to carpool and use vehicles with zero or near-zero emissions.
      • Incentivize and/or tax different travel behaviors.
      • Explore Minnesota-related “study nearby” opportunities (e.g. Lake Superior, Twin Cities, etc.).
    • More to Consider: Not considered in our current emissions tracking but very important to our success and the reduction of emissions include deepening a focus on:
      • Purchasing and consumption, specifically the concept of Zero Waste for Impact. While we have many successful Zero Waste events at Carleton already, we have encountered the following challenges:
        • Some activities, like Government Surplus Auctions (GovDeals), are high-management and have not supported significant emissions reductions.
        • There will be a need to look at both data (emissions, cost savings from waste management, etc.) and culture to determine how and where to invest time.
        • Single-use plastic is still available in vending machines.
        • Addressing the consumption and environmental justice elements of waste is important.
        • The emissions of our faculty, staff, and students when they are off-campus are likely to be significant and under-explored. How might we advocate to change big systems? How might we expand support for whole person decisions?
      • Food systems (campus, local, Indigenous, etc.) are of great campus and community interest—food security and access, agricultural sustainability, water quality, local food, food recovery, and food waste emissions are just a few examples. However, we could establish a shared vision and goals and support capacity building across these interests. In addition, we plan to formally support new food-related emissions decisions using Bon Appétit sustainability benchmarks (e.g. beef-per-meal guidelines).
Graph of Carleton’s emissions reductions from 2008 to 2022.
Figure 2: Graph of Carleton’s emissions reductions from 2008 to 2022.
  • Identify a Broader Climate and Sustainability Solutions Funding Model: Now is a good time to introduce funding opportunities for broadly defined sustainability and climate solutions that accelerate the number and types of action we take to advance sustainability. Endowed funding could support academic and co-curricular projects, or even projects that anyone on campus can propose. Our Sustainability Revolving Fund (SRF) and zero waste funds have served their initial purpose by regularly supporting a handful of student projects that return on investment. Interest and opportunities, however, are much bigger than this and can be used to strengthen action from and across every discipline, and across knowledge—from students, faculty, staff, or across campus and the community.
  • Addressing the Harm of Emissions with Integrity and Impact: As we continue to emphasize reducing operational emissions, we need an ongoing team steering this decision and navigating how to address the social cost of our remaining carbon emissions like travel. The EAC (2011–2021), and now the SWG (est. 2023) have drafted and proposed an offsets policy that serves as an ethical guide. Offsets must be carefully vetted to understand their effectiveness at drawing down emissions (integrity), the administrative effort involved, and their value. We also have opportunities here to support student learning and local communities; for example, food recovery offsets are in development with the foodbank. For additional guidance on offsets, especially in relation to integrity, see “Carbon Offset Resources for Colleges and Universities” from Second Nature. Given that the offset market is in development and needs careful scrutiny, we also see the possibility of future decision-making supporting alternative ways to offset our emissions, such as payment to frontline communities, deepening restoration and conservation work, etc. Our current plan is to be part of ongoing higher education discussions with Second Nature’s Offsets Advisory Council, explore models, and place the spirit of our offsets criteria first.
Triangle graph representing Carleton’s proposed offset criteria.
Figure 3: Carleton’s proposed offset criteria.

Investment and Financing

Strengthening Opportunities in Investment and Financial Management: Carleton stands at the crossroads of opportunities in Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) as well as IDE financial management. We see potential for new opportunities to “invest” or to expand how we support divestment. One of Carleton’s peer schools recently sought to triple ESG investments within a decade.


  • Meeting faculty interest in sustainability and environmental justice: Our campus is brimming with faculty support for sustainability. Areas of interest are broad and an inclusive vision for education will support more faculty entering into sustainability work. There are many big-bucket areas of interest, such as interdisciplinary solutions and teaching-about-place. There are also STEM- and humanities-specific opportunities as well as specific disciplinary opportunities that have been suggested by faculty. For example, many STEM faculty report that they value accessible local and campus datasets to see how this helps students situate analyses in authentic problems. Many humanities faculty report a desire to increase connections between campus and community with literary, historical, and cultural analyses. Distinct areas of interest for curriculum development, research opportunity, and collaboration we have heard from faculty include:
    • Place-based teaching
      • Living laboratory campus, Arboretum education, Indigenous knowledge, etc.
      • Arboretum review suggests more than 60 faculty are already teaching in the Arb with another 30+ wanting to get started
      • We have special place-based arts assets (kiln and sawmill)
      • High interest in more teaching examples featuring campus data or systems (e.g. geothermal data)
    • Teaching with data and models (campus, local-to-global, etc.)
    • Teaching across disciplines
    • Teaching around environmental issues (climate change, water, air quality, etc).
    • Environmental humanities as a discipline
    • Solutions and sustainable development (emissions reduction, adaptation, ethics, building the social fabric and connections needed for change, etc.)
    • Naming Indigenous history and long perspectives, intergenerational opportunities in future sustainability, etc.
  • Meeting student interest in sustainability and environmental justice: Our campus is brimming with student support for sustainability as well. Students surveyed and those attending focus groups expressed substantial interest in having more sustainability opportunities. This included:
    • Interest in more local, experiential opportunities anywhere
    • Intersectionality and teaching about environmental issues from multiple perspectives
    • More climate leadership experiences, especially working on solutions
    • Interest in being able to minor in topics related to sustainability themes (food, energy, water, etc.)
      • Including a general sustainability minor, an environmental studies minor, and an environmental humanities minor
    • More experience with environmental justice
    • Anti-capitalism, mutual aid, solidarity economy, activism for social change, etc.
    • More classes focusing on climate change
    • Additionally, students regularly initiated conversation about environmental literacy through their capstone work in ENTS. The results from Andrew Farias ’21, JR Green ’21, and Yoshiko Lynch ’21 were:
      • Of 194 students surveyed in 2022, there was “highly significant concern” over environmental issues
      • There was “very significant concern” about an additional curricular exploration requirement in environmental literacy, which would need to replace a different requirement
      • The recommendation was to create an environmental literacy requirement that includes environmental justice
    • First-generation students from multiple groups echoed interests in having more experiential opportunities and also described the importance of:
      • Addressing their climate concerns and interests in connecting with community
      • Increasing the representation of BIPOC perspectives and leadership in the curriculum
      • Working on supports in introductory courses for students coming in with different backgrounds, since expectations shouldn’t be designed around those who have already mastered something
  • Strengthening Interdisciplinary Environmental Leadership and Collaborative Space: A Center for Sustainability will strengthen interdisciplinary environmental collaboration (e.g. between the Environmental Studies Program, the Arboretum, and the Office of Sustainability) and provide a home for ENTS students. Physically and functionally sharing space, ideas, and administrative support and communication helps streamline management and reach broader and overlapping audiences. ENTS especially needs additional faculty lines to support interest, demand, and management. The current 2.0 FTE is not enough for the level of orchestration needed to run a program that crosses offerings from many departments. Most of all, we see the opportunity to dream big and imagine far more support for connecting across disciplines and working on interdisciplinary sustainability education and solutions. These will call for resources and professional networking opportunities beyond ENTS. Many of our peer colleges support strong across-the-curriculum participation accessible to all majors. Thoughts we have heard related to space and collaboration include:
    • Many ENTS students and student environmental clubs have spoken about a desire to have a space where they can meet and build community
    • Many faculty both within and outside of ENTS desire spaces and places to collaborate in interdisciplinary ways around environmental issues and sustainability (similar to how the Weitz, Anderson, and Leighton function as hubs for other issues)
    • Strengthening living laboratory solutions on campus calls for keeping good connections between facilities, sustainability, and many other academic departments that are already engaging in this area
    • We have heard about interest in an outdoor classroom located close to the Arboretum (with overhead shelter and seating, possibly a celebration of arts and crafts given Carleton’s kiln and sawmill)
  • Structuring for Success for Sustainability Across the Curriculum: As part of our work exploring education opportunities, we investigated the type of academic support for “sustainability across the curriculum” common to peer institutions. These were presented at an April 4, 2023 faculty meeting and include:
    • Scaling resources: Money and professional development to support faculty sharing and curriculum development that is specific to sustainability learning and allows for new identities and communities that aren’t already present on campus as well as synergistic work.
    • Strategic outcomes: Institutional strategic plan statements that specifically value scaling sustainability, equity, and justice in education and that stage working for interdisciplinary or sustainability-focused learning outcomes important to accelerating collaboration.
    • Special academics: Education offerings for students that are more robust than one course and often support leadership in solutions. Many of these are staffed by academic staff, or academic staff and faculty fellows, and they engage to support other aims for sustainability, such as strengthening campus and local partnerships in climate solutions.
    • Formal teams: Governance teams charged with institutionalizing sustainability in education and sometimes other categories for larger teams that divide into task force subgroups. Strong teams had connectivity with institutional leadership (established meetings with VPs or VP participants).
      • From speaking with other peers who are leading centers and curricular scaling efforts, we have learned that their efforts often succeed by supporting broad, interdisciplinary opportunities and/or by creating more living laboratory opportunities (e.g. teaching with campus and local data, and connecting with place, history, and culture). We see how designing parallel and complementary support for sustainability and community engagement—as well as strengthening connections with the Perlman Center for Learning and Teaching (LTC), Humanities Center, STEM Board, and SERC—strengthen opportunities to enter and engage in sustainability work. Many of our peer schools spoke to structuring across areas of action, or collaborating across units to support change.
Carleton compared to a list of peer colleges, according to type of academic support offered for sustainability.
Figure 4: Carleton compared to peer colleges, according to type of academic support offered for sustainability.
  • Scaling Sustainability Education Using AASHE STARS: Following are the components that count formally for our national recognition by AASHE STARS 3.0 that we are eligible to pursue (e.g. graduate degree-related criteria not included). While national recognition and AASHE Gold are not our motivation, these are aligned with strategies well-reviewed in the evidence basis for how to scale sustainability education. This type of support also better matches the broad interests and collaborative potential in sustainability on campus. We are confident that by incorporating some of these design ideas and opportunities into our work, we will not only develop a shared vision, but lead from our strengths.
    • Percentage of departments that have sustainability courses (Criterion 1.1)
    • Published sustainability course listings (Criterion 1.2)
      • Sustainability courses are visible and searchable online by staff, faculty, and students.
    • Support for academic staff to integrate sustainability curriculum (Criterion 1.3)
      • Institution provides incentives specific to integrating sustainability in the curriculum.
      • Institution hosts an ongoing community of practice working to integrate sustainability across the curriculum.
    • Strengthening student learning in sustainability through an institutional learning goal (Criterion 2.1)
      • Institution has established institutional learning outcomes for undergraduate students that include at least one sustainability-focused learning outcome.
    • Increasing the percentage of undergraduate qualifications awarded that have sustainability-focused learning requirements (Criterion 2.3)
      • Institution offers at least one sustainability-focused degree, certificate, or major for undergraduate students.
      • Institution offers at least one undergraduate qualification focused on a subject other than sustainability that has a sustainability-focused learning requirement.
    • Applied learning for sustainability program (Criterion 4.1)
      • The institution makes available solutions-focused applied learning or living laboratory experiences for students that address sustainability challenges.
      • Three or more institutional departments or units are currently supporting solutions-focused applied learning or living laboratory experiences for students.
      • There are processes or tools in place to assess the success of the applied learning projects.
      • There is an online portal or equivalent vehicle that documents completed, current, and/or prospective applied learning projects.
    • Sustainability literacy assessment design and administration (Criterion 5.1)
      • Institution has conducted one or more assessments of the sustainability literacy of its students during the previous three years.
      • Academic staff (e.g. faculty, sustainability office) support the development and adoption of sustainability literacy assessments.
      • The literacy assessments are designed and administered in such a way that the results can be used to evaluate the success of the institution’s sustainability education initiatives.
    • Percentage of students assessed for sustainability literacy (Criterion 5.2)
      • Highest ranking 75–100%.
  • Education and Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity: Increasing societally relevant curricula related to the issues, topics, and concerns of students supports equitable outcomes, especially when combined with pedagogical approaches that are also supportive of students. This is also consistent with national recommendations to incorporate IDE practices into sustainability education.
  • Deepening Support for Program-Specific Initiatives: Several programs and departments have expressed interest in crafting sustainability-related learning outcomes. Presently, few programs or departments specifically integrate sustainability or inclusivity concepts into their learning outcomes. As we update our institutional learning goals, and programs and departments adjust in response, there is opportunity to think across sustainability and IDE in our support for department- and program-specific revision.


In addition to strengthening our curricular collaboration, we can better centralize support for collaboration that helps us realize our climate action goals. This could include:

  • Developing Centralized Support for Staff and Student Organizations: Student clubs could be funded to participate in climate solutions or climate actions important to our goals.
  • Strengthening Learning in All Roles: We see opportunities to expand sharing of sustainability practices across expertise by offering community programming. We also see opportunities to improve goal setting and measurement in work plans in complement to IDE.
  • Deepening the Value and Understanding of Learning Outside of Courses: Students in internships, or students participating in events such as those with Carleton’s annual Elder-in-Residence, express significant learning relevant to place-based and sustainability education. This is not yet well understood.

Research and Scholarship

While many faculty are active in sustainability research, as with education, we could support it formally and showcase participation. We could start with support for applied and experiential sustainability, which would be deeply linked to faculty research capacity.

  • Using AASHE 3.0 Research as a Guideline:
    • Develop a definition of sustainability research (Credit 6.1)
    • Provide incentives for sustainability research (Credit 6.2)
    • Publish a code of conduct for research (Credit 8.1)
    • Recognize integrated, community-based, and extra-academic research in tenure and promotion (Credit 8.2)
    • Deepen support for inter-campus collaboration for responsible research and innovation (Credit 8.3)
    • Support open access publishing (Credit 8.4)

Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity

  • Amplifying Voices of Equity Champions: In addition to having personal interests and motivation around sustainability topics, first-generation student leaders asked us to bolster our commitment to inclusivity in sustainability by hosting an open forum on sustainability and environmental justice where all students could see what our goals are and how we’re making progress, and then make recommendations for improving our work. In addition, they asked for more experiential and networking opportunities in connection with our first-generation Carleton graduates currently in sustainability careers.
  • Improving Transparency and Accountability, and Linking Communication with Opportunities and Capacity-Building Strategies: We suggest developing a communications strategy that helps people participate and celebrates success. As academic sustainability builds, there is a need for open sharing of real-time opportunities and standing opportunities (e.g. fellowships, funding, working group opportunities, etc.) that anyone should be able to contribute to. Likewise, when students, faculty, or staff contribute to our climate action (e.g. apply to a solutions fund), or tag their event #sustainability on social media, we can centralize sharing and be completely transparent about what we are doing. We envision making contribution processes easy and connecting our communications specifically to areas that have capacity-building strategies tied to them (funding for solutions, workshops, working groups, leadership courses that address ongoing sustainability challenges, etc.). We will share our story in the context of our collective vision.

Additional Ideas, Questions, and Feedback

How should our climate planning evolve based on the state of climate change today vs. where we were in 2011?

More than half of all human-caused climate change has happened in the last two decades, and the intensity of climate impacts felt through time is amplifying within the lifespans of people on our planet (IPCC 6th Assessment, 2023). Climate impacts affect the air we breathe, the water we use, and the food and ecosystems around us. Impacts are felt disproportionately at all scales and there is a deepened need to actively work against harm and injustice. We must cultivate inclusive and representative climate and sustainability leadership and increase our institutional capacity to advance social and environmental justice. It’s important both to the capacity of our campus and graduates, and also to our immediate impacts on solutions around us, including carbon mitigation, adaptation, and work for equity and justice.

Data visualization of global temperatures from 1900 to 2020 and predictions beyond.
Figure 5: Data visualization of global temperatures from 1900 to 2020 and predictions beyond.

The last 10 years have shown us how deeply our campus response to shocks and stresses is reliant on our social fabric. We have had many things to navigate—systemic racism, COVID-19, the mental health crisis, AI technology, and threats to freedom of speech and democracy, among others. Not only is our planet warming, but all our other problems are intertwined with each other and with climate change, and the more we can support developing critical thinking, the greater our likelihood of success.

Calls from higher education have started to address how campuses might deepen their commitment to climate action through education. For example, NAS Report: Strengthening Sustainability Programs and Curricula at Undergraduate and Graduate levels calls for:

  • Increased focus on solutions education
  • Education opportunities that support entry for any program as well as specific interdisciplinary offerings (such as ENTS)
  • Deepening collaboration for sustainability, equity, and justice beyond campus
  • Incorporating IDE into sustainability education so that solutions aren’t lopsided and inequities are not amplified (NAS, 2020)

AAC&U’s special issue on climate change, Our Pale Blue Dot: Colleges and universities have a large part to play in saving our planet (2022), describes that we must be all-in to address climate change across every discipline and every area of our work. This means we must invest in supporting faculty and students in sustainability action.

What have you learned from others, including peer schools that have some of the deepened support for sustainability education (e.g. support for faculty education and research, special leadership experiences for students in sustainability, faculty fellowship models, etc.)?

  • Cross-cutting advice we heard reaching out to four peer colleges and exploring models: Have faculty establish a shared vision for sustainability means (e.g. sustainable development goals, social and environmental justice, etc.) and offer dedicated support around that vision. Help people know how they can join in, and then lead.
  • Examples at peer schools or exemplars (those that have been doing this for awhile start integrating co-curricular and programming in sync):
    • Davidson: Valley & Ridge two-day workshop features place (campus, local nature, interdisciplinarity) and curriculum development.
    • Swarthmore: President’s Climate Leadership Program links students to solution partners across campus in a formal course that then leads to internships for some; also fulfills applied learning.
    • Amherst: Campus as a Living Lab means monthly site visits and a community of practice to teach experiential learning, as well as integrating sustainability into other scaling opportunities (e.g. funding for experiential learning).
    • Bowdoin: Robust education plan just released that supports education professional development and community building; related programming was released as part of their climate action plan updates.
    • Williams: Named sustainability an institutional priority, which means: (i) financial and other support for faculty to include experiential learning into courses; (ii) the new Teaching Innovation Fellows program supports new course development, including sustainability courses; and (iii) phasing in professional development and co-curricular and programming opportunities for sustainability-specific experiences.
    • Smith: Year on Climate professional development vehicle is focused on climate change, climate fellowships for faculty, renowned speakers, and a conference.
    • William & Mary: Offered a three-credit course to students that paired campus and community project partners with student interns, and offered students formal mentoring in a sustainability background (discussions on what it was, how to take action, how to support projects successfully, etc.). In parallel, a large green fund supported projects for students who found mentors to take on projects, staff and faculty who pitched ideas, and/or community partners who worked with people on campus.
  • Specific strategies mentioned by academic sustainability directors at four peer colleges:
    • Offer stipends for participation in syllabi revision and developing specific products like course activities or syllabi. These should be joined with mechanisms to recognize faculty already engaged in sustainability. Use broad criteria; we used “social and environmental justice” and “Sustainable Development Goals” etc. for our “big tent” sustainability across the curriculum. “Interdisciplinary environmental issues” is a specific area of focus within our environmental studies program.
    • Specific resources for sustainability collaboration are important. Our community engagement course designations and sustainability course designations create separate and synergistic opportunities for faculty who want to deepen their community work or incorporate the interdisciplinary skills and habits of sustainability into their courses. Solutions-specific resources are also really broad. There can be overlaps in some support and also separate identities to build.
    • Help faculty see opportunities to support climate action goals and share good work (e.g. provide a list of ideas in alignment with meeting your goals). Create ways for all participating to share what projects look like and if they are underway, done, or ongoing. Consider tying your sharing mechanism to funding to acknowledge the importance of the contribution and to demonstrate how the community builds.
    • Academic staff sustainability directors or associates often teach leadership courses (class-to-internship models) that help build living laboratory capacity in place or solutions. Long-running centers have a few of these (e.g. a leadership course around climate solutions, a course in the Arboretum). They often help create the criteria for broader participation in and sharing of solutions, and can help explore new and emerging partners of interest to faculty.
    • Humanities faculty often have more flexibility to enter into interdisciplinary collaboration than courses that are structured to meet very specific requirements (e.g. pre-med STEM courses). However, humanities don’t always see themselves in “solutions” language, so ensure that definitions here are about building culture and context for change as well, using history, ethical engagement, reflexive practice, etc. 
    • Work with your development team on priorities across operations, education, research, engagement, and investment areas. Meet across your sustainability interests to frame these. Donors might push initiatives without staffing needed.
    • Alumni want to be included in your plans and students want to learn from alumni, especially those who just graduated and might be like them. Create ways for alumni to participate, especially when you see big themes of interest to your campus.
    • Ensure that your sustainability team(s) have access to major education and operations influence (e.g. regular meetings with institutional leadership in academics, operations, and development). This could mean initiating a large sustainability team that is structured with working groups, or structuring some formal committees in areas of greatest need (sustainability education committee), or task forces to build new expertise (offsets and land use additionality task force, purchasing/transportation task force, food systems task force, etc.). Dedicated meetings with leadership across areas of work are important (all committee and task forces meet once a term together for crosspollination).
    • Design initiatives in alignment with the national and international sustainability landscape (e.g. IDE, justice, nature based solutions, etc.) to increase feedback with leadership opportunities.
    • The liberal arts can be uniquely good in this space because we need more work that is across disciplines and that supports students that go on immediately into many roles in sustainability or where sustainability is relevant (which is everywhere). Campuses should take a good look at tenure and promotion criteria to value working across expertise.
  • Feedback from Carleton alumni and community partners during strategic planning:
    • Many offer ideas on how to strengthen commitment in their area of work. Focus groups could help identify and work on challenges and opportunities.
    • If Carleton faculty and students are given the right resources for this, you will immediately lead. It will be important work too.
    • Expand climate and climate justice action that Carleton supports.
    • I value my research experiences at Carleton and exposure to liberal arts learning.  Those are so important to my work now on climate solutions. Highlight the liberal arts in climate action.
    • A center is a great idea and one alumni will get behind. We have to act now.
    • Consider doing something distinctive that speaks to divestment and strong operational work and tackling the tough challenges—sustainability and systemic change, or something that speaks to the amazing cultural and structural work underway. The center will need resources to rally people around climate and sustainability action.
    • Distinctive leadership experiences for students are important. These can be on or beyond campus and alumni can help inform their design or be a part of making connections needed to do new things.
    • Alumni will have good ideas about strategies for making different kinds of change and solutions happen from all disciplinary perspectives and across them. We can support students by making these connections around what sustainability work looks like, and link them to career opportunities.

Opportunities for YOUR Feedback

This review stages the recommendations we will make and is intended to stimulate further conversation! All members of the Carleton community are encouraged to provide feedback on any aspect of this review. To contribute your thoughts, fill out the Sustainability Review Feedback Form.