Sustainability Needs an Olympic Effort
The Solution Generation/ACCU climate leadership award supports academic institutions that “Go for the Gold.”
Watching the Olympics this week, I was struck by the level of excellence, dedication, and superiority of our American athletes. These women and men showed up to the games to bring home medals. The months and years of training really were on display for the world to envy. Their discipline and mental focus was beyond impressive; it was perfection. Simone Biles’ flawless floor routine had us gasping and jumping to our feet. She literally flew through the air with precision. Michael Phelps winning gold medal after gold medal. Katie Ladeky leaving all of her competitors in her wake, as she smashed the world record in the 800 meter freestyle. These athletes are the best of the best. They are making their mark on the world with great sportsmanship. The successful results are due to both practice and a culture of training, along with coaches and institutions that support that philosophy as ingredients to win.
The triumphs of the athletes are the high points of these Games. But these Games were also punctuated by environmental concerns. The Opening Ceremonies used climate change as a theme for the theatrical performances. There were also reports of unsafe rivers for the triathletes, swimming pools turning green without explanation, toxic air quality, and the spread of the Zika virus that kept some athletes from even getting on an airplane to make the trip to Brazil. All of this in the capital that hosted the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 and 2012.
Our best athletes are competing in compromised environmental conditions, and this should be an alarm siren for all of us. How can we tolerate unsafe waters and deadly air pollution? What can we do to change our world, so that in four years our athletes compete in a different, cleaner, and healthier environment?
We need an Olympic effort, and America’s universities can take actions that will inspire other communities in nations all over the world.
The time is now to elevate the issue of climate change to Olympic levels of action. Universities are global microcosms, and we must use activities in academic communities as incubators that teach people to recognize the urgency and take steps to do something meaningful to tackle climate change. At ecoAmerica, we are supporting academic institutions that “Go for the Gold.” Our higher education program, Solution Generation, has partnered with the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities to offer an award recognizing Catholic institutions that are making a difference on climate change on campus. Students around the country (some of them Olympic athletes themselves), along with faculty have an opportunity to take climate change projects to Olympic heights, and those efforts can be modeled by others around the globe.
Our $10,000 award emphasizes excellence in sustainability and climate leadership. Those schools that perform better on sustainability programs bring home the gold. We believe in incentivizing higher education institutions to act on climate change, ensuring it’s a priority that rises to the top of the list.
As we see in Rio, later isn’t good enough. Keeping water and air free from pollution so that great Olympians can compete is mission-critical for the Games just as it is mission-critical for the planet. Having universities educate students about climate protection, use more clean energy, cut greenhouse gas emissions, renounce fossil fuels, engage suppliers and partner institutions, and share progress with stakeholders around the world is a gold-medal effort.
If you think your school is doing something medal-worthy, please submit an application. We want to hear your story about how your university’s plans, progress, and programs strive to win medals year after year.