Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some general questions about SII and sustainability at WWU:

What is the definition for sustainability at Western Washington University?
The University has adopted this definition of "sustainability" (developed by the WWU Sustainability Committee, 2005):

A sustainable Western, through its academics, research and operations

  • Protects local and global ecology
  • Upholds social equity
  • Creates economic vitality
  • Maintains the health of those in the Western community

What is an Institute?
Professor John Searle of Berkeley defines an institute as an idea, a concept formed by "collective intentionality" in human societies. An institute does not function by virtue of its physical structure, Searle writes, but by virtue of our collective beliefs, values, and desires. The Sustainability Institute is built on this concept of an institution. We did not invent the notion of sustainability as something to be imposed onto Western's campus, nor does it represent the idea of a few select faculty, staff, or students. The institute is created by the collective intentionality of faculty, staff, and students who are living, promoting, researching, and teaching sustainable lifestyles in colleges, disciplines, and curriculums across campus. The physical structure of the Sustainability Institute represents Western's ongoing belief in the value of sustainability education and our desire to join with others across the United States and on the global stage as a leader in sustainability innovation.

Isn't sustainability a hopelessly diffuse and co-opted buzz word?
It is certainly a broadly defined and often-used term.   WWU’s definition for academic sustainability is intentionally broad to ensure the widest possible involvement by all academic units at WWU.  It may indeed have become a “buzz” word, but it is unlikely to go away. In fact, a growing number of community colleges and universities throughout the nation are founding standards for sustainability education. The growing interest in sustainability is in response to national and global trends in “greening” businesses, corporations, organizations, and foundations. WWU needs to view the term as a starting point to lead and direct extended critical discussion by faculty, students, and staff.

What is the Faculty Sustainability Academy?
The “Academy” is open to all members of Western’s faculty with an interest in the broad field of sustainability.  Its goal is  to build upon Western’s existing faculty resources to better meet the growing student and faculty interests in academic sustainability at the general education level, as well as at the program-specific level, and to provide a focal point for research and teaching collaborations among faculty, students, staff, and community partners.

How is the academic community involved in sustainability?
In 2005, WWU established the Sustainability Committee, which advocates sustainability activities using a broad agenda.  One of the committee’s charges is to expand sustainability education throughout the University curriculum.  The WWU Faculty Sustainability Academy came together on their own initiative as a key step towards generating momentum and stimulating a cross-college conversation to begin new academic initiatives.  These conversations have led to a sequence of three “Sustainability Literacy” courses.

What are some of the ideas for expanding Sustainability Education at WWU?
The curriculum sub-committee of the WWU Sustainability Committee has outlined a range of potential new directions including instituting sustainability literacy at the undergraduate level, teaching courses in sustainability research, methods and skills development, experiential and global learning programs, establishing “minors” in sustainability as overlays to existing majors and certificates for the working professional, and  creating an inter-college major in sustainability and graduate education.

What role has WWU administration played in furthering the efforts of the Academy?
President Bruce Shepard established the Sustainability Institute Initiative in 2009 and appointed former VP George Pierce to coordinate the project as Special Assistant for Sustainability.  As such, he has been working with the steering committee of the Academy, the Provost, and the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education to support the academic integration of the sustainability efforts of the faculty, departments, and colleges.  Most importantly, the Initiative and Provost provided staff and budgetary support for the development of the Sustainability Literacy sequence.  The courses were first taught during spring 2010.

What is the definition of sustainability literacy?
Sustainability Literacy is demonstrating one’s awareness of issues that destabilize local and global relationships between economy, environment, and society, and having the information and knowledge necessary to make positive contributions within a transdisciplinary, collaborative, community-based forum of research focused on developing innovative solutions that work toward equity, responsibility, accountability, and resolution.

What are the next steps?
The Faculty Sustainability Academy produced a draft White Paper entitled “Committee Report on the Sustainability Institute Initiative at Western Washington University” (April 22, 2011). This document, along with an Executive Summary, can be found on the Provost’s website, on the Sustainability Institute Initiative website, and on the Office of Sustainability’s website

The White Paper lists ten recommendations for establishing WWU’s Institute of Sustainability in two phases over the next two biennia.  The next phase (Phase II) includes 

  • continued offerings of the Sustainability Literacy classes under the rubric of University-Wide Programs
  • moving the literacy class sequence into a GUR sequence
  • hiring an interim director for the Institute
  • providing honoraria to faculty and support to students involved in the curricula efforts
  • aggressively moving forward with fund-raising

What is the role of the Sustainability Institute on Western's campus?
The sustainability Institute is a forum where colleges and experts within colleges, students with diverse majors and interests, staff, and local and global community members can interact and dialogue with one another about issues in sustainability literacy, education, research, curriculum development, outreach, and innovation. The Institute does not compete with other colleges or existing programs; rather, it synthesizes like-minded faculty, staff, student, and community partner interests in furthering economic, environmental, and social well-being.

Is the Institute financially feasible at a time when the University's budget is reduced?
The Institute is designed to be self-sustaining at the end of Phase III, fully funded by grants, endowments, and monetary gifts from alumni, local businesses, corporations, etc. and when fully operational will give back to the campus and community as much as it takes. The Institute is founded on campus wide collaboration, contribution, and momentum, and there are strong signals of support from all departments and from the WWU administration.  This past two year period was only a starting point, generated from a grass-roots faculty initiative. You can help define how we proceed from here and what outcomes are most appropriate for your work.

Doesn't Huxley already have this covered?
The purpose of the Institute is to complement and build upon the disciplinary strengths at WWU, not duplicate or compete with existing programs. Each college at Western approaches sustainability education from a unique perspective. By bringing these perspectives into conversation with one another through transdisciplinary collaboration Western has an opportunity to better understand the diverse relationships that compose sustainability education and innovation by expanding beyond environmental concerns to ideas that include social and economic factors in sustainability research and education.

What kind of interim director will lead the Institute?
The Institute's logistical goals and objectives are built around a senior faculty member who will bring personal experience and expertise to sustainability teaching, education, and scholarship. The director's work includes bridging the gap between colleges and departments, integrating faculty from different disciplines in teaching roles for Sustainability Literacy courses, and promoting sustainability education and awareness within each department. The director will develop and maintain strong relationships with community partners and potential financial supporters as an important component of the job.

How will the Institute be funded during the next two phases?
For the next phase, Phase II (2012-2014), the Faculty Academy is requesting funding similar to that provided  in the recently completed initial phase (or Phase I) of the Sustainability Initiative: $100,000 annually for the next biennium.  It is anticipated Phase III will be self-supporting.