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Kelley sustainability course breaks new ground

Aug. 15, 2012

Students who took an IU Bloomington course on sustainability law and policy last spring learned about topics including comparing and contrasting European, U.S., Indian and Chinese environmental law, Indiana-based innovations in energy technology, and the impact of the IU Bloomington campus on the environment and local economy.

They also produced something of potentially lasting value to the university: a campus sustainability report making use of the Global Reporting Initiative framework, which enables organizations to measure and benchmark their economic, environmental, social and governance performance.

Sustainability students

Spring 2012 sustainability course students

Taught by Scott Shackelford, an assistant professor of business law and ethics in the Kelley School of Business, the 300-level Kelley School course took a project-based and service-learning approach to helping students learn about law and policy related to sustainability.

Its centerpiece was the Global Reporting Initiative project, for which students worked in teams to conduct research, administer surveys and compile data to organize into a 90-page document.

“It was totally student-driven. They really delivered,” said Shackelford, who taught the course for the first time in the spring after creating it with help from a Sustainability Course Development Fellowship from the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs and with assistance from IU’s Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning.

The course also made use of guest speakers, including IU faculty members and representatives of businesses, government and nonprofit organizations with expertise in various aspects of sustainability, and field trips that connected the class with real-world activities.

Students visited campus facilities such as the IU Central Heating Plant, which burns coal and natural gas to produce steam heat for IU buildings; and E-House, the net-zero-energy headquarters of the IU Office of Sustainability on East 10th Street. They traveled to White County, Ind., near Lafayette, where they toured a massive wind-turbine facility and a farm that uses methane gas to power its operations.

Shackelford believes that IU Bloomington and Ball State University are the only U.S. universities so far that have assessed campus sustainability using the two major frameworks available for the purpose: GRI and STARS, the Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment and Rating System administered by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. While STARS is designed for U.S. universities, GRI is a broader-based framework for corporations and organizations around the globe. Used by more than 1,600 firms, GRI includes not only environmental indicators but also social and economic factors.

A GRI chapter on IU’s environmental impact includes sections on greenhouse gas emissions and efforts to reduce them, water resources, waste disposal, energy consumption and conservation, wildlife habitat protection and other areas. The report also addresses such topics as labor relations and human rights, crime, product responsibility, tuition costs and the economic impact of the university.

“By putting both of these together we get a more complete and accurate picture of what sustainability looks like at IU Bloomington,” Shackelford said.

Students also conducted individual and team research, and some of their findings went into the GRI report. For example, Katharine Finn, a junior from Floyds Knobs, Ind., studied water resources, comparing Bloomington’s treated tap water from Monroe Lake with bottled water and the impact of the campus’s exclusive contract for beverage services with Coca-Cola.

“I learned a lot about IU and about Bloomington in general -- the impact we have on Indiana as well as the need for the campus to be sustainable and the influence of our activities on climate change and global warming,” Finn said.

Zach Bailey, a May 2012 graduate from Vincennes, Ind., said the course reinforced his desire to attend law school and eventually practice environmental law. He said the GRI report let students synthesize what they learned and document the relationship between the campus and the community and state.
“For us students, it’s something we’re all very proud of,” Bailey said.

Shackelford said the GRI report can be a helpful resource for university administrators, students, researchers and really anyone who wants to know more about sustainability at IU Bloomington. Plans call for eventually submitting an edited version of the report for inclusion in the Global Reporting Initiative data base. Shackelford said it’s likely that, every few years, groups of students could be called on to revisit IU’s sustainability indicators and update the report.

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