Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Unity House. More than a sustainable solution, it's an educational opportunity

At Unity College we believe that climate change, threats to biodiversity, and habitat fragmentation are the most important challenges of our era. Our “environmental security” has ramifications for the global economy, international policy, and the quality of life. We believe that our colleges and universities must respond to this crisis by promoting sustainable alternatives at every level of campus life. This makes both ecological and economic sense.

We are challenged, inspired, and motivated by the emerging level of national commitment to sustainable solutions. In particular, we note how American colleges and universities are taking a leadership effort. Unity College is a charter signatory of the
North American Colleges and University Presidents Climate Commitment.

This organization is mobilizing campuses around America to dramatically reduce their carbon footprint, promote sustainability education, and develop partnerships that promote the business of sustainability.

Similarly we are buoyed by the extraordinary efforts of the
American Association for Sustainability in Higher Education which supports sustainable solutions for campuses, businesses, and institutions.

In our view, nothing could be more relevant for University Business than serving to promote, broker, and encourage this important movement.

One month ago, my wife Cindy and I moved into The Unity House, a zero-carbon solar residence. In partnership with Bensonwood Homes and the MIT School of Architecture, this home is the second project of the
Open Prototype Initiative.

This extraordinary effort seeks nothing less than to change the future of American housing by producing modestly priced, comfortable, ecologically sound homes that are durable, resilient, and beautiful. Please check out the
Bensonwood website to learn more about the technical aspects of the house or to learn more about their cost and availability.

We’ve been living in The Unity House for about six weeks. The really, really, good news, is that the house is performing brilliantly and it is an absolute pleasure to live in. We don’t have to wait for the future of housing. It’s here right now! We can’t think of a better way to simultaneously solve the housing crisis and reduce our carbon footprint. Let’s build (and retrofit) houses that are truly ecologically sustainable and very affordable!

Two and a half years ago, just before I took the job as the president of Unity College, another college president gave me some reassuring and inspirational advice. Helen Giles-Gee, the President of Keene State College told me that “being a college president will be the greatest opportunity you will ever have to be an educator.”

The Unity House is more than just a sustainable solution. It’s a wonderful educational opportunity. We are hoping that the countless visitors to the house will be impressed, inspired, and motivated to live similarly. We hope that they contact Bensonwood if they wish to live in a similar home, or try their hand at their own designs, or provide us with suggestions about how we can improve our own ecological and energy habits. We encourage you to read
Tedd Benson’s blog as well.

In the weeks to come, Cindy and I will discuss various aspects of living in The Unity House. I will focus on some of the broad philosophical challenges related to sustainability and higher education. Cindy will write about the day to day experience of living in The Unity House—how it changes our energy habits, how it makes us more aware of our footprint, how it makes us better learners and teachers. And we will have some guest appearances from some of our visitors. Please do participate with your comments and questions. That’s the point of a blog—to promote discussion, controversy, and dialogue!

Mitchell Thomashow, President, Unity College

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