Collaboration between campuses, cities, and regions is vital in order to achieve international sustainability goals. This was the key takeaway from attending The World Symposium on Sustainable Development (WSSD) hosted by the Office of Sustainability at MIT. The United Nations developed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which set forth an action plan where people, prosperity, and health of the planet are key tenets of sustainable development. International consensus around these goals led us to reflect on the role of higher education has in fulfilling the SDGs. At the WSSD, representatives from 34 nations spoke to innovative initiatives taking place at the international, regional, city, and campus scales that reflected this sentiment. Here are some highlights:

  • International: there is international consensus around the importance of meeting U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)  by 2030 to secure a healthy and habitable planet for the human species.
  • Regional: University of Massachusetts, Boston Sustainable Solutions Lab, for example, works dynamically with regional and international actors from government, business, and educational sectors to create and implement solutions that are environmentally and economically sound and socially just. This collaborative and regional approach is key for creating systems to achieve the SDGs as well as becoming a sustainable campus.
  • City: There are a series of networks in Boston working in the spirit of the SDGs and resilience. The Boston Green Ribbon Commission brings together private sector and city representatives in Boston sustainability and resiliency on a city-scale. Its Higher Education Working Group fosters collaboration and the sharing of expertise among Boston’s colleges and universities. Also take a look at the Cambridge Compact for a Sustainable Future, a city, university, and business collaborative initiative which we learned has just created its governance structure to move forward with decision-making to think global and act local.

Campus: Oberlin College has an environmental dashboard showing real time data of both the College’s and town’s , electricity, and water consumption in an animated display.This tool emphasizes the importance of environmental feedback through visualizing resource flows and consumption patterns. It prompts people to realize that they are part of a larger system (campus community, city, local economies and ecosystems) and their behavior has real environmental impacts. This begs the questions, what tools are essential for helping communities make strides with Sustainable Development Goals?