Clemson University, located in upstate South Carolina, the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in Charleston, and the University of South Carolina (USC) with its main campus in Columbia, the state’s capital, have developed a productive partnership — the S.C. Sustainable Universities Initiative (SUI).  In 1998, the presidents of the three schools signed a pledge to cooperate in leading the way toward a more sustainable future through teaching, research, community service and facilities management. In 2000, the state’s General Assembly appropriated one-time funds to expand the program to other state-supported institutions of higher education. To date, 13 four-year and technical schools have joined.   

The Initiative was sparked by a private foundation with business interests in South Carolina and abroad.  In the view of the Foundation’s trustees, Americans are less attuned to sustainability ... to melding what progressive industries refer to as the “triple bottom line” of economic, environmental and social performance into a cohesive whole ... than Europeans.  They felt that higher education was the best place to foster change and suggested that the three research universities begin by working together. 

The primary focus of our efforts is to “change our product” — to help students understand how to meet fundamental human needs without destroying the planet’s ability to support us.  We do this by working with faculty to expand their teaching and research portfolios and by working with administrators and operations managers to ensure that our institutions are practicing what faculty preach.  SUI serves as a catalyst for activities that will make the state's three research universities, other educational institutions, and ultimately, the state as a whole, more sustainable. 

Teaching and research:   Faculty are encouraged to enhance their understanding of sustainability by attending conferences and workshops and to enhance their students’ understanding of sustainability by adding material to existing courses or by developing new courses. 

Campus environmental performance:  Universities would be hypocritical if faculty taught students one approach in class while administrators demonstrated another on campus.  Our goal is to make campus operations models of good practice, serving as examples for students to emulate when they move into positions of authority. 

  • USC Environmental Advisory Committee
  • Clemson University Environmental Committee
  • Community links:  Universities exist to serve the needs of society, broadly defined. Thus, it is important to make sure that work related to sustainability within the university community is closely linked to that of university “clients” — those who hire our students and put our knowledge to practical use. 
  • SC Sustainability Network 
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    Prepared by:  Kim Buchanan
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