Today humanity faces environmental challenges on global, regional, state, and local scales, most of which are a result of human impact on natural resources and ecosystems. Countries, municipalities, and institutions must share the responsibility to confront critical environmental problems by curbing greenhouse gas emissions and practicing sustainability. Universities are in the position to make unique contributions to this effort and to serve as role models.
At Princeton University, sustainability is a collaborative effort that engages the full spectrum of the University community with broad participation of educators, administrators, staff, students, and alumni. In 2008, University Trustees adopted a Sustainability Plan for Princeton.
The plan grew out of the efforts of the Princeton Sustainability Committee, which was established in 2002 by President Shirley M. Tilghman. Consisting of faculty, administrators, and students, the Committee realized that attaining exemplary campus stewardship and preparing Princeton's students to become engaged environmental citizens requires a comprehensive plan.
The plan centers on three principal themes:
- Greenhouse Gas Reduction
- Resource Conservation
- Research, Education, and Civic Engagement
The Research, Education, and Civic Engagement section of the plan contains provisions for tapping the faculty's research expertise and using the campus as a laboratory to develop sustainability solutions and to train and motivate students to address environmental challenges. The stated goals for sustainability research, education, and outreach at Princeton are to broaden interdisciplinary participation; to advance connections between faculty and graduate student research and undergraduate education related to sustainability; and to increase graduate student and undergraduate research opportunities including using the campus as a lab. In the areas of civic engagement and communications, Princeton's goals are to expose all undergraduate and graduate students to the principles of sustainability; to develop leaders among the students, faculty, and staff; and to increase awareness of their responsibilities toward the environment. (See relating videos: Princeton's Commitment to Sustainability and Washington Road Stream Restoration.)
The Princeton Environmental Institute is a leading contributor to the overall sustainability initiative by engaging all facets of its mission including research, education, and outreach components.
"As one of the world's foremost centers of climate science and as an institution committed to serving all nations, Princeton has a critical role to play in exploring the causes of climate change, evaluating its effects and developing solutions to the environmental, technological and socioeconomic challenges it represents.
At the same time we also have an obligation to put our own environmental house in order — to practice what we preach. We can ourselves become a laboratory in sustainability, implementing best practices, testing new technologies and strategies, and reducing our environmental footprint in a way that complements — and furthers — our academic efforts in the environmental arena."
— President Shirley M. Tilghman
As the 2013 Sustainability Report Highlights indicates, the University has made significant progress toward achieving its ambitious goals in the areas of greenhouse gas emissions reduction, resource conservation, and sustainable research, education and civic engagement. With representation on the Princeton Sustainability Committee, PEI contributes to setting goals, and tracking the progress and implementation of education, research, and civic engagement plan components .
In 2012, Princeton began participating in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS), a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities, which employs an objective and uniform set of benchmarks to measure sustainability performance among peer institutions. STARS was developed and is administered by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). The system evaluates institutions of higher learning across three main categories: education and research; operations and planning; and administration and engagement.