tile imageMosaic: 1. A picture or pattern produced by arranging together small colored pieces of hard material, such as stone, tile or glass. 2. A colorful and variegated pattern. 3. A combination of diverse elements forming a more or less coherent whole. – Oxford New American Dictionary


Here’s an understatement: “Sustainability” means different things to different people.

One definition – Wikipedia’s group-edited entry on the topic – starts this way:

In ecology, sustainability is how biological systems remain diverse and productive. Long-lived and healthy wetlands and forests are examples of sustainable biological systems. In more general terms, sustainability is the endurance of systems and processes. The organizing principle for sustainability is sustainable development, which includes the four interconnected domains: ecology, economics, politics and culture. Sustainability science is the study of sustainable development and environmental science.

The concept has plenty of fans, ranging from many corporations to their environmentalist critics. It also has its detractors across the political spectrum. Some on the growth-averse left wing of the environmental movement, for instance, ask if “sustainable development” is an oxymoron.

On the free-market political right, meanwhile, some paint sustainability as a stalking horse for a regulatory or collectivist agenda. The prominent conservative columnist George Will recently presented a variation on this theme in a broadside denouncing “academia’s embrace of ‘sustainability.’”

[T]he term “sustainable” postulates fragility and scarcity that entail government planners and rationers to fend off planetary calamity while administering equity. The unvarying progressive agenda is for government to supplant markets in allocating wealth and opportunity.

For the first installment in TCN’s new Mosaic feature, we present some gleanings from recent news articles and institutional announcements about activities in the world of Texas higher education.

The resulting mosaic image, we think, leaves little doubt that “sustainability” has put down roots at a diverse assortment of Texas colleges and universities. Whether it also supports or refutes Will’s argument that it’s a capitalism-eroding idea may depend on the eye (or ideology) of the beholder.


  • Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, founders of the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company, were scheduled to speak at the University of North Texas in Denton “about entrepreneurship and sustainability to an audience of students, faculty, alumni and community members.”
  • The Dallas County Community College District’s fifth annual Sustainability Summit, this year entitled ‘Living Green: Exploring the Spectrum of Sustainability,” was planned as a place to “learn how to ‘grow’ a green thumb, try a green lifestyle or pass a green law.”
  • Texas Tech University in Lubbock for the first time hosted the Texas Regional Alliance for Campus Sustainability Summit, which “helped create a statewide network among higher education institutions to inspire a collaboration of ideas on how to create a sustainable future committed to environmental preservation, economic development and social equity.”
  • Students in an Introduction to Sustainability class taught by an earth sciences professor at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio helped develop a rainwater-harvesting system that will irrigate campus landscaping, conserve water and “become the centerpiece of St. Mary’s sustainability efforts.”
  • A biological sciences professor at Austin’s Huston-Tillotson University finished a year’s residence in a converted dumpster on campus – “a bold exercise in sustainability that demonstrated a person’s ability to comfortably exist in a space one percent the size of the average American household.”
  • Trammell Crow, the late Dallas real estate developer, made his enormous fame and fortune building structures much, much larger than dumpsters. His son, Trammel S. Crow, a philanthropist and the founder and underwriter of Earth Day Texas, an annual Dallas event, was invited to be keynote speaker at the second annual Sustainability Conference at Cedar Valley College, part of the Dallas County Community College District. It was reported beforehand that Crow was “expected to talk about Earth Day Texas 2015 and how it is changing the national perception of our state and its journey to sustainability.” To mark Earth Day, Crow wrote an op-ed column for the Dallas Morning News, “It’s not easy being a green Republican.”
  • The Sustainability Committee, a student endeavor at Baylor University, laid plans for its “first sustainability reception” so members could “make Baylor’s students and staff more aware of the effect they have on the environment” and “to get the word out that [the committee is] trying harder and harder to get recycling and conservation to be more prevalent on campus.”
  • A group at the University of Texas-Arlington was a top winner in the 2015 edition of the national RecycleMania Tournament. The contest involves “‘green actions like saving plants, planting trees, reusing water bottles or recycling.” The president of the UT-Arlington group said: “The goal of RecycleMania is to bring about social change, bring out the consciousness in students about nature and to motivate students to perform sustainable actions through an online game kind of competition.”
  • The Global Soil Security Symposium was held at Texas A&M University. One co-chair, a soil and crop sciences professor at A&M, said the conference highlighted “the importance of soil science in our current global challenges of human health, food and water security and the role of soil in biodiversity under a changing climate.” Another co-chair, a soil science professor at the University of Sydney in Australia, called it “a global forum of new and optimistic ideas concerning soil and its place in sustainable development.”
  • A research project at the Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute at the University of Texas-San Antonio found that “by and large households with more females consume 54 percent more electricity than households with more males, and more than twice as much gas.” The main reason for the difference? “Even though women are working, they still spend more time in the household nurturing, cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children,” one of the researchers said. She added that the study was not intended “to point fingers,” but “to empower women’s participation in energy decisions,” and can be used by energy-conservation groups to shape communications strategies.

– Bill Dawson

Image credit: breyercrazy / DeviantArt; Used under a Creative Commons license