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Sustainability” may be the latest buzzword at engineering, architecture and construction management schools across the country. But talk is cheap. Though the numbers are growing, not many universities offer degrees in sustainable design and construction.

“There is a real need to get beyond institutional barriers to build interdisciplinary education into the engineering as well as architecture curriculum,” says  Kira Gould, a senior associate at Boston-based Gould Evans and 2007 chairwoman of the American Institute of Architects’ Committee on the Environment (COTE).

With Lance Hosey, a director of William McDonough + Partners, Charlottesville, Va., Gould is the author of COTE’s 2006 study, “Ecological Literacy in Architecture Education.” “Many of the most highly rated architecture schools show little interest in sustainable design,” says the report. Only 20% of 44 schools in the U.S. and Canada that offer sustainable building courses require them. Many of those courses are about environmental systems, not design, says the report.

California Polytechnic State University
University students in California get an on-site lesson in sustainable construction

The buildings sector hopes to jumpstart sustainability education via a global emergency teach-in in New York City on Feb. 20, from noon-3 p.m. The free teach-in, which will be Webcast, is expected to reach a virtual audience of 500,000 professionals, educators and students in the Western Hemisphere.

During the teach-in, the 2010 Imperative, a strategy and challenge for implementing sustainability education, will be issued to participating schools. The session itself will cover the built environment’s relation to climate change and resource depletion. The event is sponsored by a host of organizations, including the AIA and the U.S. Green Building Council.

Most schools that offer sustainable education are taking an interdisciplinary approach. Arizona State University in Tempe has a new School of Sustainability that offers an interdisciplinary degree. Students collaborate with 12 different entities on campus, including the schools of architecture and civil and environmental engineering. The approach shows students how to make informed decisions based on multiple perspectives, says Brad Allenby, a professor of the school, which opened last year.

The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, has the new Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute, a research and education center with more than 300 faculty members across seven schools. Peter Adriaens, professor of environmental engineering, says the curriculum focuses on energy, freshwater supplies, human health and the environment, global change and biodiversity, and sustainable infrastructure. “GESI is an umbrella institute that incorporates individual programs at different colleges,” he says. Adriaens is planning a collegewide course on environmental entrepreneurship that he will co-teach with professors in the business school.

The University of Pittsburgh received multiple federal grants to establish a sustainability initiative on campus for research and graduate programs, says Robert Ries, civil engineering assistant professor, who directs the Green Construction Sustainable Development Program.

In the last two years, sustainability has become a campuswide initiative at several other schools, including the University of Idaho, Boise. Along with 290 universities in 40 countries, the school signed the Talloires Agreement, which assures a sustainable campus, and started the Sustainable Idaho Initiative to promote interdisciplinary education.

Gould thinks more efforts are needed. Among its many proposals, the COTE report is calling for an AIA COTE Center for Ecological Design. Its mission: to elevate ecological literacy in architecture education and throughout practice.

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  2. View a Time Line of Environmental Twists and Turns, from 1938 to 2007 (1.7MB)

  3. Report Lights Fires Globally on Need To Slow Climate Change

  4. Politicians, Builder Groups Jump on the Green-Building Bandwagon

  5. Climate Shifts Have Engineers Rethinking Baseline of Planning

  6. Designers Look To Nature To Render Buildings in Harmony with Earth

  7. Companies Often Go Green To Reap Financial Rewards

  8. Officials Begin To Ask Just How Green a Highway Can Be

  9. Educators Issue Call for Green Programs That Cross Disciplines

  10. Coming Carbon Constraints Spur Powerplant-Emission Cleanups

  11. Eco-Friendly Engine Pioneers Search for Sources of Clean Power

  12. Big Zero-Carbon Project Planned in U.K.

  13. Template for Green Cities Nears in Asia

  14. An Agitated Port Official Pushes for Collaboration

  15. Human Role in Climate Change Is 90% Certain

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  18. Barometer of Change at NOAA
  19. In Search of the Zero-Energy Holy Grail
  20. Green Building Council Hones Rating System