Melton and Dininni and Penn State as a Greenwash: Quick Thoughts (Part 2)

The other day, I had said that I’d be posting on Penn State’s sustainability performance using the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS), I will still do that. But given Terry Melton’s and Laura piece in the CDT, “Penn State land sale risks water quality,” I’m doing it later.

Melton’s and Dininni’s view draws out the powerful and distorting profit motive underlying Penn State’s (conditional) sale to the Toll Brothers. In the land of sustainability decision-making, rezoning the land from agricultural (RA) to high density (R4) and the decision to sell present significant challenges and opportunities. By estimating what’s happened with the sale, it looks as though the wing of the university that made this decision didn’t think through the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profits. They went for the money and now the community is angry. People on social media have called this out.

I’m angry. And frustrated. And that’s alright. I’ve worked through being angry lots of times, learned what’s valuable in that anger (fierce love and commitment), what can be done with that passion and energy, and worked with people very different from me to get something done for the common good. I think we can still do that. I think Penn State can do that.

Two things for now: First, this land sale and the previous controversy over the natural gas pipeline create at least a perception problem for the university, create a credibility threat to the Sustainability Institute in the community at large, and at worst indicate newspeak. That’s hard when you work on sustainability and it feels like a personal and professional credibility threat. It’s harder when you live in the affected community. That’s just honesty. But you know, most of us face these kinds of things in our lives and develop some fortitude and resilience. If we are committed to the greater vision and the long game, we will keep going and engage as well as we can. And that leads to the second thing.

Second, Penn State is a pretty massive place. We shouldn’t expect that all parts are equally on board with others. There are people across Penn State who think diversity is junk, that sexual assault is as an artifact of false reporting, that women aren’t good at science and math, that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that Obama is a lizard, that 9/11 was an inside job, and that climate change is a manufactured conspiracy carried out by a cabal of communist environmentalists and money-sucking scientists that started when Bill Clinton bought into a carbon offset company or something. Not all of these things are morally equivalent of course, but the point should be clear: there’s a lot of variation out there that impedes the walk toward race and gender equality and a more sensible world. When we stumble, we can also learn how not to fall.

So I’ll follow up on this and STARS in the coming posts as things move.


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