Greening higher education: Q&A with Tim Carter of Second Nature

Published on: 
4 Feb 2016
Amanda Sawit

Last week, we launched a blog series featuring USGBC partners who have committed to collaborate for the future of higher education sustainability. In this installment, we talk to Tim Carter, president of Second Nature. Second Nature envisions higher education playing a prominent leadership role in shaping research, learning and communities that inspire and operationalize a sustainable global future.

As part of this commitment, your organization supports a vision that by 2025, millions of graduates will be global sustainability citizens. Can you describe what that means?

I love the term "citizen," because it implies that part of your identity is inextricably linked to something else and that by virtue of the linkage, you have personal benefits and rights, but also obligations. As a global sustainability citizen, you have a deep connection to the planet, with an obligation to understand your role in the global ecosystem, an obligation to care for things other than yourself and the ability to act upon that knowledge and moral imperative.

In what way does education play into the wider sustainability movement, and how does this commitment help amplify Second Nature’s mission?

Education is one key source of learning that can inform future behavior and action. Ensuring that future generations are not only literate, but action-oriented, based on a holistic understanding of the Earth's life-support systems, is crucial. This is directly in line with our mission to create a global future that is better than what we have now through sustainability leadership in higher education.

Collaboration is key to making the three pledges of the commitment work. What are your early thoughts on how to leverage the partnership?

Second Nature is particularly well positioned with senior leadership in higher education through our Climate Leadership Network, which includes over 600 presidents and chancellors sharing the Climate Leadership Commitments. Some early thoughts could be that with the partnership, our network could convene more regularly around particular issues and/or timely topics, could have a more effective public voice as opportunities to align with our partner constituencies emerge and could solve some technical data challenges together so that all our data could be better used and knowledge could be gained from building a sophisticated information system.

It’s been said that sustainability is ingrained into the mindset of millennials. What advice or tips would you share with someone who is interested in pursuing a sustainability-focused career?

On the issue of climate, millennials consistently poll higher than other age groups in recognizing that climate impacts are real and human-caused. They are strongly interested in many other sustainability-related issues as well. How this has become "ingrained" is a bit more of an interesting question to unpack, but I think our higher education institutions have a huge role to play in the formative time of a young person's life that shapes their lifelong views on sustainability issues.

I always encouraged my students to seek out a diversity of experiences and make sure to include some meandering in their career path. While there is real reward in working directly in a sustainability position, it's important to recognize that all careers contain tons of opportunity for sustainability thinking and practice. So if you don't get the job as the director of sustainability at your alma mater, you still can have a huge vocational impact with your commitment to sustainability, no matter where you end up.