Thinking for the future

Published 6:57 pm Monday, November 21, 2011

There are many competing worthy causes in our society.

Two that sometimes are needlessly pitted against one another are sustainability and multiculturalism. The green movement has taken on increased momentum in this new millennium.

In higher education, sustainability has become a central concern, in large part because of enhanced awareness by our students but also for pragmatic financial reasons related to the need for increased efficiency and the cost savings that a green approach provides in the long run.

For example, at the University of Montevallo, the theme for our recent Founder’s Day event was “Sustaining Montevallo.”

Various events showcased efforts to promote sustainability on campus, such as a bike share program, community garden and the use of locally grown produce on the part of the university’s food service provider, Sodexho.

In the city of Montevallo and Shelby County there are also many green initiatives including recycling and a summer farmers’ markets.

The place where sustainability and multiculturalism intersect is economic justice.

The green movement has as its main focus intergenerational justice.

It strives to ensure that we use and distribute resources in such a way that future generations have what they need to live comfortably.

This usually involves middle class and rich individuals simplifying their lives by choice.

However, the same techniques used by these folks can also be used to help improve the lives of those who live simply out of necessity.

Affordable, efficient housing, healthier food and greater self-sufficiency could significantly improve the lives of the poor and others such as people of color who are often at the periphery of the green movement.

But in order to achieve this potential, those involved in sustainability work must invite a broader cross section of society to the green table.

Multiculturalism has at its core a goal that is complementary to that of sustainability.

It is to create a society in which all are valued and treated equitably, one in which we foster the skills needed to work together across our differences to capitalize on the various strengths each of us posses to meet needs of us all.

Only through inclusion can movements such as these achieve their ultimate shared goal of social justice today and for generations to come.

Kimberly Barrett is the vice president for student affairs at the University of Montevallo.