An historic attempt to define and
promote sustainability in higher education was made in October 1990 with the creation
of the Talloires Declaration. Jean Mayer, the President of Tufts University, convened
twenty-two university presidents and chancellors in Talloires, France, to voice
their concerns about the state of the world and create a document that spelled
out key actions institutions of higher education must take to create a sustainable
Recognizing the shortage of specialists in environmental management
and related fields, as well as the lack of comprehension by professionals
in all fields of their effect on the environment and public health,
this gathering defined the role of the university in the following
way: "Universities educate most of the people who develop and
manage society's institutions. For this reason, universities bear
profound responsibilities to increase the awareness, knowledge,
technologies, and tools to create an environmentally sustainable
future" (Report and Declaration
of The Presidents Conference, 1990.
Conference participants discussed the
importance of increasing environmental literacy among specialists in engineering,
science, economics, social sciences, health and management. "Practicing professionals,
decision-makers at major institutions, and the general public must be given the
training, expertise, and tools to encourage environmentally sustainable actions"
(Report, 1990). Participants spoke of the need for expanded research on the complex
interaction of human activities and the environment, including strategies, technologies,
policies, and institutional behavior. Recognizing that the university or college
is a microcosm of the larger community, the group called for higher education
institutions to model environmentally responsible behavior in their daily activities.
"By practicing what it preaches, the university can both engage students in understanding
the institutional metabolism of materials and activities, and have them actively
participate to minimize pollution and waste" (Report, 1990).
acknowledged that, as university leaders, they were uniquely positioned to bring
together all the academic disciplines and professional schools on large, complex
issues. It was therefore incumbent upon them to "focus their schools' attention
on the critical issues by speaking out, acquiring new and mobilizing existing
resources, creating incentives and programs for faculty development, and fostering
interest in these issues" (Report, 1990).
The conference concluded with
the creation of the Talloires Declaration, a ten-point action plan for colleges
and universities committed to promoting education for sustainability and environmental
literacy. The Declaration is a consensus statement authored by 31 university leaders
and international environmental experts representing 15 nations from the global
North and South. Those present signed the Declaration and proposed to disseminate
the document for widespread endorsement.
The Talloires Declaration is looked
to as an international model and has inspired other such official declarations
from university consortia and organizations throughout the world, as follows:
1. Talloires Declaration of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future, October
2. Halifax Action Plan for Universities of the conference on "Creating
a Common Future," December 1991
3. Swansea Declaration of the Association
of Commonwealth Universities, August 1993
4. Copernicus University Charter
for Sustainable Development of the Conference of European Rectors, Autumn 1993
5. Kyoto Declaration of the International Association of Universities, November
6. American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment, 2007
As of February 2012, the Talloires Declaration has been signed by more than 430 university presidents and chancellors at institutions in over 40 countries across five continents. Signatories are divided
equally among low/middle income countries and high-income counties
and represent both large and small public and private colleges
and universities, community and technical colleges, and research
centers. This suggests a growing recognition that academic research,
teaching, and service must address the sustainability challenge.
Undoubtedly, signing the Talloires Declaration for some institutions
constituted a symbolic act in the moment. For others, however,
the document continues to be an impetus and framework for steady
progress toward sustainability.