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Forum on Public Policy Online





Peer Reviewed



What began as a professor’s classroom illustration to encourage students to take climate change seriously sparked a student movement that transformed Eastern University into a leader in environmental stewardship and social responsibility. How did this happen at an evangelical university in a conservative coal state that, at the time, was producing 1% of the world’s climate change gases? Using the method of autoethnography, the author provides an explanation that involves political opportunity structures (recent legal changes now allowed consumers to purchase clean energy from the electrical grid), the influence of ideas (the professor had published a theory about the transformative influence of environmental education—students challenged her to operationalize the theories), intentional strategizing (by students who implemented best practices from other universities), student government (who conducted meetings across campus before holding a senate vote) and political struggle between university administrators and students that was only resolved after the student body president obtained media coverage by The Philadelphia Inquirer. What really lit a fire under the student body, however, went beyond theory frames, politics, legal changes, social movement strategies, student government or individual charisma. Some might call it serendipity. By 2003, 37% of Eastern University’s electricity came from wind energy. Within two years, Eastern University had 100% of the electricity for the main campus generated by wind energy. In 2004, they added a 56 kilowatt solar system to the roof of the Eagle Learning Center. On February 2, 2012, Eastern University made a seven-year commitment to 100% clean energy for the main campus. This is the story of the transformative and enduring influence of environmental education at Eastern University and the sociomaterial learning that influenced collective identity formation and student activism.



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