Minneapolis — Jerome Ringo, a prominent environmental activist, kicked off the annual meeting of the Society for College and University Planning with a talk about sustainability—but with an angle on the topic often overlooked by sustainability advocates on college campuses. Mr. Ringo, who is African-American and from the battered state of Louisiana, focused on racial and socioeconomic facets of sustainability—that is, how college sustainability programs often overlook the poor and the nonwhite.
“As I have traveled over the last several years and spoken to hundreds of students at colleges’ campuses in this country, there is still a lack of involvement of minority students in the sustainability programs and the environmental programs,” he said. “When you look at the statistics … people of color and poor people are disproportionately impacted when it comes to poor environmental practices.”
But the problem is not limited to campuses. Most conservation organizations—like the National Wildlife Federation, where he was chairman—are predominantly white organizations, he said. He believes that’s because the environmental organizations were founded by white sportsmen, who would go out and fish and admire their catches mounted on the wall. “Poor people in Mississippi would go out and fish, but they wouldn’t hang it on the wall. They would hang it on a plate.”
Mr. Ringo said that American businesses and educators needed to work together on sustainability issues—particularly on re-establishing a diverse economy that includes a robust manufacturing sector. He noted that much of the green-power components that he advocates are manufactured overseas. “We are importing energy and exporting jobs,” he said.