Willamette University


Reflections on Sustainability by President Pelton\"\"

Therefore, we teach not only about one’s connectivity to natural laws or to outward expressions of aesthetic and cultural forms or to economic and political structures, but also one’s connection to the earth and the environment that sustains life.

While it may have a new name, the values behind what is now known as sustainability have always been very much a part of Willamette’s legacy of principled learning and service. In fact, Willamette has been on the cutting edge of social and environmental sustainability for decades — it is integral to who we are as an institution, a community dedicated to fulfilling our motto, “Not unto ourselves alone are we born.”

For instance, more than fifty years ago at Bell Labs, two Willamette graduates, Gerald Pearson ’26 and Daryl Chapin ’27, developed the first practical photovoltaic cell — the basic design favored today to power everything from refrigerators in central Africa to lights in Willamette’s new Kaneko Commons. Pearson and Chapin were awarded honorary doctorates by Willamette in 1956 and received several international science prizes for their work, which laid the critical groundwork for a cleaner, less fossil fuel–dependent future.

Present and former Willamette faculty, students, and staff founded “Sustainable Fairview Associates,” a consortium transforming 275 acres of a former Oregon state hospital into a landmark experiment in sustainable community design.

As a business and employer, Willamette also walks the talk, buying locally to the greatest extent possible. Our food service has been recognized for excellence in supporting local farms and obtaining organic foods. Willamette’s impact on the local area economy is $168 million per year.

I am perhaps proudest that Willamette’s sustainability achievements were largely student-initiated. The passion, leadership and creativity of our students have transformed our campus culture and continue to inspire and motivate others on this campus and beyond.

Whether we are encouraging our students to use their talents to improve the well-being of the communities in which they live, or whether we are working to secure the financial soundness of this institution itself, we understand that the choices we make now affect the lives of present and future generations. This is the heart of a liberal education.