Learning sustainability from George Washington Carver

Rebecca Chamberlin

George Washington Carver, for whom Carver Hall was named, was the first African American student and later faculty member at Iowa State. Carver is best remembered for his many uses of the peanut, but he was also an important figure in sustainability education. In honor of Black History Month, learn how George Washington Carver contributed to modern beliefs about sustainability.

  • Carver taught his students how to compost rather than throw away leftover foodstuffs, leaves and weeds, saying, “There is no better plant food than the things we ignore or throw away every day.” 
  • He believed “waste is man-made. Nature produces no waste; whatever is consumed is returned to the whole in a reusable form. Man fails to utilize appropriately the bounty of nature.” 
  • He advocated for organic farming and plant-based products. He also taught crop rotation because it naturally restores nitrogen to soil. 
  • Carver believed in conserving and protecting our natural resources for the future and not immediate benefits. “The earth is not just a treasure house to be ransacked, and plundered, and to be profited from. It is our home and a place of beauty and mystery.”