Dr. Rod Parnell sabbatical talk: “NAU and Sustainability”

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NAU and Sustainability
Rod Parnell, SESES and Environmental Caucus
How are we doing compared to other institutions?
What could we be learning from other institutions?

A fall, 2010 sabbatical leave exploration of sustainability practices at selected peer institutions and national leaders in sustainability education and practice and its application to NAU

Objectives: discover effective practices by examining other campus’ sustainability

There aren’t a whole lot of other peer institutions because we are already doing many of the things that other universities are doing
NAU is one of the more highly regarded institutions in sustainability but we need to continue to move forward in that regardInstitutional support for highly regarded mixed environmental sciences/studies
How do we move from a problem-based environmental studies curriculum to a solutions-based curriculum?
We need solutions, adaptation, mitigation, rather than just identifying problems.

Development of comprehensive sustainability (education, scholarly activities, facilities management, etc.)
Campus as a living laboratory

Effective institutional structures that make these possible
How does a campus lead these activities to address these ideas?

Rod conducted campus visits at peer institutions, aspirant institutions and phone interviews
AESS, AASHE, NCSE, CEDD Meetings, Summer 2010 – Summer 2011

Components of successful university sustainability:
Infrastructure – how we walk the walk – pervasive institutional practices
Leadership – how the university promotes sustainability
Academics/Curriculum – how to they try to involve the students


Food, energy systems, waste streams, etc
Biomass – Biomass gasification plants
Plant at Middlebury College – uses woodchips (we have tons of these in N.AZ)
1) Biomass plant is in the direct center of campus
2) Met commitment of climate neutrality itself
They have a very active web presence for all of their activities
Well, we are doing all of these things, but we are not really pushing them and telling people what we are up to

Concept originated in environmental studies capstone course, then presented their proposal to their Board of Trustees (Board of Regents)
Economic argument – you will get a better return on your investment in generating your own energy than you will in the stock market – very powerful
It is amazingly productive to listen to what students have to say.

NAU doesn’t have a multi-billion $ endowment to make this possible.

Organic Farms are on the rise – at a much bigger scale than our SSLUG garden

LEED construction through a true attempt to recycle and reuse
Renovated buildings with specialized space added onto them – reuse and repurpose old buildings rather than knocking them down and replacing

Similar project, larger scale – one of our peer institutions
Renovating and repurposing existing buildings for LEED Platinum
Include the student knowledge and expertise that you have on campus

Lehigh University – $85 million LEED Gold building
Interdisciplinary learning collaborative spaces
Learning communities based around lab facilities

Institutional Leadership

How does the administration move forward with concepts in sustainability?
Putting sustainability action into your long-term plans – how do we do that?
How are we going to reach climate neutrality by 2020?
• Engage students, faculty and staff in planning and decision-making process
o Student controlled sustainability fund
o Funding for student research
• Integration of separate sustainability efforts in operations/facilities with academic affairs and community
• Promoting faculty and student research and scholarly activity associated with sustainability

Mechanisms for sustainability leadership
Long-term planning
​Campus climate commitment and/or energy efficiency
Widely recognized campus point person (dean, director, or czarina of sustainability
Engagement of student, faculty, and staff in planning and decision-making
Office of Sustainability (usually coordinator level)
Programmatic initiatives (eg. general education or new degree programs)
**Global Learning Initiative – rolls through all levels of curriculum

Sustainability Leadership components – pyramid

Top: President / Provost
​Sustainability Dean/Director/Czarina (we don’t have this)
Middle: Sustainability Council/Committee (our new “CoCoSus”)
Sustainability Coordinator
à Environmental Caucus – no other campus in North America has one
Bottom: staff – faculty – students

So we see a grassroots effort where concepts from faculty, staff, students are voiced and vetted in Environmental Caucus, make recommendations for action to the Sustainability Committee and ideas make their way to the top

At NAU, our Provost is the Chair of the Sustainability Council, so there is a direct line of reporting to the President there.

Institutional Leadership Styles
Top-down authoritative style where changes are mandated
For example, Green Mountain College, ASU
Council-focused consensus building (representation)
​From multiple academic nodes
​​For example, UVM and U. Montana
From a single academic node
​​For example, W. Washington U, Lehigh U, USU
On your own
​For example, Brown University
Integrating all components: Middlebury College

NAU’s state of sustainability leadership
University commitment
Office of sustainability
Coordinating committee
Environmental caucus
Strong academic programs with connections to sustainability
Components are important but interaction and effectiveness between them is more important
Student empowerment w/r to campus decision-making
Integration and cooperation of academic programs and leadership

Academics – Curriculum

Sustainability woven through student experience
Student access to decision-makers and decision-making
Promotion of faculty involvement sustainability
​How can faculty enhance the student experience and networking?
Improving student curricular and co-curricular experience

Sustainability science/studies:
The disciplines involve protecting the earth’s life support systems (hydrosphere, lithosphere, etc.) while promoting human well-being
Do we really want to be focusing GDP or are there other indices of societal success? Happiness!? Thomas Jefferson promoted the institute of happiness.

US is 42nd in happiness out of 180 countries – we are not a leader

Recognizing and understanding the complexities of human/environmental interactions
Providing solutions to grand challenges
​Solutions-based more than problem-based

Approach through a deeper understanding of these components:
​Environmental natural and social sciences, humanities
​Systems analysis
​Convergence science – T shaped students – strong base and can reach across effectively in other areas
​Sustainable development
​Environmental justice

Sustainability studies as a form of convergence science
Feasible – natural and social sciences
Viable – engineering economics
Desirable –
What can those disciplines tell us about the desirability of the viability of these systems?

Feasibility: what can our natural systems handle?
Grand Challenges in Environmental Science by National Research Council 2001
1 – 8
Additional related challenges in engineering, social sciences, and humanities

Growth in academic programs in sustainability
National Council for Science and the Environment
2011 – 37 undergrad, 32 Masters (ex. MA in Sustainable Communities), 8 doctoral programs

How are theses programs being developed in challenging fiscal times?
To what degree are these new programs vs. rebranded programs?
Is evolution or a revolution going on?
Is environmental science evolving toward sustainability science?
It is a continuum – new curriculum – existing programs focusing anew – adding sustainability concepts to environmental science programs

Huntzinger et al 2007 – International Journal of Engineering Education
“Building In” – NAU’s level of sustainability curriculum reform – we are just below a level with a “Rebuild” or “Redesign” method where sustainability is wholly integrated and inherent in the curriculum
We are building it in, adapting our curriculum, not adding degree programs

How did we get here?
We have well established environmental programs and newer or revised sustainability programs

Why change the status quo at NAU?
Curricular need – the demand is out there for sustainability and environmental expertise
We are seeing a loss of faculty who are connected to this and focusing more on lecturers who are involved with this

Bunker Mentality developed through budget cuts
Less sharing of faculty across traditional academic units

Remapping our curriculum
Understanding and knowledge outcomes
Ability outcomes

Dispositional outcomes
Defined as characteristics for students to internalize
Develop ideas of personal place
Students work toward these goals, engage citizenship and stewardship
Broader focus on sustainability achieving societal needs:
Biological/agricultural systems
Water systems
Energy systems
Just and sustainable bicultural systems

Next steps:
Rebuild course syllabi with new learning outcomes, new techniques for assessment
Continue communicating and integration with other units undergoing curricular change
Student feedback and program assessment
Refine differentiation between science and studies

Co-curricular activities – tremendous range of opportunities to participate in these beyond the classroom
Campus organizations
Other sponsors in community
​Including national parks service
​Seeking opportunities through academic recruitment

For further consideration
Think about institutional leadership with respect to effective integration
How to best utilize the interface between levels
Marketing and PR – faculty and staff publications

Academics – where do we house these programs?
Do we want to pursue sustainability studies degree program?

Facilities and operations
Trash and travel – biggest problem for us
Is it a good idea to take NAU foundation funds and looking at better infrastructure to provide major overhaul for carbon emissions
We need a demonstration facility for sustainable practices
*LEED platinum Center for SESES!

Where do you locate these interdisciplinary centers? It is not very integrated at any university in the country.