GCSC Seminar: Every Day Racism in Integrated Space

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office

Dr. Stacy Harwood came to racial justice work in 2006, when a fraternity and sorority at the University of Illinois—where she worked at the time—hosted a racially themed party called “Tacos and Tequila.” Harwood joined other faculty and students to protest this party as well as a broader tradition of racism on campus, and their initiative soon “took on a life of its own.”

Harwood, who is now chairperson and professor in the City & Metropolitan Planning Department at the University of Utah, will give a GCSC seminar at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 14 called “Every Day Racism in Integrated Spaces.”

Harwood’s talk will center a recent research paper of the same title, which explores the geography of racism on university campuses and examines how subtle racism influences students of color. “What is it like to walk across campus? How does it feed your choice to go somewhere or not go somewhere? And how does that limit your opportunity to access resources?” she asks.

Harwood’s research looks at three different environments on college campuses: white spaces, where students of color often feel unwelcomed and out of place; welcoming spaces, like cultural centers, where students of color feel they can be themselves and where they don’t need to explain their existence; and a third environment, where students feel included, but only conditionally. “This is often where the subtlety of racism happens,” Harwood says.

Harwood hopes her talk will generate conversation about the subtle racism that happens on our own campus at the U and that it will be useful for white people to better understand how racism can be unintentional. She also hopes it will bring racial justice to the forefront of sustainability discussions, which she argues should engage more deeply with social issues.

“We tend to lean on the environmental stuff a lot more when we talk about sustainability,” Harwood says. “But racism is not something that’s a sustainable practice. It impacts people’s health, access to resources, and ability to thrive.”

Join Harwood on Zoom at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 14 to learn more about every day racism in integrated spaces and what our campus community can do to address it.

Global Change & Sustainability Center Seminars: Fall Preview

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office

The Global Change & Sustainability Center (GCSC) Seminar Series returns on Tuesday, Aug. 31. The series features a different speaker on alternate Tuesdays of the fall semester. All seminars are free and will take place on Zoom.

Dr. Brenda Bowen, director of the GCSC and associate professor of Geology & Geophysics, will kick off the fall series with her talk on “Transdisciplinary Explorations of Sustainability in a Time of Change at the Bonneville Salt Flats.” She encourages everyone—students, staff, faculty, and community members—to tune in.

“I’ll be talking about work that I’ve been doing for eight or nine years, really focused on the Bonneville Salt Flats and the changes that are currently happening in this landscape,” Bowen says. “We’ve been studying how this environment is changing from a biophysical standpoint—so looking at the sediments in the groundwater and environmental fluxes of how the landscape is changing—but then also have been working really closely with social scientists, and communication scholars, and engineers, and artists, and stakeholders from a huge range of different perspectives to try to do science that will help aid in data-driven decision making.”

While Bowen specializes in geology, she explains that the interdisciplinary and social science elements of her work are just as essential. “We got to advance the work on the science, and across the sciences, but then also really bridged into these other areas around how perceptions of environmental change are framed based on your position in the stakeholder ecosystem,” Bowen says. “Who talks to who, and who’s at the table, and how [are] decisions made about land management, and resource use, and extraction, and mitigation, and restoration? Who’s making those decisions?”

Interdisciplinary sustainability research like Bowen’s will reappear throughout this semester’s GCSC seminars, which feature faculty members from all different disciplines across the University of Utah campus, ranging from law to philosophy to engineering. The fall series takes on questions such as, “How do we bridge across these disciplinary silos that are so entrenched in academia?” Bowen explains. “How do we see this from all…different disciplinary lenses and approaches?”

Dr. Stacy Harwood, professor and chair in the Department of City & Metropolitan Planning, will give the second seminar on “Everyday Racism in Integrated Spaces,” which examines the experiences of students of color at the University of Utah, a predominantly white institution. “We talk a lot about campus as a living lab,” says Bowen. “But it’s not just the physical spaces where we do that—it can be in our social spaces, too.”

Dr. Carlos Santana, professor of Philosophy, will wrap up September with a discussion of the Anthropocene and possibilities for collaboration between natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities in a new geologic era.

In October and November Dr. Heather Tanana, research assistant professor in the College of Law, will discuss the intersection of Indigenous resource needs, climate change, and environmental policies; Dr. Taylor Sparks, professor of Materials Science and Engineering, will discuss the materials needed to achieve a just energy transition; and Dr. Lynne Zummo, professor of Educational Psychology and curator of learning sciences at the Natural History Museum of Utah, will explore the cognitive process related to learning and making decisions about climate change.

Bowen encourages students, staff, faculty, and the broader community to tune in at no cost for this semester’s bi-weekly seminars. Interested graduate students can still add the online section of the one-credit GCSC Seminar course, which can be found under SUST 6800-002 in the course catalog.

Join us for Bowen’s seminar on ecological change at the Salt Flats on Tuesday, Aug. 31 at 4 p.m., and learn more about the upcoming seminar speakers and topics.

 

APPLY FOR THE CLIMATE JUSTICE UC3 FELLOWSHIP

The University of Utah Climate Commitment Task Force  is seeking a small team of graduate students with experience in environmental and climate justice to serve through the coming year as UC3 Fellows.

UC3, the University Climate Change Coalition, is a core program of Second Nature that connects 23 of the world’s leading research universities committed to accelerating climate action on campus, in communities, and at a global scale. The University of Utah UC3 fellows will be linked with a cohort of graduate student fellows from participating institutions across North America that are working on the climate justice pilot project.

Applications (below) are due September 1, 2021. Learn more and apply at environment.utah.edu/students/uc3-fellowship

 

Dr. Jennifer Watt to lead Sustainability Education at the U

By Ayrel Clark-Proffitt, Sustainability Office

Headshot of Dr. Jennifer Watt wearing light gray sweater with silver necklace. Dr. Watt has bangs and shoulder-length wavy brown hair.

Dr. Jennifer Watt

Dr. Jennifer Watt, the new director of sustainability education, is ready to grow student opportunities and build on education efforts that highlight the relationships between social and environmental issues.

Watt, the associate director of the U’s Environmental & Sustainability Studies program, was selected through an internal search open to all existing career-line and tenure-line faculty. As the director of sustainability education, she said she hopes to build on and create new opportunities for students to access sustainability academically.

“My goal is to expand and advance educational opportunities related to sustainability on multiple fronts,” Watt said. “To begin, this will involve promoting the new Undergraduate Certificate in Sustainability, helping faculty incorporate sustainability and equity issues into courses, and promoting a dynamic understanding of sustainability in which social and ecological relationships are actively addressed.”

Watt was selected out of multiple qualified candidates. The search committee chose her because of her significant experience in sustainability curriculum development, assessment, and student support, said Chief Sustainability Officer Kerry Case.

“Dr. Watt’s wealth of experience will benefit students, the campus, and the community as the University of Utah works to graduate students who have the skills and education needed to address major sustainability challenges,” Case said.

Watt succeeds Dr. Adrienne Cachelin, who held the role of sustainability education director for the past seven years. Watt took over the position on Aug. 1.

In addition to her administrative role, Watt teaches in Environmental & Sustainability Studies and Geography. She completed her Ph.D. in Geography at the University of Utah in 2013. She holds a master’s degree in Environmental Science and Policy from Northern Arizona University, and she completed her bachelor’s degree at Black Hills State University. Watt has earned multiple teaching awards during her tenure at the U.

Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund: Year in Review (2020-21)

By Emerson Andrews, Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund manager

Despite the global pandemic, the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund (SCIF) funded 14 projects during the 2020-21 academic year. The grants totaled $132,527, the most funding provided in one year in the grant program’s 12-year history. The projects covered a wide range of issues, from re-usable menstrual cup distribution to community-involved air quality monitoring. Project funding is approved by an allocation committee of students, staff, and faculty.

SMALL

Sustainability Kits Distribution, $880

Project Manager: Alex Farley  |  Project Advisor: Erica Anderson

The ASUU Sustainability Board partnered with the Feed U Pantry and child care centers at the University of Utah to distribute sustainability kits to traditionally underserved populations. The sustainability kits, which included water bottles, food storage containers, and reusable sandwich bags, were distributed to people who frequented the Feed U Pantry and childcare centers throughout the year.

Youth, Environment, and Belonging, $958

Project Managers: Meghan Burrows, Melissa Paulsen, Lauren Swidnicki  |  Project Advisor: Adrienne Cachelin

This project explores the intersections of environmental justice and how middle and high school participants in underserved communities understand “environment” and what they value in their own communities. The research explores youth perceptions of environment across race, class, and gender. The project also provided a structure for participants to develop community asset maps, which will help community-based researchers more easily build on these assets to address community needs and improve social and ecological health. Additionally, the maps provide an outline for the University of Utah to respectfully and productively engage with community members.

Sustainable Produce Packaging, $380

Project Manager: Avery Durham  |  Project Advisor: Jessica Kemper

In partnership with the Edible Campus Gardens and the Feed U Pantry, sustainable packaging was purchased to distribute free produce to students. The pulp containers, brown paper bags, and plastic bins aim to make the produce easily accessible for students during the pandemic.

Low-Mow Conversion Pilot, $985

Project Manager: Bridgette Webb  |  Project Advisor: Jennifer Fayre

Staff in the Facilities Management Landscape Department received funding to plant a variety of pollinator-friendly, low-mow grasses in a struggling area. The project manager identified a plot of turf damaged by years of nitrogen testing and the stress of mowing in the housing district as the ideal location for piloting various grasses. The hope is that once these grasses mature, the area can become a living exhibition of the native transition from the Wasatch foothills to the semi-arid lowlands of Salt Lake Valley.

MEDIUM

Tree Planting: A Campus Restoration Project with the MUSS, $9,850

Project Manager: Eadan McCarthy  |  Project Advisor: Sue Pope

The MUSS received funding to plant new trees on the University of Utah campus to help replace those lost in the windstorm on Sept. 8, 2020. The majority of the funds were used to purchase the necessary and desired saplings as identified by the Landscape Department and Open Space Facility Manager Sue Pope. Trees were planted in the same location as those lost or in a nearby site. Funds were also used to purchase gloves and shovels to enable student participation, as well as funding the labor cost of preparing the planting sites prior to the day of the event and clean them up in the days following.

Edible Campus Gardens Revamped Irrigation System, $3,238

Project Manager: Kaila Balch  |  Project Advisor: Jessica Kemper

This project implemented a new irrigation system at the western garden of the Edible Campus Gardens. The old irrigation system, prone to leaking, was replaced with new valve boxes, valve switches, a smart-control clock (by donation), blank tubing, and high-quality, four-season, drip irrigation. The idea for this project arose after garden staff noticed frequent leaks and garden-bed flooding from the old drip irrigation system. The investment in a more technologically-advanced irrigation system reduces water waste.

Menstrual Cup Distribution, $10,000

Project Manager: Olivia Kavapalu  |  Project Advisor: Alison Mortensen-Hayes

The Menstrual Cup Distribution project aimed to address two problems within our campus community: 1) The contribution to landfill waste of disposable period products; and 2) The inaccessibility of menstrual cups due to high costs and a lack of education surrounding the topic. The project addressed both issues by selling menstrual cups for $5—the retail cost is generally cost $20—and providing education with each cup.

Outdoor Program for SLC Refugees, $7,625

Project Manager: Tiffanie Fogel  |  Project Advisor: Jim Sibthorp   

This project established a program specifically for the Salt Lake City refugee population to participate in outdoor recreation experiences unique to Utah. This program introduces Salt Lake City’s refugee population to outdoor recreation opportunities to increase equity and access in outdoor experiences. The program used the funds to pay for facility use, climbing guides, and transportation.

Red Butte Creek Native Vegetation, $9,902

Project Manager: Justyna Kaniewska, Carrie Ann Marsh  |  Project Advisor: Sarah Hinners

In alignment with the Red Butte Creek Strategic Vision, students in the Department of City & Metropolitan Planning green infrastructure class received funding to plant native vegetation alongside the Red Butte Creek corridor. This project was initiated in conjunction with the larger Arapeen Trail Project and aims to restore the riparian ecosystem by plating native water and wildlife resistant vegetation.

Red Butte Creek Human Access, $5,400

Project Manager: Emily Meadows, Laurin Hoadley  |  Project Advisor: Sarah Hinners

Another group of students in the green infrastructure class received funding to integrate human access into the Arapeen Trail Project by funding stream adjacent seating and stairway access to Red Butte Creek. The students’ goal is to encourage human activity near Red Butte Creek by facilitating safe access and community use with low-impact trails, stairs, benches, and signage.

Pollinator Garden Interpretive Signage, $2,275

Project Manager: Amalia Friess  |  Project Advisor: Amy Sibul

In 2019, the Architecture Building Pollinator Garden was installed as part of an interdisciplinary effort to create a pollinator corridor at the University of Utah that also utilizes green infrastructure to fix flooding problems that impact the building. As a final piece to that effort, members of the original project team received funding to design and install interpretive signage at the pollinator garden. The informational sign helps passersby slow down and take a closer look at the garden and its pollinators, which provides place-based education and makes the university a more aesthetically pleasing place.

LARGE

Cairns at the University of Utah, $10,000

Project Manager: Liz Ivkovich

UtahPresents, the University of Utah’s multidisciplinary arts presenter, used its SCIF grant to match funds for Cairns, an interdisciplinary working group that brings together scientists, artists, students, and community organizers. This project enabled people to collaborate on complex sustainability problems from the ground up, finding new and innovative ways to explore issues and find solutions. This grant was paired with support from the Global Change & Sustainability Center and UtahPresents to fund the program. Grant funds helped pay for artist fees and a small stipend for University of Utah participants to encourage investment of time and resources into this project.

Community-Based Educational Outreach to Address Air Pollution: A U-Community Partnership for Environmental Justice, $24,569

Project Manager: Casey Mullen  |  Project Advisor: Sara Grineski

Casey Mullen, a PhD candidate, received a grant to fund the sensors, incentives, and undergraduate/graduate research positions associated with the community air quality assessment research. This project aims to: (1) assess social inequities in the distribution of sensors from the AQ&U program, a non-governmental air quality monitoring network in Salt Lake County developed and overseen by the University of Utah; (2) use those results to provide fine particulate matter sensors to communities of concern with sparse air quality monitoring coverage in order to address inequities and examine residents’ experiences with participatory air quality sensing; and (3) deliver educational outreach about air pollution, Air Quality and U, and mitigation strategies to residents.

Electric Bus Air Quality Monitoring, $31,788

Project Manager: Daniel Mendoza

This project is a continuation of the air quality monitoring stations affixed to TRAX trains and stationary point sources throughout the Salt Lake Valley. The data collected by these stations has been invaluable to the air quality research and has informed important policy. This project expands monitoring stations to the new electric bus lines. Grant funds will also allow undergraduate students to participate in this research project and develop valuable skills in data collection, sustainability, and environmental justice work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SCIF Bylaws Receive Overdue Update

By Zahra Saifee, Sustainability Office

For the past year, the Sustainability Office has committed to incorporating equity and wellness into its programs and policies. As part of that effort, staff and students completed a major overhaul of the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund (SCIF) bylaws to incorporate a more inclusive vision of sustainability.

When SCIF was created in 2008, there weren’t many tools for sustainability on campus. The bylaws were written by the ASUU Sustainability Board because SCIF is student-fee funded program. The original bylaws no longer reflect the state of sustainability on campus, says Emerson Andrews, SCIF program manager. He points out bylaws fail to reflect the university’s sustainability definition, which is “the integrated pursuit of social equity, environmental integrity, and economic security for current and future generations.”

The revision process began in the spring of 2020, and only with the dedication, passion, and hard work of many students, staff, and faculty are the bylaw revisions completed to express a more just, inclusive, and holistic view of sustainability, Andrews says.

The bylaws revision process involved Sustainability staff and interns, students in the Environmental Justice Community Engaged Learning Course, and staff from Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. The bylaw update started with Andrews and intern Piper Christian, who spent the better portion of Spring 2020 scouring through the bylaws of other university sustainability grant funds to build the foundation of comparative data needed to start the revision process.

The following semester, Dr. Adrienne Cachelin, faculty member in Environmental & Sustainability Studies and Sustainability Education director, integrated the bylaw revision process in her environmental justice class, which is a designated Community Engaged Learning (CEL) course. The students applied concepts they were learning in class to critically analyze the bylaws from a justice lens. They asked: Who is being left out by the way the current bylaws are phrased? Who are we harming? What assumptions are we making? They identified points of exclusion and the subtle ways current power structures were being upheld through the language and structure of the bylaws.

“Usually green grants focus on technological responses to complex issues, but this revision expands what is possible in the realm of sustainability to tackle issues from an equity lens,” Cachelin says.

After the conclusion of their semester long bylaw review, the students made two major recommendations. First, remove the overuse of financial terms and jargon. This will remove the barriers and increase accessibility to the SCIF program. Second, SCIF should add a person from the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion as a voting member of the SCIF Allocations Committee. This will ensure that equity considerations are reflected in the final decision-making process.

Izabella Bourland, one of the students who was a part of the process, says, “We want to be inclusive in our language and break away from the regular framework of environmentalism. We worked hard to not make assumptions that exclude people who have the knowledge to create a sustainable future.”

Both recommendations from the students were included in the revised bylaws. Additionally, Andrews and SCIF intern Zahra Saifee looked over the bylaws line by line to identify necessary revisions. Pronouns throughout the document were updated to be more inclusive, and in some cases, entire sections of the bylaws were removed.

To finalize the process, ASUU Sustainability director Alex Farley and the Sustainability Board created a new letter of intent that seamlessly combined the original vision with the new SCIF values. Lastly, the updated SCIF bylaws were unanimously approved by the SCIF Allocations Committee in April 2021, and established as the new framework of sustainable projects on campus. As the bylaw revision process concludes, it is important to note the critical role students took to make the new bylaws are more inclusive, just, and equitable—ultimately expanding what’s possible to accomplish here at the University of Utah.

 

 

GCSC Seminar: Awakening an Audience with Environmental Theater

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office

Thinking about climate change can be so overwhelming that we might, at times, wish to look away. Some aren’t willing to look at all. Phantom Limb Company invites us to consider our relationship to the natural world through a different lens—one that is mesmerizing, emotional, and beautiful.

On Tuesday, April 20 at 4 p.m., co-founder and artistic director of Phantom Limb Company Jessica Grindstaff will give her GCSC seminar, “Storytelling, Imagism and Empathy: Awakening an Audience,” which explores puppetry and performing arts as methods of generating emotion and action around environmental issues and climate change. Three virtual performances by Phantom Limb are also offered through UtahPresents, with the final screening on April 22. Ticket holders will be able to view all three performances through April 30.

Jessica Grindstaff began her career as a visual artist, and arrived in the theater industry through an unexpected twist of events. “I can’t really explain how we ended up where we have,” she says of her journey with co-founder, Erik Sanko. “We had a visual art show together, and then the gallerist wanted him to do a little performance with the puppets that he was exhibiting.”

“We just accidentally ended up making this play,” Grindstaff says. “It was supposed to run for a couple of weeks in downtown New York, and then the New York Times wrote it up and it ended up running for three months.”

The show was a huge success. After it closed, a producer approached Grindstaff and Sanko and asked what they hoped to do next. “We both had been big fans of the Shackleton story, so we said let’s make a play about that,” Grindstaff reflects. They received a grant to fund their idea, and soon found themselves in Antarctica researching Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 Trans-Antarctic Expedition. “I would say that it was actually there where it started to become real for me,” Grindstaff says. “I started to understand what I wanted to do”

In Antarctica, Grindstaff and Sanko met and worked with scientists whose research centered on climate change and melting ice. “The majority of their work [was]… in one way or another cataloging the effects of climate change on the ice, on the land, on the animals that live there,” Grindstaff explains. “So, rather than the play just being about Ernest Shackleton, we introduced a component to the piece that was about the future of Antarctica and climate change.”

It became important to Grindstaff and Sanko that their work include a social and environmental message. “And so, we decided to make a trilogy,” Grindstaff says. “We would spend the next 10 years making a trilogy that was related to people’s relationships to the environment and nature, and how that was changing,”

The second piece in the trilogy, Memory Rings, is about the Methuselah—the world’s oldest living tree. “We were looking at the timeline of that tree’s life and everything that happened from germination until now, and looking for stories of people’s relationship to the forest or wood over that time,” Grindstaff says. The final piece in the trilogy, Falling Out, takes place in Fukushima and examines the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami and subsequent nuclear meltdown—a natural disaster paired with a manmade disaster.

Phantom Limb’s plays rarely have words, focusing instead on movement and imagery. “On stage, we’re placing images near one another and then ask an audience to make their own connections,” Grindstaff says. “Especially when you’re talking about things like climate—issues that are overly described to us in society in very specific ways that are often around fear, or guilt, or what we should personally be doing—I think leaving space for people in that conversation to find out who they are, and what their role and what their thoughts are in it and their emotions are in it, is really important and it’s really powerful.”

Grindstaff and Sanko use puppets, in part because they are an effective medium for generating emotion. “For a puppet to work, someone has to empathize,” Grindstaff explains. “The puppet is nothing. It’s a piece of wood or a papier-mache. An audience member has to engage in the work on an empathetic level, they have to put themselves inside of it. And I think around the topics of climate and climate change and our roles in our communities, that that is a great thing to do.”

The results of their art are hard to measure, Grindstaff says, but audience members often tell her that they feel moved and leave the theater thinking about their own roles within these complex issues. “They walked out looking at themselves, which is a goal, I think, in our work.”

Register for Grindstaff’s talk on Tuesday, April 20 at 4 p.m. to learn more about Phantom Limb Company’s work, and how environmental art moves hearts and minds.

A New and Improved Undergraduate Sustainability Certificate: Everything Students and Faculty Need to Know

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office

In its very definition of sustainability as “the integrated pursuit of social equity, environmental integrity, and economic security,” the University of Utah acknowledges that we must weave sustainability into every fiber of our economic and social systems. Next school year, the U will launch a revised Sustainability Certificate that seamlessly weaves sustainability into the fibers of its undergraduate education.

The Undergraduate Sustainability Certificate, which has been dormant for several years, will take on a new form in the fall of 2021, integrating sustainability into students’ general education and empowering them to approach their primary courses of study through a sustainability lens. By engaging students in the scientific, artistic, technological, and human dimensions of sustainability, this certificate offers something to everyone—from budding scientist to humanities scholar.

“I have students that are pre-med, and they’re really interested in doing things in medical school with a sustainability component,” says Dr. Jennifer Watt, associate director of the Environmental and Sustainability Studies program. Through this certificate, students from all majors will gain the knowledge and skills they need to leverage their unique passions and skillsets toward building a more sustainable world.

The certificate is designed for students in the natural sciences, arts, and humanities who would like more flexibility than is offered through the transdisciplinary ENVST minor. The U’s Sustainability Education Advisory Committee created this certificate to allow students to take a majority of certificate credits that also count toward general education requirements, integrating the two such that students can complete their general education intellectual exploration requirements with a focus on sustainability. “This certificate is unique in that it will allow students to gain an understanding of the ways that different disciplines approach a single topic, while also studying sustainability,” says Dr. Adrienne Cachelin, the sustainability education director.

“The Undergraduate Sustainability Certificate will create a pathway for students passionate about the planet to complete their general education in a framework informed by their interests and dedicated to the creation of a more sustainable future,” says John Nilsson, assistant dean and director of appeals for general education. “If students have already completed their general education coursework, there is still room for them in this certificate program, as there are almost 400 courses with sustainability designations at the U,” Cachelin notes.

There are two sustainability course designations within the certificate: SUSL for courses with a limited sustainability scope, and SUSC for courses with a more complete sustainability scope. To achieve the certificate, students must complete a total of nine credits of SUSC coursework, at least six of which must be outside their departments; 12 credits of SUSL coursework, at least six of which must be outside their home college; and a portfolio of at least five assignments that demonstrate what a sustainability lens has brought to their major course of study.

The process for faculty to obtain sustainability course designation is streamlined and easy, requiring a short application form, submission of a course syllabus, and a brief justification for course designation. Applications for the fall semester are due on April 15, 2021.

“The course designation is beneficial for faculty, students, and the University,” Cachelin explains. “Students can look for this designation in the catalog and registration pages in order to follow their interests, faculty can be acknowledged for their contributions in teaching about equity and environment, and the University can more easily appeal to students across the country, a large percentage of whom select a University based on sustainability concerns.”

The sustainability designation will also make courses identifiable to a broader base of students. Designated courses are an opportunity for faculty to teach students from different academic backgrounds and majors, whose diverse experiences often enrich classroom discussion. “I think it’s a good thing to have that designation on there. It’s advertising it to a broader community,” Watt explains.

Kerry Case, the U’s chief sustainability officer, looks forward to the influence this certificate will have into the future, beyond the walls of academia. “As a university, our biggest sustainability impact is the knowledge our students carry with them after graduation,” Case says. “The revised undergraduate sustainability certificate will be another critical way for students to gain the tools they need to build a more equitable and environmentally sustainable future.”

Faculty, don’t forget to apply for sustainability designation by April 15, 2021. And students, remember to keep an eye out for those SUSL and SUSC courses this fall.

GCSC Seminar: Infusing Justice in the Climate Planning Process

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office

Portland, Oregon is known for its cutting-edge climate policy, sustainability initiatives, and resilience planning. In recent years, however, Portland has shifted its focus—from climate action to climate justice.

On Tuesday, April 13 at 4 p.m., Dr. Liliana Caughman, who has devoted much of her research to Portland’s climate efforts, will share the city’s challenges, successes, and lessons-learned in her GCSC seminar, “From Climate Action to Climate Justice: How scenarios, partnerships, and community priorities are driving equitable urban sustainability and resilience planning in Portland, Oregon.”

Caughman is an interdisciplinary environmental and social scientist with a focus on urban sustainability and resilience, a faculty member in the Native Environmental Science program at Northwest Indian College, and affiliated faculty at Portland State University’s Institute for Sustainable Solutions.

“My undergraduate degree was in physics at UC Berkeley, and I loved that,” Caughman says. “I ended up really just wanting to figure out how to apply those skills more for the pressing problems in our world, so I…started working in renewable energy, and it was there where I got to combine physics with thinking about climate change and energy transitions.”

Drawn to solving complex, multi-faceted environmental problems, Caughman returned to graduate school where she began conducting research related to climate justice. She said that in graduate school, “connecting the science with communities and people of color and my own identity all came together.”

Caughman emphasizes the importance of procedural justice in Portland’s shift from climate action to climate justice: “If the processes that we use to make decisions around sustainability and resilience planning…are just and equitable and fair, then I believe—and I’ve seen through some of my research—that the outcomes can be as well,” she says. “These institutions have been so unjust for so long; the only way we can get to the better outcomes we want is by making better processes.”

Better processes are community-engaged and empower local voices using research and academic tools, Caughman says. “We know that we won’t get to the best solutions for everyone if we don’t listen to everyone,” she explains. “There’s a lot more knowledge out in the real world—in the community—than just inside of the halls of academia or the city government.”

Research shows that some communities in Portland will experience disproportionate effects of extreme, climate-change-induced weather events. “Just because the Cascadia earthquake or a 500-year flood would be devastating for everyone, it actually will be more devastating for certain groups than others,” Caughman says. “And so that’s one of the wheels that started turning to help us realize collectively that we can’t just focus on resilience as a blanket statement—there actually needs to be focus on specific communities and groups of people that are going to feel the brunt of this.”

Portland communities have expressed that gentrification, poverty, and environmental racism are among the issues that must be addressed in the city’s climate justice plan. “Equity can’t just be on the side, but actually has to be at the center of the work,” Caughman explains. Climate justice is about resiliency and sustainability, not only in the natural environment, but also in the built and economic environments.

Caughman encourages other cities to learn from Portland’s successes and mistakes as they embark on their own climate initiatives. “Just skip a lot of the learning curves that Portland has had in some of their previous plans and jump wholeheartedly into the really hard work of thinking of it in terms of climate justice, which means integrating the community,” Caughman says. “It means thinking about surviving climate change—not just mitigating it—and it means a lot of partnerships, and being interdisciplinary, multi-disciplinary, and just continuing to try and learn through the process, even if you’re making mistakes as you go.”

Register in advance and attend Caughman’s Zoom seminar on April 13 at 4 p.m. to hear more about Portland’s climate justice initiatives, and what other cities can learn from their efforts.

GCSC Seminar: Exploring More Sustainable Futures through Southeast Asia Case Study

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office

As the COVID-19 vaccine offers communities respite and hope, calls to “build back better” from the pandemic are rising across the world. Dr. Pamela McElwee, associate professor of Human Ecology at Rutgers University, cautions that early indications show this is not happening. To “build back better”—in ways that are economically and environmentally sustainable—is complicated and challenging. But it is also vital.

On Tuesday, March 23 at 4 p.m. McElwee will join the GCSC and the U of U Asia Center for her talk, “Sustainable Development in Southeast Asia in a Post-COVID Era.” McElwee, an interdisciplinary environmental scientist with a background in anthropology and forestry, will discuss Southeast Asia as a case study through which to explore the challenges of sustainable development and the potential for alternative economic development models.

Southeast Asia, McElwee says, is “emblematic of the challenges that we face in doing sustainable development” because it encapsulates the problems and possibilities of such work more broadly.

McElwee explains that Southeast Asia has successfully reduced poverty over the last thirty years, but that this economic development has come at a high environmental price. “Southeast Asia is the region where they do a lot of natural resource exploitation for exports, and over the last 20-30 years, we’ve seen the increasingly large impacts of that,” McElwee says. “So, you’ve got these clashing issues where on the one hand you’ve had this very successful poverty alleviation, but on the other hand, it’s come at a high environmental cost.”

Southeast Asia has reached a development crossroads, McElwee says, because poverty alleviation has plateaued while environmental degradation continues to increase. In fact, Southeast Asia has some of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, largely due to global consumption of products like timber, palm oil, and shrimp. “A lot of people are saying—‘what’s going on?’” McElwee explains. “We’re not getting continued wellbeing gains, but we’re all of a sudden suffering worse air pollution, we’re suffering from the impacts of climate change…and so we need to think about doing things a little bit differently.”

So far, these issues have been addressed by reforming the current resource-intensive development model to make it “more sustainable.” In other words, resource-heavy global trade continues as usual, but consumers are encouraged to purchase products like palm oil and shrimp from brands that reduce their ecological footprint. There is concern, however, that these small reforms do not meet the scale of the problem and that larger measures are necessary.

“The question is, do we continue to tinker around the edges, or does there need to be a transformative change?” McElwee asks.

Transformative change is challenging, McElwee says. “Once you’re on a certain pathway, it’s very hard to get off,” she explains. “You built your economies on this model, and what an alternative vision for that would be is really challenging.”

McElwee emphasizes the importance of participatory processes in visioning sustainable development futures. It is vital that community concerns are heard and that mechanisms for a just transition are built into the development model. Transitions toward environmentally sustainable futures must also be economically viable for the communities they affect. “Those are discussions that have to be held, and if they’re not held then people aren’t going to be interested in a future for sustainable development,” McElwee says. “They’ll reject it. And we want to avoid that.”

McElwee’s research in Southeast Asia offers something to everyone. “We’re all in an interconnected economy now, whether we like it or not,” she reminds us. “The aggregate contribution to climate change—whether it’s deforestation in Southeast Asia or it’s fossil fuel use here—all goes up to the same place. The days of thinking of individual countries as being able to affect environmental change by themselves are pretty much gone.”

Register ahead of time, then tune in on Zoom on Tuesday, March 23 at 4 p.m. to learn more from McElwee about the challenges and opportunities of sustainable development in Southeast Asia and beyond, and how participatory processes are vital to a sustainable future.