Contributed by Dr. Sarah
The essential question posed in our Summer 2015 virtual fireside chat was Does climate change “change everything” in higher education and beyond? The answer, from various vantage points, was a resounding “Yes.”
We had a far ranging conversation that even touched upon the profound reality that climate change changes our sense of time.
Professor Richard Rood set the stage for the conversation. Professor Rood, a climate scientist at University of Michigan who teaches multidisciplinary courses on climate impacts and adaptation, painted a picture of a world in which we are not only seeing droughts and extreme weather events, but severe wild fires in unlikely spots such as Alaska.
Professor Nancy Tuchman, founding Director of Loyola University’s Institute of Environmental Sustainability in Chicago, reminded us that climate change threatens the security and stability of our food system as well– a reality, I would add, that is likely to touch all of our lives to varying degrees, particularly those living in poverty.
Climate change represents not just a threat but an opportunity for new models for innovation and collaboration, however. Professor Tuchman shared the story of how a student-driven enterprise at Loyola to reduce food waste and fossil fuel use has led to Loyola working with other schools, such as Northwestern University and University of Illinois-Chicago, to use waste grease from their kitchens to run campus buses. Such projects not only reduce climate impacts and afford hands-on learning for students, but forge new alliances that can wield more effective levers for necessary collective change to tackle climate change. The sphere of influence of each institution expands by virtue of such collaborations.
Professor Joel Towers, Executive Dean of the Parsons School of Design at The New School in New York, spoke to meta-level effects on our sense of place and time. As a psychologist, I was particularly struck by his remarks about our sense of time being disrupted when what have historically been “100 year storms” become frequent occurrences. Climate change can disorient us.
Professor Towers remarked upon how the urgency of climate change is driving Parsons to a transdisciplinary approach to pedagogy, again underscoring how climate change can crack open new possibilities that may yield benefits beyond environmental sustainability.
Listen here to the conversation among these thoughtful experts about what I call the need to prepare the next generation to work, live and lead in a hot, crowded world:
SPHERES Of INFLUENCE VIRTUAL FIRESIDE CHAT
SUMMER 2015 PROGRAM
Wednesday, July 29th, 2015
12pm-1pm ET / 11am-noon CT / 9am-10am PT
Richard Rood (UMich)
Joel Towers (The New School)
Nancy Tuchman (Loyola-Chicago)
About Richard Rood:
Professor of Atmospheric, Oceanic & Space Sciences at the University of Michigan
Dow Sustainability Distinguished Faculty Fellow
Professor Rood’s primary research interest is in the interface of climate change with all aspects of society.
A biologist by training, Professor Tuchman’s specializations include Global Climate Change and Human Impacts.
Thanks in part to Professor Tuchman’s vision, Loyola University Chicago has been ranked the greenest university in the Midwest in the Sierra Club’s annual ranking.
Contributed by Dr. Sarah
A year ago I made the leap I’d been promising to take by buying the greenest car I could afford: I bought the all-electric NissanLEAF, and launched the SilverLEAF Chronicles blog series.
The SilverLEAF is celebrating its first birthday with our family.
Now that we’ve weathered a summer and a (hard) Chicago winter, here are my honest reflections on what I love — and what I would change if I were Nissan.
What I love about the NissanLEAF:
1. It’s green
First and foremost, I love what I expected to love, it’s green-ness.
I now drive knowing that the eco impact of my car is minimal. In my previous Toyota Avalon, I used to plan my trips carefully and take mass transit when I could.
The LEAF car has no emissions. None.
My passion for living green– and voting green– is inspired by my love for my two young kids. Driving this car is an act of fierce love. As a parent, that feels good.
2. The cost
Between tax rebates and no cost for gas, this car pretty much pays for itself.
You can get a top of the line LEAF for around $300 a month, and basic model for around $200 a month.
And you never pay for gas. Ever.
I charge at home about half the time, and the electric bills have not gone up noticeably.
And, the car is virtually maintenance-free– no oil to change, no belts to replace.
I’ve met LEAF owners who say that they pay less per month to own a LEAF than they paid for gas in their conventional car.
From a sheer cost standpoint, it’s a no-brainer.
3. It’s sporty
The SilverLEAF is peppy! I test drove the Prius, and it was sluggish.
For reasons having to do with electric motor technology, the LEAF has a lot of pick up. And it handles well. It’s fun to drive!
I met a LEAF owner who said he feels like he’s driving a sports car.
My ten-year-old son thinks it looks cool, too!
4. LEAFs build community
When LEAF owners pass each other on the road, we wave at each other.
We talk to each other when we run into each other, sharing stories about the car.
I had no idea I would be joining a community when I got this car. It’s an unexpected perk!
What I would change about the NissanLEAF:
1. The engine sound
In a state of nature, an electric motor is silent. Wisely, Nissan has added a high pitched tone that is emitted when the car is driving under 15 MPH to cue pedestrians that a car is coming.
The problem is, it doesn’t sound like a car motor, so pedestrians wander out in front of it without looking. (There are other reasons at this point in history, having to do with things like walking into the street on our SmartPhones!)
I get why Nissan would want it’s electric car to have a unique sound that differentiates it from a gas powered car.
But this is a safety matter.
2. The battery range
We’ve driven this car– without stopping to charge–close to 100 miles (on its first day with us!)
If you learn how to drive very efficiently, which I’m still working on, it can be driven well over 100 miles.
Longer battery range would make it work more readily beyond local driving, which would be great. Some of us suffer from “range anxiety,” especially when we’re having to run either heat or air conditioning, which drain the battery.
I hear that Nissan– and other companies– are working on new battery technology which will give it about 30% greater range. That will be wonderful.
Would I buy a NissanLEAF again?
Absolutely. I plan to swap out my current leased NissanLEAF for the new model in two years– when longer battery range comes on line.
Happy Birthday, SilverLEAF!
Contributed by Richard Rood, PhD
I recently attended a webinar, organized by Spheres of Influence (http://ourspheresofinfluence.com/ ), on the emergence of sustainability as a course of study. The webinar had a special focus on The New School (http://www.newschool.edu/ ) which has recently gone beyond divestiture to embed climate change into its entire curriculum. The New School is at the forefront of sustainability which fits into its vision (http://www.newschool.edu/mission-vision/ ) “where design and social research drive approaches to studying issues of our time, such as democracy, urbanization, technological change, economic empowerment, sustainability, migration, and globalization.”
Sustainability is a young and changing field of research and education. Sustainability is not as easy to define as, say, physics, chemistry, biology, economics, or urban planning. The Graham Sustainability Institute (http://graham.umich.edu/ ) at the University of Michigan, answers the question “What is Sustainability?” (http://graham.umich.edu/about/sustainability ) as, “Sustainability encompasses solutions-driven scholarship and practice that seeks to safeguard the planet’s life-support systems and enhance quality of life for present and future generations. The field is defined by the problems it addresses rather than the disciplines it employs. It draws from multiple disciplines of the natural, social, engineering, design, and health sciences; from the professions and humanities; and from practical field experience in business, government, and civil society.”
The incorporation of sustainability into university research and education is not without controversy. In a recent blog on universities divesting their endowments and pension funds from fossil fuel companies (http://www.wunderground.com/blog/RickyRood/comment.html?entrynum=333 ), one of the articles I referred to was by George Will (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/sustainability-gone-mad/2015/04/15/f4331bd2-e2da-11e4-905f-cc896d379a32_story.html ) in which Will takes the position that divestment is sustainability gone wild. Will states that sustainability is like a religion with, for example, its premises “more assumed than demonstrated.” He further argues that “weighing the costs of obedience to sustainability’s commandments is considered unworthy.” Will is riffing off of the more than 250 page document by the National Association of Scholars (http://www.nas.org ) entitled, Sustainability: Higher Education’s New Fundamentalism (http://www.nas.org/articles/sustainability_higher_educations_new_fundamentalism1 ).
The National Association of Scholars “is a network of scholars and citizens united by our commitment to academic freedom, disinterested scholarship, and excellence in American higher education.” The National Association of Scholars was founded in 1987 by Stephen Balch, who is identified as an American conservative scholar (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Balch ). The National Association of Scholars should not be confused with National Academy of Sciences (http://www.nasonline.org/about-nas/mission/ ), which is the abbreviation I associate with “NAS.”
The material I reference above strongly links sustainability and climate change, and, ultimately, takes the position that universities are taking unfounded positions based on “unresolved scientific debates.” There is suggestion that faculty are pressured “to imbed sustainability into the curricula of unrelated courses.” The document relies, sometimes deftly, on the rhetorical forms (http://www.wunderground.com/blog/RickyRood/comment.html?entrynum=222 ) that are used to nurture doubt.
These writings from George Will and National Association of Scholars pose sustainability as political or ideological. There is the suggestion in these writings of a cultish march towards sustainability across the university community, and that divestment of fossil fuels is part of that cult.
Universities and the members of the faculty at universities are not homogeneous bodies of institutions and individuals. As stated in my divestment blog (http://www.wunderground.com/blog/RickyRood/comment.html?entrynum=333 ), my faculty colleagues don’t all support divestment. In fact, based on the Figure below, I would conjecture that more universities have denied efforts to divest than have approved them.
Figure 1: More than $50B in divestment pledges has come from 28 universities, 41 cities, 72 religious institutions, 30 foundations and hundreds of individuals. The New School is committed to divestment. (Credit: Paul Horn/InsideClimate News)
Similarly, there is a wide range of opinions on sustainability and the integration of sustainability into curriculum. In science departments, there is often the opinion that sustainability is notional, and not easily defined nor easily measured; hence, it is not science. It is also true that sustainability has far broader reach than climate change.
I was first introduced to sustainability as a subject of research and education when I started my academic career in 2005 at University of Michigan. At University of Michigan, we have the Erb Institute (http://erb.umich.edu/ ) which is “Creating a Sustainable World Through the Power of Business,” the Center for Sustainable Systems (http://css.snre.umich.edu/ ), which supports “the design, assessment, and management of systems that meet societal needs in a more sustainable manner,” and the Graham Sustainability Institute (http://graham.umich.edu/ ), which fosters “sustainability at all scales by leading stakeholder-centric activities that systematically integrate talents across all U-M schools, colleges, and units.” All of these institutes have strong relationships with donors who have high success in business. Their donations paint the picture of individuals, families, and businesses that recognize the importance of sustainability to assure future societal and business success. (Disclosure: I work closely with the Graham Sustainability Institute (http://graham.umich.edu/ ), and I am a Dow Sustainability Distinguished Faculty Fellow (http://sustainability.umich.edu/dow ).)
One of the points from the Spring, 2015 Spheres of Influence webinar (http://ourspheresofinfluence.com/2015/04/29/curriculum-transformation-for-climate-a-grass-tops-story-of-change-at-the-new-school/ ) is that sustainability is emerging, and that standards and practices are maturing. Sustainability studies and education are no longer only for the early adopters (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_adopter ). For those interested in the incorporation of sustainability into education, there a number of resources, including Sustainability Improves Student Learning (http://serc.carleton.edu/sisl/index.html ), a group that includes associations of physics, chemistry, biology, and geosciences.
Adding the concept of sustainability to problem-solving requires that we think about where our resources come from and what happens to our waste. It brings into consideration the energy required to obtain resources, manufacture, and dispose of and manage the waste products. The value of the environment and ecological systems is brought into the calculation of cost. It’s true that there is nothing in that list that is an easy calculation, and there are many aspects of sustainability that are not uniquely and definitively quantified; there are value judgments made by individuals, governments, advocacy organizations, and corporations.
Since sustainability crosses many disciplines, it is, in fact, quite difficult to bring into the discipline-focused culture of universities. It brings a focus to problem- solving and participatory, deliberative process. There is a high demand from students, who increasingly see the requirement to manage our resources and wastes in order to thrive. Sustainability is an essential topic of research and education; it is something that we must learn to do right.
About the author
Professor Richard Rood is a climate scientist who teaches multidisciplinary graduate and undergraduate courses at University of Michigan. He is a Dow Sustainability Distinguished Faculty Fellow. Prior to his teaching career, he served as a scientist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). A climate-science communicator, he uses his spheres of influence by reaching a wide lay audience by blogging about climate change for the WeatherUnderground (http://www.wunderground.com/blog/rickyrood/article.html )
Contributed by Dr. Sarah
In our Spring 2015 Spheres of Influence Virtual Fireside Chat, we heard the story of how students at the New School in New York City used their voices to move the leadership of the university not only to divest from fossil fuels, but to commit to embedding climate change in entire curriculum. And, the leadership has gone still further by determining to create an entire campus– from students to staff to faculty– of “climate citizens” who will be required to make climate commitments.
Michelle DePass, Dean of the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy at the New School shared the back story and some of the challenges they’ve faced in this transformation, while Dr. Debra Rowe, Founder of the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development, offered context related to sustainability curriculum in higher education.
Listen here to Michelle DePass share this powerful “grass tops” story of curricular and culture transformation, and to Debra Rowe share insights and resources for joining the growing movement of educators creating curricula for sustainability:
The SilverLeaf Navigates Its First Winter… And Copes with “Range Anxiety”: TheSilverLeaf Chronicles 4
Contributed by Dr. Sarah
It’s been a cold winter in Chicago. And electric cars are known to have less battery range in cold weather. Creating “range anxiety.” The SilverLeaf has been tested.
Just how severely has my NissanLEAF been tested in its first winter?
Let’s just say it hasn’t been this cold in February in nearly 140 years– going back to 1875. The average temperature in February, 2015 was a painful 14.6 degrees. There were days with wind chills of 30 degrees below– eye-ball-hurting-cold. Beautiful, but cold.
How has The SilverLeaf fared on this test? Not badly.
I’ve charged the car pretty much every chance I could. I plug in every night at home (instead of every 2-3 nights in warmer weather), and at the office where I work downtown three days a week, where I park in a lot where I can plug into one of the numerous outlets on the wall. I even charged at a ChargePoint station — for a couple of bucks– at Walgreen’s when I went in for an urgent care appointment– I’d never used a public charging station while running errands before.
I use the heat judiciously because the heater drains the battery. On milder winter days–especially if the sun is beating down into the car– I’ll turn the heat off for a bit after I’ve warmed the car up. I use the heated seat all the time and the heated steering wheel– which is quite nice.
We’ve had quite a bit of snow– not like the 9 feet of snow they got in my native Boston– but we’ve had some blizzards. The car held the road quite well. It got stuck on top of a pile of snow in the alley, but that had to do with the pile of snow, not the design of the car.
So The SilverLeaf has done quite well. I’ve had a bit more “range anxiety” than in the summer. (Can you tell I like using “range anxiety?” It’s the psychologist in me!) But all I’ve had to do is be more vigilant about charging.
Yes, it’s been a really cold, icy, snowy winter in much of the US. But lest we forget about the poorly-named problem of global warming– global temperatures are on average still rising at a very concerning rate. The thing is that we don’t just get warm weather, we get weird weather– like 20 inches of snow in Kentucky– which is why I call it “global weirdness.” And why I drive an all-electric car. Because I love my kids. And I feel a moral obligation to the children of the world to do my part to tackle global weirdness– cold winters, heightened “range anxiety” and all.
Contributed by Ilsa Flanagan
One of the most exciting developments in the sustainability movement is its evolution to encompass a broader vision for how we think about and conduct business. In January 2015, three thought leaders on the Spheres of Influence Virtual Roundtable shared provocative and groundbreaking advances in this space. These advances suggest that organizational sustainability initiatives and partnerships may teach us more than we ever thought possible.
Competitors to Collaborators. Nancy Goldstein, MBA, Founder and Chief Strategist of CompassX Strategy in Chicago, highlighted surprising new partnerships among corporations that tackle sustainability issues, particularly among emerging B Corporations (B Corps). As the owner of a B Corps and the leading spokesperson for B Corps in Chicago, she sees this as evidence of movement toward something bigger than the self-interest of companies, who typically view each other as competitors rather than partners. By collaborating to build a movement, B Corps are using a “business savvy” attitude and sharing socially responsible best practices to solve the world’s biggest social and environmental problems.
Prospective B Corporations must complete a rigorous 200 question assessment on employees, the environment, and community. This assessment, asserts Nancy, “measures what matters” and reflects progress toward better standard practices and accountability for business. The emerging B Corps movement is one in which all stakeholders matter—including the planet.
Nancy gave an example of three different web designers in Chicago, all of whom are B Corps competitors by day, but nonetheless have chosen to work together on addressing environmental issues in their industry. Imagine the disruptive power if this kind of collaboration happened on a national or global scale. What if Coke and Pepsi agreed to transform plastic bottle packaging? Or if Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase worked together to create standards for sustainable finance?
Shaking up the status quo. David Wilcox, MBA, Founder of ReachScale Consultancy in Boston, is all about scale and networks—two levers that when activated will increase the rate at which we can solve societal problems. Because we are over-invested in organizations and underinvested in networks, we’re just running in place when it comes to solving the world’s environmental and social problems. He suggests we reconsider the nonprofit model (which relies on unreliable private and federal funding) and instead scale up social enterprise, which is a more sustainable and stabile model for delivering services and doing business. Yet societies and corporations funnel most of their “do good resources” into NGOs, a sector with limited innovation and collaboration. If we move resources out of those unsustainable models into sustainable ones, we can then reinvest resources as problems are solved, creating a revolving loan fund of sorts for sustainable solutions, a funding source that is self-sustainable.
This shift also presents an important opportunity to target resources for what David calls “purpose-built networks aligned with the purposes of other people.”
Invite everyone into the conversation. Global leadership thought leader Nadine Hack, MBA founder of beCause Consultancy in Switzerland, found that when launching a new initiative or plan, each person involved must have a genuine stake in the process and outcome. They have to care before they can commit. Sustainability leaders, then, need to build in a process by which each and every one of our stakeholders is fully on board. This takes time and patience. Nadine suggests that “as decisions are being made, invite people from all levels of your organization and network to be part of that dialogue—from the mail room to the board room.” To ensure that the process has meaning and depth, there needs to be space for honest and candid feedback. If our co-workers and collaborators feel they are being listened to and valued—even if what they offer is not ultimately incorporated—they will have a sense of ownership, a sense that they were part of creating the new plan or project. As Nadine has experienced, by “constantly exploring how we can genuinely be more honest, we can establish a transparent two-direction conversation.”
These practices of nontraditional collaboration, creating networks, and total engagement are at the heart of the next wave of sustainability initiatives. Sustainability has always been about inclusion, partnerships, promoting trust and transparency. Now, these are becoming key values for any successful organization.
About the author
Ilsa Flanagan is the director of the National Reframing Initiative, mobilizing a network of human service professionals, practitioners and policy makers to create a new narrative for human needs. You can learn more about this and her other projects at iflanaganconsulting.com. Previously, Ilsa founded the Office of Sustainability at the University of Chicago.