Creating the Next Generation of Sustainable Nebraskan

By Christine Hunt

"It's really an ethic. It's about how you ethically understand your place in the world today," said Wayne Drummond, dean of the University of the Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) College of Architecture and co-chair of the Chancellor's Commission on Environmental Sustainability. According to Drummond, people have a responsibility not only to themselves but also to their immediate family, their institution and the entire global population. Drummond wonders how the world's increasing population is going "to make it all work" to clothe, feed and support everyone. "Population rates are increasing much faster than anybody had predicted. That relates to our consumption, it relates to our climate, it relates to who we are as a human civilization, collectively and globally," he said.

"I think there is a very fine line between having the resources and not having the resources. We're watching that throughout the world today. We're watching it in the Middle East. We're looking at it in the Far East. We're looking at it right here at home and throughout every society," he said. Drummond has served as dean of the College of Architecture since 2000, but announced in May 2011 that he would step down as dean effective in the fall of 2011.

"From my point of view, it's obviously a passion," said Drummond, adding "how do we make sure those future generations are going to be served as well as we have been served?"

Drummond believes it is incredibly important that students are aware of the dynamics in the world today in terms of these critical issues.

Sustainability on Campus
One way to engage students, as well as faculty and staff, is through the Chancellor's Commission on Environmental Sustainability (CCES), the 16-member volunteer commission created in 2008. The commission's co-chairs, Drummond and Kim Todd, UNL associate professor of agronomy and horticulture, have been at the helm since the commission was formed, said Drummond, leading the CCES in its mission to develop and recommend policies, practices and educational programs that ensure the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is environmentally sustainable. The Chancellor's Commission on Environmental Sustainability defines environmental sustainability as the movement toward redesigning the way society's ecological, economical and social needs are met so that they can be accommodated within the long-term carrying capacity of the environment.

The CCES reaches across the state with members in extension, administration, facilities, research, human resources, the chancellor's office, faculty and both undergraduate and graduate students.

The commission members recommend policies to UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman that will preserve UNL resources, conserve energy and make certain that construction decisions affecting the environment- natural and built- will serve many generations to come, said Todd.

It is also important for the commission to recognize and communicate the practices and activities that are already going on all over campus, whether they're student-driven or initiated by faculty or staff, said Todd, adding that there is much to talk about, including Earth Day celebrations, teaching of environmental ethics or systems, repurposing materials for environmentally-friendly building projects, collaborating on possibilities for different energy use, transportation, bike routes, biodegradable cafeteria trays, food policies and even smoking policies.

Creating the Next Sustainable Generation
"People tend to think about sustainable efforts as being physical: the architecture, the engineering, the energy," said Todd. "One of the things that's really important to us is to thread it all together. It's the education piece. It's the outreach piece." Todd explained the importance of not focusing on a building, its site or transportation networks independent of the people that are using each. "If we did focus on those physical elements rather than the attitudinal or educational pieces, we would ultimately not succeed," she said. "You can't force those things on people and expect them to stick." It takes a long time, and sometimes generations to change people's thinking, she added.

Instilling sustainable thinking is especially challenging in Nebraska since energy is inexpensive. We don't tend to think "let's save it," said Todd. To get people to understand, think and care about sustainability because they want to and should, rather than because of shortages or high prices, is integral to the commission's real mission, said Todd. "If you think about it, a sustainable lifestyle is everything- in the choices people make in their daily lives- from the time they get up until the time they go to bed at night," Todd explained.

Sustainable Impact
The CCES has delivered two years of policy statements to the chancellor, said Drummond. Purchasing policies, recycling, sustainable information technology policies, conservation of the natural environment and LEEDstandard buildings have combined to create a more sustainable campus. The ability to influence and encourage policy changes at a collective level across the campus is the real value of having the commission, said Drummond, not the creation of one new piece of legislation or one high impact policy. "If you add all of those up one layer at a time, it's really more sustainable than to say, 'we did this,'" said Drummond.

"It is important to point out that this is a volunteer committee structure," said Drummond, so trying to find an agreeable time for 16 volunteers to meet between classes and job duties is one of the biggest challenges. "As a volunteer commission, it's worked beautifully from the point of view that the people who are assigned are passionate and committed," said Drummond.

Looking at the work of the commission and the current emphasis on sustainable practices, Todd sees it as part of a cycle. "We've done this before as a human population. We've been 'green' without using those words and then we got a bit complacent," she said. "Now, we're becoming green again and as I look at the progression we should make, we should be truly optimistic that we can do this," she said. "And we should NOT be frustrated with making small steps in the right direction as long as we're going the right direction. And as before, you end up with a generation or two generations of people who have done something differently that will make a difference to their next generation," said Todd.


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