The Human Touch

illustration of hands touching the globe

“Whoa! … you’re not going to throw that whole coffee cup in the recycle bin, are you?”

USD Director of Sustainability Michael Catanzaro is doing a pretty serviceable impersonation of an exasperated third-grade teacher; his folded arms and furrowed brow make for an intimidating mix of incredulity and indignation.

But he can’t keep the ruse up for long. The rebuke is promptly mitigated by a Cheshire cat-grin, followed by a detailed explanation of which parts of the cup are actually recyclable, and why.

It’s not the first time Catanzaro has had to provide an on-site introduction into the do’s and don’ts of enviro-friendly waste disposal, and it won’t be the last. Still, he’s buoyed by the noticeable change he’s seeing in the university’s attitude and culture. “People really are starting to get it,” he says. “I think we’re in the process of making some really positive and measurable contributions to the idea of sustainability.”

One of this decade’s defining buzzwords, “sustainability” has morphed into an umbrella term that means different things to different people. Catanzaro breaks down USD’s approach to becoming leaner and greener in easily understood language: “It’s a term that has a lot of potentially different connotations, but our approach to sustainability is simple,” he explains. “It has three pillars: social, environmental and economic. We’re looking to incorporate all three pillars into a comprehensive plan that will make USD a model for other universities to follow.

“We’ve made measurable strides in a short period of time from an environmental and economic standpoint, but, really, I think the social component of sustainability is where we’ll find our niche as a university.”

So what, exactly, is social sustainability? A Google search yields more than 10.9 million results, many of which offer multiple interpretations that confuse more than they clarify. Wikipedia suggests that it “encompasses human rights, labor rights, and corporate governance,” while the United States Environmental Protection Agency notes that it “is about creating and maintaining quality of life for all people.”

One thing’s for certain: Social sustainability is something that can’t be measured in megawatts or carbon footprints or halogen outputs. At USD, it’s about a shifting of ideals, a changing of behav-iors, and the cultivation of a new-and-improved campus culture founded on an old idea.

“One of the underlying tenets of the university since its founding has been the exploration of the connection between knowledge and stewardship,” explains University Ministry Director Michael Lovette-Colyer. “USD’s contribution to sustainability is not just a question of economics and environment. We need to ask ourselves what our moral responsibility is. It’s something our founders encouraged, and as a principle, is just as important today as it was 60 years ago.”

Catalyzing Change

It’s a brilliantly blue early summer afternoon at the Donald P. Shiley Center for Science and Technology, and the views from the marine science faculty offices reveal a postcard-worthy vista of America’s Finest City and the shimmering, wind-ruffled waters of San Diego Bay beyond.

You certainly couldn’t blame Associate Professor Michel Boudrias for getting lost in the re-splendency of the moment, but there’s no time for dallying: He and a group of students are just hours away from beginning a 12-day research trip deep into the heart of Baja California Sur. There are still microscopes to be packed, supplies to be purchased and myriad other 11th-hour activities that don’t allow for much time to sit down and discuss USD’s recent progress on the sustainability front.

Boudrias downshifts to neutral just long enough to offer a hand-shake and a greeting: “Glad to connect, and sorry about all this … it’s always a little crazy around here before a big trip.” He’s filled with passion and energy, which makes him a perfect fit to serve as chair of USD’s Sustainability Task Force.

“We’ve really come a long way in a relatively short period of time, and one of the main reasons why we’ve been able to do that is our size; we’re obviously not a very big university,” he offers, hands spread roughly shoulder-width apart to emphasize the point. “At other universities (arms now fully extended), it would be really difficult to coordinate meetings and get the level of participation we’ve had from across all academic disciplines, not to mention administrative and student involvement.”

After releasing the university’s Sustainability/Climate Change Task Force Report in the spring of 2008, USD’s efforts jumped into hyperdrive. “Most strategic plans are given a couple of years to be formed and implemented. We were given six months.” Boudrias and his committee rolled up their sleeves and got to work, knowing there were likely to be some bumps along the way.

“In the beginning I was spread pretty thin trying to manage the academic and operational components of our sustainability initiative,” he recalls. “I’m very fortunate that we now have Michael Catanzaro to help manage the operational side so I can focus on the academic side.”

Now that the kinks have been worked out from an organizational standpoint, Boudrias is looking for ways to gauge the university’s progress in the area of social sustainability. It’s no easy task considering that — unlike the economic and environmental tenets — there’s really no universally accepted benchmark.

“How do you really say that USD is being socially sustainable?” asks Boudrias. “Well, every time you hear about sustainability, there is always a social component, the impact on people and the ability to change perspectives.

“I feel that USD is ideally designed to facilitate the social aspect of sustainability, the examination of how this issue immediately impacts our world, and how we as caretakers can help develop solutions that will change perspectives, cultures and lives. Look at the university’s core mission. We are committed to developing leaders who have the understanding and ability to engage global issues like sustainability. It’s who we are.”

Developing solutions means that current and future Toreros are equipped with the education they need to address what is sure to become one of the 21st century’s defining dilemmas. It’s a process that’s already begun.

“Virtually all of the academic disciplines on campus have the opportunity to be involved, and the enthusiasm and energy are definitely there,” Boudrias says. “It really takes a concerted effort from everyone across campus;
different disciplines engaging students in different ways though their academic programs and institutes …” He pauses, leans back in his chair and smiles.

“I’ll tell you this; we’ve come a long ways from where we were a few years ago. My hope is that, as an academic institution, we continue to move forward, continue to back up our ideas with action.”

It Takes a Village

As the head of one of higher education’s most progressive energy policy institutes, Scott Anders, director of USD’s Energy Policy Initiatives Center (EPIC), is a study in bare-bones efficiency. His office reflects this philosophy; only one band of overhead lighting is used to illuminate a room that is furnished with just the essentials; a desk, a computer, a well-worn dry erase board, and a host of publications, journals and volumes of industry-specific research and data.

When you’ve got as many irons in the fire as Anders does, it makes sense to keep clutter to a minimum.

“When it comes to functionality, EPIC has a relatively simple structure: academics, research and analysis. However, in each of those areas, there’s a lot of moving parts, and, given the volume of work to be done, that’s not going to change anytime soon.”

As an expert in the fields of clean energy and climate change, Anders understands firsthand the value of developing sustainable practices that encourage engagement and involvement at all levels. “I think, from a social sustainability standpoint, it’s really an across-the-board approach. It’s academics, events on campus, service learning … to me, the goal is that it’s not about ‘sustainability.’ By that I mean it isn’t some special area of focus, it’s just something we do.”

Through publications such as the Energy Policy Journal, which chronicles greenhouse gas emissions and reduction strategies in San Diego County, and forums such as the Climate and Energy Law Symposium, Anders and his EPIC colleagues have positioned the institute to develop sustainable solutions for future energy needs. But when it comes to the campus community, Anders knows that any sustainability initiative begins and ends with USD’s most precious resource.

“Students have to have a sense of ownership for any sustainability to be effective. Both Michel (Boudrias) and I strongly believe that this is a bottom-up approach, and I know there are plenty of people across campus who share that viewpoint. If all of these ideas just come from the top, then what’s the point? That’s a really important question for all students to ask.”

Another question students should be asking is whether or not the knowledge they gain from studying the various components of sustainability will help better position them in the job market of the future. For students in the Department of Engineering, that answer is an emphatic yes.

“Look at it this way: mechanical energy is about energy conversion,” says department director Kathleen Kramer. “Probably the biggest employer of mechanical engineers in San Diego is the energy industry. The energy industry is currently one of the main funding groups for research projects related to sustainability in higher education. It’s pretty simple math, don’t you think?”

In recent years, Kramer has been amazed at the number of students who have focused their research projects on issues relating to energy and the environment.

“Truthfully, 12 years ago, energy was dead,” she recalls. “Nobody cared about energy. Most departments were eliminating coverage of power. Students were much more inclined to learn about telecommunications. Suddenly, about three years ago, it completely turned around. Now they’re all about renewable energy, and with the focus on sustainability, you can certainly understand why.”

Students in the School of Business understand how quickly the landscape of commerce can change, and the emphasis on sustainably minded enterprises has them asking lots of questions. Yet, when they arrive for their first day in Patricia Marquez’s Business and Society course, they are the ones who have to do the answering — specifically to the following question: What is their favorite company, and why?

The responses are often as unique as the students who provide them, yet Marquez, who is an associate professor of management in the School of Business Administration, is looking to challenge, and ultimately, change the perspectives of those who don’t recognize the connection between business and social responsibility.

“If a student says ‘I like this company because they make great clothes,’ then I’ll ask them about where those clothes are made — do they come from a different country? Are they made from recyclable materials? Does the company market themselves as environmentally conscious? The questions depend on the situation, but I want them to realize the importance of responsible enterprise.”

In addition to her work with undergraduate students, Marquez has been a key player in the development of the Center for Peace and Commerce, a collaborative effort between the School of Business and the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies that educates and empowers the next generation of business leaders to incorporate a triple bottom line approach to their professional practices.

“It’s a simple concept — people, profits and planet; essentially you are doing well by doing good,” Marquez explains. “Some people see sustainability as fundamentally socialist, but that’s just not true. If you can make a living and you can do it by adopting more environmentally sustainable practices, then why not do it? That’s one of the messages we’re hoping to convey through our teaching and research.”

It’s a message that’s being incorporated across the school’s myriad programs and institutes, including the Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate, which has shown that green is good through community projects, industry outreach and the publication of the groundbreaking Journal of Sustainable Real Estate.

“In much the same way that the School of Peace is a nexus of engagement for conflict resolution, we would like to serve in a similar capacity for the real estate industry,” says Jeryldine Saville, director of communication for the Burnham-Moores Center.

“As an institute, we have credibility in that we bring people from all sides of the real estate and development industries together to discuss the issues that affect all of us, and sustainability is definitely one of those issues. It’s really not our job to convince people whether or not they should adopt sustainable practices or go green. The data we compile is the underpinning component, and the data suggests that green practices can absolutely be beneficial to the industry as a whole.”

Come Together

Bringing people together in the name of a common goal is nothing new to Anita Hunter. In fact, the former director of the Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science’s International Nursing Programs — who recently left USD to become director of the department of nursing at Dominican University of California in San Rafael, Calif. — feels that a collaborative approach to sustainability is absolutely imperative to its long-term success.

Case in point: Hunter was instrumental in the building of a children’s hospital in Mbarra, Uganda, a project that is a collaboration among the diocese of Mbarra, the Holy Innocents of Uganda (a non-governmental organization based in Rancho Bernardo, Calif.) and the Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science.

To ensure that the hospital would continue to function effectively once she returned stateside — “the most successful projects in this area of the world are ones in which western visitors serve as consultants, not caretakers” — Hunter sought the aid of students and faculty from both the School of Business and the College of Arts and Sciences to help develop a plan that would engage the local community.

“To me, sustainability is not just about developing best practices that better serve the environment, it’s about finding ways to help people live better, live healthier, and understand how they can sustain that way of life. Having Jim (Bolender, professor of chemistry at USD) and Patricia Marquez help build a blueprint for sustainable development was a critical component in supporting the hospital and the community long-term.”

George Reed is also acutely aware of how critical long-term thinking is to the success of an organization. As an associate professor in the School of Leadership and Education Sciences, Reed is a staunch proponent of sustainable leadership; an idea he hopes will connect his students to the importance of a people-first approach to organizational management.

“We have a lot of people in positions of power and authority that approach their people as if they were commodities,” he explains. “That’s a part of a more traditional approach to leadership.

“For me, sustainable leadership is about asking a simple question: What are we doing about the long-term health and welfare of the people who comprise our organizations? There just aren’t a lot of people thinking in those terms these days.”

Reed isn’t just relegating his theories on best practices in leadership to the classroom. At a recent symposium, he took the opportunity to engage some of the most influential members of the energy storage industry on how they utilized their workforce.

“We managed to cover issues of sustainable leadership, talking about the social and human aspects of the energy industry, and do a little bit of leadership development work with those executives as well…” he chuckles at the memory. “I’m not sure they were really ready to discuss that topic at an energy supply conference, but I think they understand how important the human element is to a well-run organization. That’s obviously a key component of organizational and social sustainability.”

If social sustainability can be measured by its positive impact on the quality of life of underserved populations, then the work of USD’s Trans-Border Institute (TBI) along the U.S./Mexico border serves as a shining example.

Among the many issues that confront citizens of Baja California, pollution and access to clean water are among the most pressing. TBI Interim Director Charles Pope understands the importance of creating a dialogue that directly addresses these critical issues, and, along with the help of faculty and staff from both the institute and the School of Peace Studies, confronted those concerns head-on at last year’s Greening Borders Conference.

“Essentially, Southern California and Mexico are facing extreme pressures on water supply,” Pope notes. “Population is increasing tremendously, and water transport and delivery is also facing increased pressure — in Baja California especially. This particular conference brought different constituents together to be able to help fix that problem.”

Pope sees social sustainability initiatives as a critical element in USD’s efforts to facilitate cross-border collaboration on a variety of issues that will impact both countries in the coming years and decades. “The economic and environmental components of sustainability often have immediate and measurable results,” he says. “However, changing perceptions and attitudes in both countries is key to the collaborative processes that will develop those policies. For both countries to thrive, there must be change, and developing socially sustainable initiatives will help facilitate that change.”

Ultimately, Boudrias is hopeful that the diversity of educational experiences USD students acquire will go a long way in shaping their perceptions on how they can live more sustainably — but only time will tell. “I think exposure to multi-disciplinary approaches enhances a students education on every level, not just their perceptions of sustainability. Knowledge becomes learning when it changes behavior.” — Mike Sauer

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