For the past six years, UW-Madison doctoral students Tom Bryan and Tim Lindstrom have designed hands-on activities that use the campus as a “living laboratory” for sustainability. Bryan brings a rich research background in food systems, which is a strong motivating force in his personal life as well as his work on campus sustainability. Lindstrom is fueled by the same passion for addressing the environmental issues facing our generation. His research focuses on place-based sustainability education, specifically exploring how faculty and campus operations can create learning opportunities that align with the mission of sustainability in higher education.
Together, using their different backgrounds in research, they have both served as teaching assistants under Professor Cathy Middlecamp for ENV ST/ILS 126: Principles of Environmental Science. This year, Professor Middlecamp passed the course to Bryan, Lindstrom, and Rob Lundberg. The three now enthusiastically co-instruct the course during the spring semester. Each week, their three-hour laboratory period includes activities and field trips relating to energy efficient buildings, food choices, biodiesel, recycling, and power generation. Bryan and Lindstrom have published some of their classroom activities in Sustainability: The Journal of Record.
From a lab exercise where students eat a meal at Ginger Root and then estimate the carbon footprint of their meal, to collecting data from campus workers in order to calculate energy savings in Union South, students come to understand the sustainability stories behind their choices. Ultimately, students learn how to ask questions about the air they breathe, the energy they consume, the food they eat, the goods they purchase, and the waste they create.
“Environmental education is crucial to drawing awareness to global issues and to give students the knowledge and tools to adequately address them,” Lindstrom says.
In June, Bryan and Lindstrom attended the 10th annual Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences (AESS) Conference at American University in Washington, DC. The national conference brought together faculty, students, and staff of interdisciplinary environmental programs to strengthen teaching, research, and service in environmental studies and sciences. This year’s conference theme addressed the need for inclusion and legitimacy in the environmental studies and sciences community. Bryan and Lindstrom note that sustainability as a concept is inherently inclusive. It’s a phenomenon that is applicable to nearly every discipline, can be integrated into almost any classroom, and offers opportunities for creative collaboration across multiple campus worlds.
Bryan and Lindstrom presented their ongoing work through a session titled “Operationalizing the Inclusivity of Sustainability: Curricular Synergies and Campus Collaborations.” Their presentations helped to generate ideas and encourage conversations about how professionals in the environmental studies and sciences can harness the inclusivity of sustainability to advance its principles and mission using campus communities. In addition, their presentations created the opportunity to connect with important Midwestern colleagues.
“It’s silly that it took a national conference for me to meet Dr. Boulter of UW-Eau Claire, but we might not have crossed paths otherwise. He teaches a similar introductory environmental science course there, and we’ve already been exchanging lots of course materials,” Bryan says.
Bryan adds that Dr. Boulter specializes in life cycle assessment education, an analytical framework that determines the environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product’s life—material which is also stressed in ENVST/ILS 126. Bryan and Lindstrom hope to incorporate some of ideas from the conference in their class next year, such as a United Nations mock panel as a lab, life cycle analyses using common items like shoes, and the use of case studies as teaching tools.
Beyond its subject matter, the conference itself featured “green” programming. For the first time, according to the AESS Managing Director Carolyn Anthon, all the catering was vegetarian and served with compostable plates and cutlery. Most of the single-use plastics were #1 PETE, and several conference attendees volunteered to help gather leftover food and give it to folks who could use it in an effort to minimize food waste.
“Moreover, the conference showcased American University, which is the first urban campus, the first research university, and the largest higher education institution to achieve carbon neutrality,” Bryan says. According to Megan Litke, the Director of Sustainability Programs at AU, this neutrality accounts for all natural gas and electricity used on campus as well as commuter miles and faculty/staff air travel.
Ultimately, the conference gave instructors like Bryan and Lindstrom new opportunities to learn more about how their work at the university can contribute to innovative sustainability curricula, while fostering greater inclusivity in the field of environmental studies and sciences.
By: Trina La Susa