October 20, 2009

Tonight our topic is sustainability, and we talk with Scott G. McNall, Executive Director of the  Institute for Sustainable Development at CSU, Chico. He’s going to talk to us about the “This Way to Sustainability” a conference at Chico State, November 5-8, and about the institute for sustainable development.

Defining “Sustainability”

Although there is widespread agreement about the importance of “sustainability,” it is also a term which evades clear and easy definition.  To some it might mean zero waste; to others, it might mean zero new “things” on the planet; to still others, it might simply mean cutting down on consumption and pollution to the point that the earth becomes stable rather than being in danger of roasting or burning out prematurely.

Tonight we want to draw on a website, SustainableMeasures dot com, which has tackled a the question of defining the movement. The primary staff member of this organization is Maureen Hart, a consultant on sustainability problems, who also has a book on the topic.  Her description of sustainability caught our eye because she uses the same three terms that we draw on for Ecotopia, where we explore economic, environmental, and social ecosystems.  Maureen Hart says that a sustainable community results when those three systems are in balance or harmony.  She writes:

Sustainability is related to the quality of life in a community – [where] the economic, social and environmental systems that make up the community are providing a healthy, productive, meaningful life for all community residents, present and future.

Maureen Hart’s Sustainable Measures dot com website has  also has collected a number of definitions of sustainability from activist groups, committees, and councils all over the world, including:

Friends of the Earth Scotland  “Sustainability encompasses the simple principle of taking from the earth only what it can provide indefinitely, thus leaving future generations no less than we have access to ourselves.”  http://www.foe-scotland.org.uk/campaigns/sustainable-scot/

World Business Council on Sustainable Development   “Sustainable development involves the simultaneous pursuit of economic prosperity, environmental quality and social equity. Companies aiming for sustainability need to perform not against a single, financial bottom line but against the triple bottom line.”   http://www.wbcsd.ch/

From another perspective, we were impressed by this statement from the Hamilton Wentworth  Regional Council (Ontario), which emphasizes the process of developing a sustainable community:

“Sustainable Development is positive change which does not undermine the environmental or social systems on which we depend. It requires a coordinated approach to planning and policy making that involves public participation. Its success depends on widespread understanding of the critical relationship between people and their environment and the will to make necessary changes.”   http://www.hamilton-went.on.ca/vis2020/thevis.pdf

The Sustainable Measures website shares that view of coordinated policy planning with public participation, and warns against treating the three elements of economy, society, and the environment separately. for:

  • Solutions to one problem can make another problem worse. Creating affordable housing is a good thing, but when that housing is built in areas far from workplaces, the result is increased traffic and the pollution that comes with it.
  • Piecemeal solutions tend to create opposing groups. How often have you heard the argument ‘If the environmentalists win, the economy will suffer,’ and its opposing view ‘If business has its way, the environment will be destroyed.’
  • Piecemeal solutions tend to focus on short-term benefits without monitoring long-term results. The pesticide DDT seemed like a good solution to insect pests at the time, but the long-term results were devastating.    http://www.sustainablemeasures.com/index.html

We would add to that our own observation that in our time, the democratic process has produced a proliferation of city, county, state, national, and even global committees, policy boards, and regulatory agencies that, while generally well intentioned, often fragmented efforts at sustainability.

Our Questions for Scott McNall

In the studio with us tonight is Scott G. McNall, Executive Director of the   Institute for Sustainable Development at CSU, Chico. He’s going to  talk to us about “This Way to Sustainability,” a conference, co-  sponsored by CSU, Chico and Butte Community College in conjunction with the Associated Students of each being held on the Chico State  campus, Nov. 5-8, and about the work of the Institute for Sustainable Development.

  • We’d like to start by focusing on the conference coming up November  5-8.
  • What is the purpose of “This Way to Sustainability”?
  • How did Chico State and Butte College begin this collaboration?
  • How  long have you been doing this and how has it developed over the years?
  • Who do you hope will come to the conference?
  • Tell us about some of the major speakers who will be presenting.
  • One thing we really like about the conference is the various strands or themes that are directed to different audiences and needs. Can you  tell us something about that?
  • You also give a number of awards at the conference. What are these for?
  • The conference itself also makes a real effort to be “green.” What are  some of the efforts to create a small footprint for the event?
  • What other aspects of the conference would you like to highlight? What  are you most looking forward to or excited about?

We’d also like to ask you  about the work of the  Institute for Sustainable Development.

·         What are the mission and goals of the Institute for Sustainable  Development? How long has it been in operation? What do you see as its major  accomplishments?

·         The Institute seems to have activities or be linked to activities in all aspects of campus life. Can you tell us about these various efforts?

o       Academic programs and courses

o       Student activities

o       Community and civic activities

o       Research and creative activity

·         The campus also engages in a number of sustainability practices. Can you describe some of those?

·         How do you get everyone on board with the efforts to emphasize sustainability? For example, do you provide incentives for faculty to  develop courses or aspects of courses that emphasize sustainability?

·         Is there a reward system for staff who develop new sustainability measures?

·         Other than the“This Way to Sustainability” conference, what are some  ways that the community can become involved in university  sustainability efforts?

Playlist for Ecotopia #56: This Way to Sustainability

1. Carry Me Off   3:54  The Dillards     Roots And Branches/Tribute To The American Duck

2. Clear Blue Skies (LP Version)     3:07  Crosby, Still, Nash & Young       American Dream

3. Supernova      4:42  Liquid Blue       Supernova International

4. Black Moon (Album Version)      6:59  Emerson, Lake & Palmer        Black Moon

5. Earth Anthem  3:54  The Turtles      Go Green: Songs for Earth Day

6. Weave Me the Sunshine    4:28  Peter, Paul And Mary     The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary

7. Doctor My Eyes (LP Version)      3:20  Jackson Browne     Jackson Browne

8. Sunny Day      3:52  The Dillards     Roots And Branches/Tribute To The American Duck