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Academics Sustainability at Wake Forest

Sustainability at Wake Forest

Academics

Academics

Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability (CEES)

The Wake Forest University Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability (CEES) is an interdisciplinary center that aims to promote critical thinking and effective action across the fields of Renewable Energy, Social Influence, Environment Policy, Enterprise, Environmental Markets, Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services, and Human Behavior.

Explore the electronic home of the university’s transdisciplinary center for faculty.

Magnolias Project – Sustainability across the Curriculum

Apply to participate or just browse syllabi developed by participants in this collaborative workshop.

Course Listing

Consider enrolling in a course with a sustainability focus. You can view a course inventory here.

Resources

Curricular resources for faculty.

Conferences

Find links to our conferences, including Sustainability across the Curriculum and Energizing the Future, under the Events tab.

Interdisciplinary Minors
The university offers minors in environmental science and environmental studies.

 

Nature, Environments, and Place in American Thought

July 14th, 2014

Lisa-BleeIn the spring of 2012 I had the opportunity to participate in the inaugural Magnolias Curriculum Project. The readings and discussions in the workshop quickly revealed the big questions of sustainability: How does personal behavior and choice relate to global phenomenon? What do we hope to sustain, and who benefits? These issues are not only about the earth’s future, but also prompt deeper reflection about our history, relationships to places, capacity for self-awareness and change, and sense of responsibility to others.

I wanted to further explore these big questions in a First Year Seminar that I offered in spring 2014 titled Nature, Environments, and Place in American Thought. My intention was to introduce students to traditions of environmental thought and help them explore their relationships to places, nature and social action. The class was organized as a journey from inner reflection to public outreach, culminating in a web exhibit. After reading classic and contemporary nature writing pieces, the students first created group photo essays that visually tell a story and make an interpretive point about human relationships to nature. Some groups chose to investigate personal relationships to significant places, while others depicted Wake Forest’s efforts to promote sustainability.

Meanwhile, the class visited Old Salem’s heritage gardens, Reynolda House Museum of Art, and Reynolda Village to make connections to scholarly arguments about landscape design, cultural values, and sustainability featured in the readings. Each student then chose one place in Winston-Salem to research in-depth, endeavoring to interpret the environmental and social histories of familiar and everyday places – a trail, lake, neighborhood, park – in novel ways. The final project was to create a podcast based on an interview with an environmental actor. The groups traveled around the Piedmont to visit organic farms, a prayer center, and the site of the Dan River coal ash spill to conduct interviews. Throughout the semester the students worked with Digital Initiatives Librarian Chelcie Rowell to build a digital exhibit featuring text, images, audiovisual presentations, and a map of place studies. In doing so, students had the opportunity to reflect on the power and limitations of technology to represent nature and educate and inspire others. Most crucially, the course allowed students to both think through their personal relationship to environments within the context of intellectual traditions, and to link these ideas to cooperative action and collective responsibility.

View the students’ web exhibit at: http://cloud.lib.wfu.edu/fys100fff

By Lisa Blee, Assistant Professor of History

Sharing Perspectives across Disciplines

May 20th, 2014

Eleven faculty members from across the disciplinary spectrum came together on May 13-14, 2014 for the 3rd annual Magnolias Curriculum Project. This year’s workshop was co-facilitated by communications professor Ron Von Burg, an alumnus of last year’s cohort, and Dedee DeLongpré Johnston, the university’s director of sustainability.

The aims of the workshop are to build a transdisciplinary community of scholars committed to addressing issues of sustainability and to empower faculty to consider themselves the experts at infusing sustainability into their courses.

Participants in the two-day workshop discussed provocative literature, considered and developed student learning outcomes, and shared resources with their colleagues. The deliverable for each participant is a syllabus into which they have infused sustainability-related outcomes. The course may be one they have been teaching and plan to teach again or a completely new course they are developing. The revised and new syllabi are posted online and serve as examples for future cohorts.

Wake Forest currently offers a minor in environmental studies and is launching a new Master’s in sustainability this fall. The result of the annual curriculum workshop is an increased number of courses being offered that support a variety of sustainability-related learning outcomes. This opens up possibilities for students pursuing these tracks of study to access electives that match up with a diverse array of disciplinary and professional interests.

The workshop model also aligns with the teaching and engagement goals of the Center for Energy, Environment, and Sustainability (CEES), as it is designed to cultivate a broad community of scholars addressing sustainability issues. This year’s cohort illustrates the breadth of that community with participant scholars from art, management, sociology, history, classical languages, economics, dance, business, documentary film, and writing.

Closing words of appreciation from participants in the 2014 workshop reinforced the value of the collaborative model:

What a treat to meet colleagues from other parts of the university.  It’s very easy to hole away and neither learn about nor appreciate what they are doing.

Meeting people from other departments. Hearing things from a different perspective.

Opportunity to learn about sustainability as a field, here on campus and amongst colleagues. Loved outside time…on schedule.

So glad I participated in the workshop!

By Dedee DeLongpre Johnston, Director of Sustainability

drink wine/ save the planet/ feed the hungry

March 4th, 2014

Contributed by Elizabeth Barron                 WFU ’93, Lecturer in French

In the interest of sounding a little less unbearably flippant, I did change the official title of this February 2014 WFU conference to “Viticulture and the Environment,” but in my head and heart it remained “drink wine/ save the planet/ feed the hungry.”

The drinking wine part was expertly handled by Olivier Magny, a Parisian wine specialist who started his own wine tasting school after graduating from a top business school. He led a group of faculty, students, and one alumnus in a wine-tasting, following a talk by Professor Wayne Silver on “The Neurobiology of Wine Tasting (and Smelling).” So we drank a little wine. That was the easy part.

Magny’s work seems to have started from a sense of pleasure, but his own study of wine also led him to an awareness of the conditions in which grapes are grown and more specifically, soil health. He writes in his book Into Wine, “Studying how vineyards were farmed has helped me grasp that the importance of the soil actually goes far beyond wine, and that the implications of mistreating it are also much more far-reaching than we think.” Farming practices have the biggest impact on soil health, and there is much that deserves to be questioned in our current agribusiness practices. These issues are addressed in a rather international light in the documentary “Dirt,” which a small group of us watched together and then discussed. The politics behind agribusiness practices are daunting at best. In the spirit of a hummingbird analogy put forth by this film, both WFU EH&S Technician Justin Sizemore and Dr. Anne Marie Zimeri had ideas for addressing our individual carbon footprints.

I like to think of the following ideas as “Dr. Zimeri’s Eco Challenge.” Anne Marie Zimeri is an Assistant Professor in the Environmental Health Science Department at the University of Georgia. One of the courses that she teaches is a first year seminar in which she gives her students an assignment to collect and record data related to behavior changes they make to lower their environmental impact. She has the students select a pledge topic according to their own interest, related to one of the following areas: 1) Vegetarian / vegan 2) Transportation 3) Single use disposables 4) Composting / packaging 5) Water conservation 6) Electricity 7) Local / organic. For example, if students were electing to go vegetarian or vegan for a week, they would include before and after data relating both to how much meat they consume, and to the food miles, water use (in the production of meat vs. vegetables and fruits) and carbon footprint. More detailed information on this will be part of an upcoming publication by Dr. Zimeri. Like the hummingbird, we can only do what we can do in decreasing our impact, one rain barrel, solar water heater, backyard garden and bike ride at a time. So we learned a little about saving the planet.

It was the welcome presence of Shelley Sizemore, Assistant Director of Campus Life and Service that allowed me to add feeding the hungry to the list. Technically, we only fed our hungry selves that night, but I learned more about some ongoing campus and local efforts, including Campus Kitchen that distributes prepared but unserved food through local agencies including the Shalom Project, an outreach network started by Green Street United Methodist church that provides food, clothing, medical services and networking to the community. Wake Forest also has its own garden that both provides Campus Kitchen with fresh produce and also helps Wake Forest students (and I would add, faculty) better understand and influence the social, environmental, biological and political consequences of food production and consumption. So we could be part of feeding the hungry, if we’re not already.

I like the three-fold nature of my not-really-the-title-except-yes-it-is, because it reminds me of just how interconnected everything is. Even starting from the position of a possible urban sophisticate enjoying his or her own glass of wine can logically lead to soil health, then to the importance of environmental stewardship, then to food production and distribution. So, next time you swirl and sip, think about where the contents of your glass were originally grown.

Bottoms up.

For more musings on the theme “Drink Wine/Save the Planet,” visit Dr. Barron’s blog.

Sustaining Life, Ideas & Communities

February 25th, 2014

ApplesContributed by Jenny Miller (’14)

Fresh students are being sown this spring as the new course, Women, Entrepreneurship, and Sustainability roots itself into the curriculum of Wake Forest University. Under the leadership of Professor Lynn Book, Dr. Angela Kocze and Dr. Wanda Balzano, students narrow their focus on female entrepreneurs as today’s largest and fastest growing minority group in agriculture. Students work with community partners of the Innovators in Residence program which highlights local entrepreneurs of the Piedmont region.

The course’s primary Innovators in Residence collaborators, Margret Norfleet-Neff and Salem Neff, cultivated their farm, Beta Verde, where they grow pesticide-free fruits and vegetables that are used for garden-to-table suppers at their home in Winston-Salem and are sold as delicious jams, pickles, and syrups. These “home sown” heroines also founded the Old Salem Cobblestone Farmers Market which accepts EBT and WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program, providing a greater opportunity for people to have access to good food. These mother/daughter ventures provide insights that allow Margaret and Salem to serve as guides in matters of food traditions and food justice, regional economies, cultural diversity and environmental stewardship. It is through such symbiosis that the interdisciplinary course of Women, Entrepreneurship, and Sustainability has been able to help students better understand how women are impacting local and global communities while simultaneously forming a greater connection with food and place by learning beyond the gates of our own Forest.

The course will be hosting a collection of events throughout the spring semester that bring knowledge from the surrounding communities back to campus. The convivial environment of the course’s first event, SEED, was held last Wednesday on February 19th, and encouraged a certain quality of shared experience around food. This helped break the “busy” schedules of the Wake Forest community by providing an hour and a half of close conversation, local food tastings, live music, and shared stories. Margaret and Salem spoke of their love for people and place nurtured and sustained through their good food ventures. Together, they stressed the importance of sustaining a sense of place not only by protecting an area for the future, but also for the reclamation of an environment. The women addressed how the heritage of the Piedmont region was once previously occupied by apples which held a central place in the ecology of the land. The message of SEED focused on the importance of the restoration of these indigenous seeds if our community wishes to sustain the Piedmont land forward and to live in concert with an optimal environment that provides access to good foods. Working to make something that is close to disappearing abundant again is not an easy task.  The notion that all regional schools, colleges, and universities could choose their own variety of apple trees to be planted on their respective grounds was offered by Margaret and Salem as one example of attaining this goal.

Through the creative collaboration of Women, Entrepreneurship, and Sustainability and the Innovators in Residence program, a “biodiversity for the future” is encouraged that requires awareness and vigilance. This future envisions a change in dismissive and unthinking action towards a shared inspiration for students, administrators, and members of the Piedmont community to cultivate and protect the resources under our feet by reclaiming, stewarding, and taking pleasure in good food as a fundamental right for all people.

A Theological Approach to Sustainability

January 28th, 2014

When thinking about theological education, sustainability might not be the first word that comes to mind. The Wake Forest Divinity School, however, is currently adopting some changes that will influence sustainability learning outcomes for their students.

At the end of the spring 2013 semester, a group of Divinity School faculty participated in a retreat centered around the question “What would it look like to have a curriculum that takes full advantage of the places where we are located?” The result will be a gradual transformation of the curriculum to reflect what many refer to as a “place-based” education. By definition, place-based education is rooted in the unique culture, history, and ecology of the community.

The Divinity School has since introduced new courses that take full advantage of the place where we are located. For instance, in a class on worship and liturgy, in which the professor teaches about baptisms and communion, the students have been able to connect these sacred rituals to the place in which they are located. The class began with a trip to the Salem Creek, followed by a visit to the Water Treatment Plant. Divinity School Dean Gail O’Day notes that these trips aid the students in viewing water in a different way; they begin to think about the water theologically and have a newfound appreciation for it as a resource. The class also took visits to a community garden and a local winery in order to fully understand these resources from cultural, ecological, and theological perspectives.

This unusual approach to graduate education appears to be incredibly beneficial in several different ways. As expected, taking advantage of the “place” element of education has a positive impact on the students’ learning and in their preparation as leaders who understand issues members of their communities are facing.  Jill Crainshaw, professor of worship and liturgical theology, explains that effective religious leaders must be “deeply immersed in and knowledgeable about the people, history, and patterns of the particular places where they serve.” This curricular approach emphasizes the importance of a connection and understanding with the surrounding community, in hopes that they will take this strong foundation with them to the communities where they will serve in the future. According to Dean O’Day, “The better they understand the complexity of the world in which they live and in which they are going to serve, the better able they are to make informed decisions about what’s good for their community.”

The new curriculum also seems to instill a passion for sustainability and caring for the Earth. Dr. Crainshaw explains that through these place-based classes, students appear to develop “cosmocentric sacramentality” in which they “begin to see the many ways in which the world around them – both inside and outside of the walls of the church – is sacred.”  In this way, the Divinity School is not only shaping individuals who care for the people they are serving, but also about the environment they call home.  Dr. Mark Jensen, who received a grant from the WFU Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability to convene the curriculum retreat, is a leader in the ongoing curriculum changes. He says that an essential part of achieving their mission of developing “agents of justice, reconciliation and compassion” is exploring themes of sustainability and instilling the idea of the interlocking contexts of natural and built environments. Jensen quoted environmental writer Wes Jackson saying that we all need to “become native to the place in which we live” and take lessons from ecosystems that work harmoniously.

The developments across the curriculum complement a strong existing interest in sustainability within the school. An environmental theology student group called EcoTheo has grown in popularity over the past several years, convening regular meetings, contributing time to service projects, and working to incorporate principles of sustainability into everyday practices around the school. At their bi-weekly community lunches, students and faculty now use reusable plates and silverware, which the students wash, and food scraps are collected for composting after each meal.

A Food, Faith and Religious Leadership initiative offers to “equip religious leaders with the knowledge, skills, and pastoral habits necessary to guide congregations and other faith-based organizations into creating more redemptive food systems, where God’s shalom becomes visible for a hungry world.”

The Wake Forest Divinity School’s leadership is shaping the future not only of the communities in which its graduate students will serve, but of the wellbeing of life on the planet.

By Andrea Becker (’16), Staff Writer

Master of Arts in Sustainability

December 10th, 2013

A new Master of Arts in Sustainability offered by Wake Forest’s Center for Energy, Environment & Sustainability (CEES) will give students and early to mid-career professionals the diverse skillset they need to carve out a place in the burgeoning global sustainability marketplace.

The MA in Sustainability is a distinctive interdisciplinary one-year program that combines coursework in the social sciences, humanities, natural sciences, management and law. The program is currently accepting applicants for the Fall 2014 semester. Read more…

Anderson Helps Recognize Best Practices

December 10th, 2013

Marcus Wright, WFU award recipient

WFU Manager of Waste Reduction and Recycling, Megan Anderson, helped to develop the first-ever community awards program for sustainability in Forsyth Co. this fall. Anderson, who serves on the advisory council for the Winston-Salem Sustainability Resource Center, developed the program to recognize best practices and inspire others to reach for higher levels of sustainability integration.

According to Anderson, “There are many businesses, non-profits, groups, and individuals that are doing wonderful and inspiring things in our community to support sustainability.  We felt that it was very important to recognize these outstanding efforts, and at the same time, help set high goals for the future of our community.  Sustainability should be an integrated concept in the strategic planning for our local leaders and organizations, and we hope that this event helped spur collaborative partnerships, the sharing of best practices, and high bench-marking goals for future sustainability initiatives in Forsyth County and beyond.”

2013 Winners

  • Sustainable Business of the Year (1-50 employees):  Inside Out Designs
  • Sustainable Business of the Year (51+ employees):  Wexford Development LLC of Winston-Salem
  • Sustainable Non-Profit of the Year: Triad Community Kitchen
  • Spirit of the Community (Individual or Group): Marcus Wright, Director of the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance and Mass Spectroscopy Labs of the Chemistry Department for Wake Forest University
  • Honorable Mentions:  Gallins Family Farm, Betty and Jim Holmes Food Bank Garden, Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind, and Old Salem Gardens of Old Salem

By Dedee DeLongpre Johnston, Director of Sustainability

 

Solving Problems across Disciplines

December 10th, 2013
Screenshots of the prototype application

Screenshots of the prototype application

This past fall, undergraduate health communication and software engineering students were asked to work together to design an application that would improve accessibility around Wake Forest’s campus.

From wheelchairs to long boards, students considered the unique ways people maneuver around our 340 acres each day. One student team chose cycling, a theme proposed by the Office of Sustainability that supports our campus-wide transportation demand management goals. The collaboration showcases the advantages of faculty working transdisciplinarily to solve big problems and the benefits of engaged learning for sustainability.

“Working with the theme of sustainability was interesting,” said Jesse Akman, a junior who developed an application for cyclists with his partner, sophomore Adelina Cato, “we ended up looking at a lot of statistics about bikes saving CO2 and alternative transportation options.”

Akman, a Computer Science and Philosophy double major, took the Health Communication course with Professor Steve Giles as an elective. Cato registered because it applied to her pre-med requisites.

The application’s map-like format is interactive and specific for bike users, explained Cato. It is similar to Ride the Wake, a smartphone application developed by another computer science class that provides users with a real-time locater map for the shuttles that transport students to and from off-campus apartments and other locations.

Giles and Professor of Computer Science, Paul Pauca, realized how beneficial collaboration could be after working together on a grant proposal to develop a smoking cessation application.

“We both knew that our disciplines complemented the other,” said Giles, “but we struggled to really understand what the other person did within his discipline.”

By connecting the two classes, the computer science students were challenged to think about health problems and user interaction with an application, while the communication students learned how to develop the actual technology that makes their creative ideas possible.

Pauca, who bikes to work and stores his set of wheels in his office each morning, explained how groups such as Akman’s had to understand how different people approach biking and what major barriers might prevent them from doing so, such as motivation, convenience, or even physical barriers, like stairs.

“For me, it’s transportation, but if I am elder, I would want to make sure I take the path that is safer,” said Pauca.

Pauca’s youngest child inspired his first experience developing an application when he was diagnosed with Pitt Hopkins Syndrome. Named VerbalVictor for his son, Pauca’s program helps to reduce the high price and bulkiness of existing tools available to people challenged by the genetic disorder. VerbalVictor can be downloaded to a smartphone for just $11.99.

Though this semester’s student applications are not ready to sell in an online application store, they are still significant achievements. “The process itself has educational value,” said Pauca, “and it also allows students to create something of value to society.”

According to Giles, the goal for the application is to build it for Wake with the hope that it could ultimately be replicated for other college campuses.

“I’m hopeful we can do this again in the future,” said Giles on the coming together of the two classes, “and perhaps be more strategic in building this collaboration into other courses.”

 By Sydney Leto (’14), Staff Writer

Sustainability through Place Values

December 7th, 2013
Photo by WFU photographer Ken Bennett

Photo credit: Ken Bennett

Students in my fall 2013 Literature and the Environment seminar (ENG 341G) spent the semester exploring different sites of belonging through world literature. Their course work carried them through critical discussions on the anthropocene, bioregionalism, deep ecology, ecotones and general systems theory. In their final class unit, they targeted their analysis toward key issues of sustainability. Several groups of students got together to reflect on the ways sustainability connected them to different communities of practice. Prominent among such communities was Wake Forest.

In the following essays, students consider the ways environments are composed through participation. They urge other students to be more fully present in the ways they interact with their campus environment, and they propose solutions for more sustainable technological practices.  Other essays reflect on the ways Wake Forest has shaped students as engaged individuals; students consider the ways the college’s environs have provided a vital resource for their spirits. Though all these short essays are quite different in their approaches to place values, all share an important central insight:  Sustainability is something that needs to be grounded in communities of belonging.

By Dr. Judith Madera, Magnolias Project Participant 2012

The Real Price of Gold

November 4th, 2013
Mercury

Photo courtesy of the CAMEP.

If you take a look at your hands, your wrists, or your neck, you will likely see something special, precious even. It is quite dense, glows with an almost aura-like quality, and, as of press time, costs about $1,350 an ounce. The material – gold – is familiar to all of us. Less known, however, is how it gets to us and the role of another unique metal in that process. Liquid Mercury, a toxic substance that has been phased out of equipment and processes in the US over many years, is essential to artisanal gold mining in much of the world.

On October 16th, Luis Fernandez the director of the Carnegie Amazon Mercury Ecosystem Project visited Wake Forest for a lecture on the use of mercury in artisanal, or manual gold mining and its impacts on the environment and people of the Madre de Dios region of Peru. Madre de Dios is a region of eastern Peru extending into the Amazon basin and is marked by some of the most intensive artisanal gold mining activity in South America.

The process of gold mining in the Amazon is much as it was a few hundred years ago here in the US. Water cannons are used to wash away the topsoil from small areas of forest, a few hundred feet square. This leads to extensive deforestation; a new study from Greg Asner, also with the Carnegie Institute, determined that over 120,000 acres have been deforested for gold mining in Madre de Dios and small artisanal mines have become the main culprit. After removing the vegetation and topsoil, the pay dirt is then washed through equipment to separate the gold by gravity. The problem with the pay dirt in Peru, and other areas where artisanal gold mining is common, is that the gold is present only in small flakes, not the stereotypical nuggets. So, miners use mercury to bind the small flakes of gold and concentrate them, separating the gold from other sediments. In the end, the mercury is burned off, releasing it into the atmosphere and environment. This mercury finds its way into soil and rivers, where it is slowly accumulated in crops and fish, contaminating some of the only reliable sources of food in the region.

Fernandez’s research focuses on identification of mercury contamination in fish and people in the region and his latest work has produced alarming information: over 60% of fish sold in markets in Puerto Maldonado, the capital of Madre de Dios, are contaminated with dangerous levels of mercury and 78% of people in Puerto Maldonado had unsafe levels of mercury in their bodies. Even worse, the most vulnerable population, women of childbearing age, had the highest mercury levels at 3 times the safe amount.

So, with all this bad news we ask ourselves, what can be done? What are the long-term effects on these populations? What are the long-term effects on the environment? Can the contaminated areas be reforested and, if so, how can it be done? Can the demand for gold be reduced so that it is not profitable for these small-scale, mostly illegal operations to persist? The answers to many of these questions are still unknown. There are currently few identified major health effects due to the low but chronic exposure to mercury, but cryptic effects such as decreased intelligence in children are being identified. Methods of removing mercury from the environment on a large scale are in their infancy and the gold mines are small but spread across a vast area, further complicating restoration efforts. What is known, however, is that if consumers demand safely and responsibly mined gold, as has been done with diamonds, or if they simply demand less gold, artisanal gold mining activity and the damage it causes will fade.

Contributed by Max Messinger