The university approved this interdisciplinary center in 2010 to promote critical thinking and effective action across the fields of renewable energy, biodiversity and ecosystem conservation, environmental policy, human behavior, social influence, enterprise, and environmental markets. The center will also provide a focal point for engaging the public on issues of sustainability.
Both faculty and student scholars are able to collaborate through the center to advance research opportunities, sponsor thought-provoking events, and delve deeper into some of the most crucial issues of the day. Because the more than 60 faculty and staff from 16 departments, academic, and administrative units involved in the center bring their past connections to the table, opportunities for research and collaboration are limitless.
Learn more by visiting the Center for Energy, Environment, and Sustainability‘s webpage or the Master of Arts in Sustainability program.
This February graduate students in the Applied Sustainability class visited TS Designs, a Certified Benefit Corporation making t-shirts in Burlington, North Carolina. The students spent the morning with company President, Eric Henry, who aims to create the “highest quality, most sustainable, printed apparel,” measuring success against the triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit. Henry discussed his take on sustainability, and the vision for the company that calls North Carolina home.
Henry’s vision, and triple bottom line approach, is a consequence of the 1990’s North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). TS Designs, which Henry had operated since 1977, nearly closed its doors when customers and competitors fled to Mexico for cheaper labor and cheaper inputs all across the supply chain. The company, whose bread and butter was 50-cent screen prints for some of the world’s largest apparel brands, could not maintain a commitment to keeping anything local — NAFTA had all but eliminated that possibility. Henry was forced to reinvent if he was to stay in business.
Now TS Designs’ product is more than an automated screen print — it’s a t-shirt, and what’s behind the t-shirt: the set of values a company operating on a human-scale holds. In its reinvention, Henry and his colleagues consciously created a model that is based
on human-scale relationships across the supply chain. By keeping it local, they keep it accountable. Henry is accountable to his employees, and they to him; he’s accountable to his suppliers, and they to him. Scott McCullough, MA’15, one of the students on the trip noted that “TS Designs is a business that not only serves its customers, but serves its community in a number of innovative and meaningful ways. Eric understands that a business can’t be sustainable and resilient if it doesn’t seek to improve the community around it. It was really refreshing and inspiring to see what Eric and TS Designs are doing.”
The critical tool that TS Designs implements to achieve success, and accountability, is full transparency. When you buy a Cotton of the Carolinas t-shirt, one of TS Designs’ innovative brands, you support a “radically” transparent supply chain. Turn the shirt inside out, and the colors of the thread give you access to a map and the ability to track your tee, literally from dirt to shirt. According to Andrew Wilcox, MA’15, “…it creates a business ecosystem where money and resources stay in local communities and regions instead of hemorrhaging out to far off factories and headquarters. The multiplier effect of local business is compelling.”
Transparency for TS Designs isn’t just about supply chains; Henry was even transparent with the students about sustainability being a journey, not a destination. He’s not trying to hold up the company as a model of all things perfectly sustainable (whatever that might mean). It’s not perfect; it’s blemished in places, but it reflects an important journey on a values-driven path. His model clearly reflects what is important to him, and what is clearly important to his many customers.
In the context of a course on Applied Sustainability, this on-site lesson provided students the opportunity to interrogate theories supporting and opposing values-based business models with a business leader who’s got skin in the game.
Jon Clift, MA in Sustainability Associate Director of Outreach
For a conservation event with potentially apocalyptic connotations, Thursday’s “Pledging Responsibility for Oceans and Environmental Change Today” in Brendle Recital Hall was frank, optimistic and self-aware: panelist and scientist Nancy Knowlton even pledged to keep audience members “not utterly depressed,” to noticeable titters.
The panel, an effort to engage the public on the importance of oceans and their nascent fragility as a result of climate change, garnered a sizable crowd, perhaps partially due to the celebrity of the panelists speaking: Sylvia Earle, a National Geographic oceanographer; Knowlton, Sant Chair for Marine Science at Smithsonian’s Natural Museum of Natural History; and Amanda Leland, vice president for Oceans at the Environmental Defense Fund.
Despite the preliminary call for optimism, the scientists made the audience aware of the current dire state of the world’s oceans. Overfishing and pollution have ravaged our oceans to noticeable decline: species are becoming extinct, including New England’s famed Atlantic cod. Forty percent of fisheries are in jeopardy.
The implications, Leland stated, are as environmental as they are economic: Somali pirates originated as fisherman who ran out of fish to extract. In addition, three million of the world’s population depends on the oceans as its only source of protein.
Knowlton and Leland revealed that the solution to ocean deterioration lies largely in policy, and that increased management of fishing policies can improve fish quantities in the ocean and decrease overall waste.
However, in a visit to an undergraduate and graduate lab classroom earlier that day, Earle argued that extracting any organisms from the ocean would be problematic to the structure of the food chain, according to Wake Forest professor Dr. Katie Lotterhos, who attended the earlier session and whose area of research is marine biology.
Hope for ocean renewal is within reach, the scientists said, with policy and attitude change: “Fish are not just clumps of meat waiting for us to extract them,” said Earle.
Instead, proper fishing and ocean regulations have the capacity to revitalize communities, ecosystems, and expose the “ocean’s natural resilience.”
Lotterhos, who invited the three scientists to campus, hoped the event left people “feeling cautiously optimistic.”
“We will have to take responsibility soon if we want to have sustainable ocean ecosystems, but it is not too late yet,” she said.
By Elena Dolman (’15), Staff Writer
My family and I live on a 22-acre farm in Stokes County. We are serious gardeners. I can’t remember the last time I bought a tomato at the store and I have saved my own okra and basil seeds each year for over a decade. Now late October, we have over 60 garlic heads up in the garden and have put the cold frame in place. We also raise Shetland sheep, a very hardy heritage wool breed. For a few years we raised heritage turkeys (Bourbon Reds) and maintain a flock of about 30 free-range laying hens and sell their eggs to wonderful people on campus. Sometimes I go to meetings and people say, “Oh, you are the egg lady.” All of this effort supplies fabulous, fresh and taste-laden ingredients to cook with. At my house, we eat very well.
But all of these farming endeavors do not pay the mortgage. My husband and I are both faculty in the Department of Chemistry, and Bruce currently serves as Associate Provost of Research. In the Chemistry Department, teaching slots are a common topic of discussion. We never have enough faculty members to meet demand for all the courses required for our majors and pre-med students. We run out of faculty teaching slots every semester and work hard to fill the needs of our students. Because of this, we are truly limited in the number of First Year Seminars (FYS) we can offer each year. Faculty who have developed FYS offerings offer them on a rotating basis.
I have taught the FYS True Value Meals several times in the past. According to the syllabus, True Value Meals “has been designed to develop the analytical and critical thinking skills of students, and their ability to express in writing and aloud their opinions and ideas, in a setting that focuses on the production, processing distribution and eating of food.” It is an ideal topic for the FYS, and a topic that I am passionate about. Luckily, my turn in the rotation came during the fall 2014 semester.
By coincidence, the semester I was offering a food-centered FYS class, the Office of Sustainability organized Make Every Bite Count, a speaker series about the food we grow and eat that challenges us to imagine how we can sustainably feed the world. Students are required to attend the events and we sit together as a group. In the following class meeting, the discussion is centered on frank analysis of each event and how it compares with other course material. In twenty years of teaching at Wake, I have never seen students as fired up as they were the day after viewing the documentary GMO OMG. I have no doubt that the talk by Vandana Shiva on the challenges of feeding a growing world population will be just as powerful, if not more so.
Since I taught True Value Meals last, the sustainability movement on campus has blossomed. I was able to participate in the Magnolias Project, which strives to integrate sustainability across the curriculum. The campus garden has grown both in size and organization. Campus Kitchen now has dedicated space on campus and has expanded its programming. All of these have combined for wonderful service-learning opportunities for my students. Each student is required to complete 18 hours of food-related service with community partners to enhance their readings for the course and aid class discussion. What have they been doing? The mid-term logs of service hours showed that they have been gleaning food from the Cobblestone Farmers Market for redistribution to food-insecure families; repackaging food from the on-campus dining hall for delivery to persons in need; making sandwiches for homeless individuals on Saturday mornings; turning plots, compost and planting fall crops. All of this effort has helped the partner agencies AND the students’ learning. Our class discussions are livelier because they are all experiencing different aspects of food culture in their work outside of class. And the students actually enjoy their service learning hours. It’s a nice break from reading and writing and gives them time to reflect on course material and try to integrate all the different pieces. Some students have found a “niche” at the university through their service learning partners. I am astounded by the number of students who want to become shift leaders for Campus Kitchen or interns with the campus garden. It’s helped me realize how important extra-curricular activities are to students’ overall wellness.
I can say with confidence that this semester students are the most engaged in my FYS material, thinking more deeply and broadly. I encourage all faculty to find a topic they are passionate about and use the plentiful teaching resources here at Wake to develop a class that will impact students. From teaching workshops on community engagement and sustainability to on-campus service learning opportunities, our university has a bounty of support for engaged learning.
By Dr. Angela King, Associate Teaching Professor, Department of Chemistry
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.
For more musings on the theme “Drink Wine/Save the Planet,” visit Dr. Barron’s blog.
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
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…
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
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
As a chemistry major with an environmental studies minor, I enjoy the chances I get to take classes that depart from the sciences. I have developed a great fondness for a course I am currently taking – Religion and Ecology, with Dr. Lucas Johnston. It has made me look beyond my knowledge of the environment, beyond my knowledge of religion, and realize that human history is not necessarily a story of the conflict between religion and nature. Religion and Ecology merges what seem to be two very different bodies of study into one, examining preconceived notions, and taking a deeper look into the impacts of each upon the other.
During the first weeks of class we addressed the intimate dance between the roots of various religions and the environment. The class is mainly discussion-based, and requires students to lead two of the classes in the semester on selected readings. The readings are captivating and diverse, covering topics related to environmental history in Eastern and Western religions, American romanticism, and radical environmentalism. We also read The Story of B by Daniel Quinn and essays from American Indian environmental activist, Winona LaDuke, who spoke on campus this semester. The final project for the course is the presentation of either an annotated bibliography on a topic of choice related to the course, or an engaged project which explores the relationships between religions and their habitats.
This class has given me a chance to discuss the history of how and why religions ranging from Christianity to Hinduism to Radical Environmentalism began, and what kinds of values shape these ways of viewing the world. Religions often define how nature should be viewed and valued, whether it is claiming “dominion” over the land, or connecting with the gods that reside in rivers and mountains. Conversely, there are also cases where habitats shape religious expression.
This class has caused me to examine more closely the culture in which we live, as well as other cultures and habitats around the world. For me, it’s more scientific than an anthropology class, more discussion-based than a religion class, and more historical than an environmental studies class. It links the human species with their habitats, and explores how the values we place on those habitats shape our lives and determine whether we thrive or struggle within them.
Contributed by Claire Nagy-Kato (‘14)
“When you die, God will not ask you how old the earth is. He will ask you ‘what did you do with what I gave you?’”
In celebration of World Food Day, the WFU Divinity School’s Food, Faith, and Religious Leadership Initiative and the WFU Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability hosted Richard Cizik for a discussion of what some refer to as creation care, or a scriptural call to care for God’s creation.
Cizik served for ten years as Vice President for Governmental Affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, the top staff position in the organization. In a 2008 interview with NPR’s “Fresh Air,” he expressed support for addressing climate change and sparked a national uproar within the evangelical movement. Soon thereafter, he was discharged from his post.
In his work as the president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, Cizik is now empowered to address the interconnections between food, poverty, and climate change. He references Bob Doppelt’s book, The Power of Sustainable Thinking in saying that we cannot be good stewards of creation without understanding the systems that surround us. Global hunger is not simply a matter of inadequate distribution: floods, draught, poverty, the subjugated roles of women, and regressive global economic and agricultural policies all play a role in the inability of families and communities to access food.
According to Cizik, food and climate have become two of the most important issues to young evangelical voters. He believes that leadership on these issues requires bold action and a commitment to morally just behavior. In the conversion from climate denial to climate action, he witnesses a deny-deliberate-do-defend cycle. He sees more and more faith leaders making the conversion and answering the call to action because it is aligned with their intrinsic biblical values.
By Dedee DeLongpre Johnston, Director of Sustainability