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Steering toward sustainability: the people behind IHE sustainability initiatives work within diverse organizational structures. Equally diverse are the talents they bring to the job.

ON CAMPUSES ACROSS THE COUNTRY, sustainability initiatives are tearing down walls. That may seem counter to what you'd expect from initiatives that champion sustainability. But those tumbling walls aren't the bricks and mortar of old campus landmarks. Rather, they're the invisible but often real barriers between higher ed institutions' operations and academic sides.

"On many campuses, the operations side acts like a landlord, and the academic side acts like a tenant," says Tom Kimmerer, executive director of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. "Those walls have to be broken down" to ensure sustainability efforts engage all segments of an institution. "If you start pulling the threads to see what sustainability affects," he says, "you find it affects the entire institution. Everything."

As pervasive as sustainability initiatives must be, college and university leaders still have to decide where--within the organizational structure and on campus--to put them. Institutions of higher ed are devising various answers. But a recurring theme is that effective sustainability initiatives are grassroots by nature.

At the University of Florida, 10 years of grassroots work preceded hiring Dedee DeLongpre as director of the Office of Sustainability in 2006. "If a sustainability initiative just comes from the top," she says, "you'd have to do a tricky dance to get all the folks, including the students and faculty who make up an institution, to play along."

Terry Link, director of the Office of Sustainability at Michigan State University, agrees. "I think there's a lot of value in homegrownness," he says. "You have to grow into your own place. There is no one right way to do this." Indeed, a sustainability program's ultimate structure, placement, and function depend largely on how it began.

Structural Evolution

MSU'S Office of Sustainability opened up shop in 2000, thanks to efforts of the University Committee for a Sustainable Campus (UCSC), a group of students, staff, and faculty. "After trying to do all we thought needed to be done using only volunteers," says Link, "we thought we needed a paid position." An Environmental Protection Agency grant funded the sustainability office for its first three years.

Today Link still works closely with the UCSC. "It oversees the general thrust of the work this office tackles," he says. He sees his role as "connector, facilitator, and networker."

The program at Berea College (Ky.), stems from student initiatives of the late 1980s, says Tammy Clemons, sustainability coordinator. Those initiatives got a boost in 1994 when incoming President Larry Shinn brought along a commitment to sustainability.

From there, sustainability got worked into a collaborative model. Several positions now tie into this model, including a director and two professors of the Sustainability and Environmental Studies academic program; a recycling coordinator; the coordinator of Ecovillage (a sustainable residential/learning complex); and the sustainability coordinator. "I'm the connect-the-dots person," says Clemons.

Yet Clemons was the last to join the team, in 2005. The impetus for her job sprang from a campuswide meeting. "There was consensus that we had achieved enough momentum such that a sustainability coordinator was necessary to take this to the next level," she says.

Portland State University (Ore.) follows another model, with two sustainability coordinators: Dresden Skees-Gregory on the operations side and David Ervin covering academics. Ervin, also an Environmental Studies professor, directs the Center for Sustainable Processes and Practices, which facilitates sustainability research and teaching collaborations on campus and with community partners. His background is in environmental management and policy in the academic, government, and nonprofit sectors.

PSU's sustainability campaign began in the late 1990s, when students called for improved recycling and other sustainable practices. They backed their demand by allocating student fees to hire a sustainability coordinator. The administration matched those dollars, and Michelle Krim (Skees-Gregory's predecessor) became sustainability coordinator in 2001. Ervin chaired the search committee.

About a year later, Ervin and some peers proposed a second coordinator. Sustainability teaching and research were happening all over campus, but people didn't know about each other. "We needed somebody who would wake up every day, and the first thing he or she would think about is how the sustainability programs were running on the academic side," says Ervin.

Finding a Home

Approaches vary in where sustainability programs are placed within the campus system. But there's agreement on one point: Housing a program in an out-of-the-way spot is sure to undermine it. "That would be a reflection of the campus leadership not understanding the interrelatedness of everything on campus," says DeLongpre.

Her office is within UF's office of the VP of Finance and Administration, to whom she reports. The provost's and president's offices are down the hall, putting DeLongpre "in the decision-making center of the university," she says.

But Tom Kelly, director of the Office of Sustainability at the University of New Hampshire since 1997, feels there's value in being in a multiuse academic building rather than in the administration's quarters. "Universities at their best are driven by the academic mission. There's something to be said for being located amongst the faculty," he says. Still, he has direct access to UNH's top administrators. Kelly's office is financed by an endowment from an alumni donor.

At Portland State, Ervin feels it's critical for him to be located in the administration building and to report to the provost and vice provost for Research and Graduate Studies. "I can't be seen as being captive to any academic department," he says. "I had to overcome that the first two years. People thought I was representing my tenure home, rather than the whole campus."

Perrin Pellegrin occupies a different kind of niche at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she's been sustainability manager since 2002. Her office is in a Facilities Management department building, reflecting the roots of her job. "The culture at Facilities had already been sustainability-minded," Pellegrin explains. With several campus conservation and green-building projects completed, "it made sense to hire a sustainability manager."

Pellegrin's duties have expanded over the years. For instance, she's now the project manager for the Campus Sustainability Plan, developed by a committee of faculty, staff, and students in 2005. Still, her position and office reside where she started: Facilities Management.

What It Takes

Just as the forms and functions of sustainability programs differ, so do the backgrounds of the program overseers. Pellegrin, whose academic background is in political science and biology, started out working on green-building policies. From there, she says, "my education in sustainability has been through on-the-job training."

Clemons is a Berea alumna who, after completing graduate studies at Harvard Divinity School, returned as executive assistant to Berea's president. There she learned the ropes on the administrative side of her alma mater. As sustainability coordinator, she says, "my experience as a student and in the president's office have been instrumental. I already knew everybody and how the institution works."

Link says that being a "generalist by nature" is the key qualification he brings to his job. Before becoming sustainability director, he was an MSU librarian specializing in environmental public policy, among other areas. He also has a geography degree. And he's active in local government, serving as a county commissioner, which ties into his job as well. "I'm a student in how process works," he says. "What does democracy really mean at the grassroots level?"

Kelly's background also is "eclectic," as he sees it. But he came into his post at UNH from the outside. He has a PhD from Tufts University (Mass.) in international affairs, focusing on international environmental policy. He later directed Tufts' University Leaders for a Sustainable Future network and ran interdisciplinary faculty development workshops in the United States and Latin America.

Besides that, he has a music background, with a master's in conducting. There's an element of conducting in being a sustainability director, he points out. "I need to engage the administration, deans, faculty, operations, students ... everybody," Kelly says.

DeLongpre is one of the few with an academic degree in sustainability--an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management, San Francisco. Academic credentials were key in candidate selection at UF, says Kim Tanzer, chair of the Faculty Senate when the Office of Sustainability was created.

But managing sustainability takes more than credentials, Tanzer emphasizes. "It's essential for anybody in this job to be an ambassador," she says. "Dedee is very good at gently explaining to people that they may be missing the big picture. She educates people on almost a minute-by-minute basis."

Dianne Molvig is a freelance writer based in Madison, Wis.
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Title Annotation:SMART and SUSTAINABLE
Author:Molvig, Dianne
Publication:University Business
Date:Jun 1, 2007
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