The Ohio State University is poised to make lasting contributions to solving many of the world’s complex and pervasive challenges. One of the most pressing: sustainability.
Reconfirming its commitment to enhancing social, economic and environmental conditions, Ohio State has created the Sustainability Institute to support and integrate sustainability and resilience scholarship and activities across the university.
“Sustainability is a challenge that transcends any single individual, discipline or organization. It demands the persistent dedication of a diversity of many people with a shared vision for a more resilient, equitable, sustainable and inclusive society,” says Elena Irwin, faculty director of the Sustainability Institute and professor of environmental economics.
Irwin explained that 27 core faculty members, hired in partnership with 18 different university departments through the Discovery Themes initiative, make up the backbone of the institute, which will pursue a more coordinated and inclusive approach to sustainability that facilitates interdisciplinary collaboration, campus stewardship and applied solutions. Already at Ohio State, 600 faculty and researchers are engaged in sustainability research; over 1,000 courses support sustainability learning; and more than 80 student organizations focus on sustainability issues.
Ohio State faculty will look to Sustainability Institute staff members for help in areas including development of research grant proposals; enhancing student curriculum; building partnerships with businesses, government agencies, non-profit organizations and peer universities; hosting educational and outreach events; and creating opportunities for living laboratories for teaching and research on campus. Irwin is joined in leading the Institute by Kate Bartter, executive director. Mike Shelton serves as associate director, responsible for tracking the university's sustainability goals; Josh Knights is director of partnerships; Maureen Langlois is proposal development specialist for SI; and Gina Hnytka is director of education and learning programs. Gina Langen and Joan Wall cover communications and marketing for the Institute, Kathy Jackson serves as program assistant, and Gwyn Dalton is administrative manager.
“Ohio State’s interdisciplinary research capacity, culture of problem solving and partnerships with industry, government and advocacy organizations offer strategic opportunities for the university to create transformational change in Ohio and around the world,” says Bartter. “Ohio State’s commitment to sustainability is to prepare our students for global citizenship and to develop solutions for local, state and global communities.”
The institute will not only promote sustainability and resilience research, teaching and learning but also will build collaborations with public and private sector partners to develop and apply sustainable solutions. In addition, the institute will work to integrate sustainability scholarship with campus activities to engage students in research and experiential learning.
“Throughout my time at Ohio State, I have been fortunate to receive advice and guidance from many of the staff and faculty who are a part of the Sustainability Institute,” says Matthew Griffin, a senior majoring in environment, economy, development and sustainability with a focus on business. “Their efforts have helped myself and countless other students explore how we can contribute to making our campus, and our world, a better, more sustainable home.”
“We all know the problems facing future generations require cross disciplinary solutions. One voice or idea is not enough; the problems are simply too great,” says Griffin, who also works as a sustainability student assistant for the university departments of Athletics, Business Advancement, and Business and Finance. “This Institute represents Ohio State’s commitment to creating a space for groundbreaking solutions to emerge and gives students the opportunity to be a valued voice in the conversation.”
The institute also will coordinate and accelerate the university’s Sustainability Goals, which were set in 2015 to further integrate sustainability into teaching, research, curriculum, operations and community partnerships. The goals also guide the university toward achieving zero waste; reducing energy and water use and the footprint of its fleet vehicles; and increasing ecosystem services, locally and sustainably sourced food and environmentally preferred product standards.
“Getting to carbon neutrality by 2050 will take creativity, commitment and innovation,” says Beth Snoke, the university’s director of transportation and traffic management. “We have an obligation to take what we learn on campus in sustainability and transfer it to the Columbus community and beyond. The creation of the Sustainability Institute strengthens the internal partnership we had already created to engage faculty and students in our campus sustainability plans.”
Irwin said the work of sustainability often feels overwhelming, given the magnitude of the problems.
“We are grappling with enormous challenges of sustaining our communities and addressing deeply rooted problems of economic and social inequities in the face of growing resource scarcities, environmental degradation and unprecedented global environmental change," she says. "Clearly the only way we can make progress is to work together. The Sustainability Institute will be a platform to enable this work.”