ENVS 399: Sustainability Practicum, Spring 2023
MW 2:10-4:00,  in Science Center 207
Additional time for small group meetings may be required.

Instructor: Dr. John Krygier
Office: Schimmel-Conrades Science Center 206
Office Hours:  Typically MW 9:15-noon but email me a specific time you want to meet. Email for other times. |

Updates: 1/5/2023

Course Description: As the concept of sustainability grows in importance, so does the need for tangible, applied efforts to realize sustainability as a daily practice for individuals and organizations (businesses, governments, universities, etc.). ENVS 399: Sustainability Practicum puts sustainability principles into practice on the OWU campus and in Delaware, Ohio. The work in ENVS 399, along with the Student Sustainability Coordinator (STAP), has been the primary way sustainability happens on campus. The course consists of selected readings on sustainability, building on coursework from other ENVS and related courses, and group collaborations (with campus organizations, regional organizations, OWU’s Buildings & Grounds, OWU’s food service, Residential Life, and other individuals and groups). The goal is to continue ongoing sustainability efforts and initiate new efforts. Prerequisites: None really, but it helps if you are responsible, interested in engaged work, can keep on top of projects, and work independently without a huge amount of oversight.

Course readings are described or linked below. I’ll ask you to generate notes for readings and other materials for the course. Place all in a shared ENVS 399 folder:

Go to your OWU Drive account

  • +New button (upper left) >> Folder >> ENVS 399 <yer last name>
  • Share that folder with Krygier (so I can edit)
  • email me that your document is in the shared folder and ready for me to review

For each assigned reading, please create a document with a name that includes the reading number (see below). Save the document in your shared folder. About one page per reading (adjust for shorter and longer readings):

  • Citation: of reading (whatever format you want)
  • Summarize: What are the main arguments? What topics are covered?
  • Assess: Is it a useful source? Is it useful conceptually, practically, or both?
  • Reflect: How does the reading fit into the course, both practically and conceptually? Has it changed how you think about or approach the practical projects in this course? Name two or three takeaways from the reading and be prepared to discuss them in class.

At the end of the course, you will have, in essence, an annotated bibliography of materials read for the course.

What exactly is sustainability?

Some argue that the term “sustainability” has been applied so broadly that its meaning is lost. Some initial and conventional thoughts:

Reading 1: The Death of Environmentalism, M. Shellenberger & T. Nordhaus (2009)

Reading 2: Browse Sustainability (Wikipedia)

Reading 3: OWU Sustainability Plan (2017)

After finishing these readings, find a 4th reading (source) that you believe helps define sustainability, summarize/assess/reflect, and be prepared to discuss.

Reading 4: 

How do you “do” sustainability?

At OWU, we have a strong, long-term interest in sustainability among faculty, staff, and students. We don’t have a sustainability coordinator, comprehensive knowledge of sustainability methods, or much money to work with. This is, however, OK: the situation at OWU provides us with challenges and opportunities. Can a group of students, staff, and faculty move beyond platitudes and take sustainability on campus forward in a systematic manner?

ENVS 399 is structured for students to develop conceptual ideas based on their practical experiences. Work in previous versions of this course has led to the publication of a book chapter by Emily Howald, ‘18, and John Krygier.

Reading 5: Scrappy Sustainability at Ohio Wesleyan University” by Emily Howald & John Krygier, from Sustainable Cities and Communities Design Handbook, edited by Woodrow W. Clark III (2017)

A Big View of Sustainability: Theory of Change

Reading 6: “Theories of change in sustainability science: Understanding how change happens. Christoph Oberlack, et. al., 2019

Reading 7: Applying a “theory of change” process to facilitate transdisciplinary sustainability education. Derek Armitage, et. al. 2019

Another Big View of Sustainability: The Ideas of Elinor Ostrom

Reading 8: The Uncommon Knowledge of Elinor Ostrom: Essential Lessons for Collective Action.Erik Nordman, 2021 (Island Press, 978-1642831559)

Another Big View of Sustainability: Discard Studies

Reading 9: Discard Studies: Wasting, Systems, and Power. Max Liboiron & Josh Lepawsky, 2022 (MIT Press, 978-0262543651)

Background Information: Not assigned!

The following sources have a large amount of background on previous OWU sustainability efforts and can be consulted for resources and ideas.

Geography 360 Environmental Geography Projects. Projects in the class since 2009 have often focused upon campus sustainability projects. Links to many previous project reports.

Special Report: OWU Sustainability. During the Fall semester of 2014 Journalism student Spencer Hickey reviewed the state of Sustainability on OWU’s campus, reviewing its history and current status, interviewing students, staff, and faculty. (this now-historical document should be saved from its current off-campus site).

Recommendations of the President’s Task Force on Sustainability – Spring, 2009 & Supplemental Web Materials. Another now historical document with a useful background on the state of sustainability at OWU a decade ago. (this now-historical document should be saved from its current off-campus site).

Sustainability Region NSF Grant Proposal and Map/PosterA proposed Sustainability Region Project given good reviews by NSF but not funded because OWU had not made a suitable contribution to the effort.

The Social Psychology of Sustainability

While focused on climate change, Per Espen Stoknes What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming: Toward a New Psychology of Climate Action has many insights into the overall human reaction to sustainability, with practical ideas for how to move forward when political and personal obstacles to sustainability seem insurmountable. We read this book in Geog 360. For this class, take a look at another shorter source:

A practical primer on the psychology of sustainability in The Psychology of Sustainable Behavior.

The Ethics and Political Economy of Sustainability

Some of the worst moral and ethical problems of environmentalists are documented in Pascal Bruckner’s The Fanaticism of the Apocalypse: Save the Earth, Punish Human Beings. Bruckner describes a preachy, judgemental barrage of catastrophe and pessimism emanating from environmentalists that is, in the end, often inhumane if not outright anti-human. In its stead, he argues, we need to develop a humane, democratic, and generous ecology focused on solving earth’s environmental problems without demeaning or punishing humans. This book is read in Geog 360.

A shorter article by Bruckner: “Against Environmental Panic.”

How the Rich Plan to Rule a Burning Planet” (or pdf here). A sort of counter-balance to Bruckner’s perspective, where the climate “crisis,” according to the author, is going just as planned.

Revisiting Scrappy Sustainability

Initial work building on the “Scrappy Sustainability” book chapter was completed in the spring of 2018, using input and ideas from students enrolled in the course. Also entitled “Scrappy Sustainability,” the document below was updated again last fall, and takes the book chapter a step forward and links many of the ideas and the philosophy of this practicum together.

Scrappy Sustainability – Fall 2019

Environmental Values

Ultimately, as we head into getting stuff done in this course, it is important to assess your personal environmental values. Values underlie beliefs and behaviors – good or bad (or somewhere in between). Values are also one of the core objectives of an Ohio Wesleyan education:

To place education in the context of values. Understanding of themselves, appreciation of others, the responsibilities of citizenship in a free society. Sensitivity to private and public value issues, intellectual honesty, concern for all religious and ethical issues.

I put together resources for assessing your environmental values for ENVS 100.1, a new course most of you have not taken. Thus, review the materials at the link below and prepare a statement of your personal environmental values.

Assessing Your Environmental Values

More stuff to read and review: As the course progresses, we will read a few more things – practical, conceptual, whatever. Please feel free to suggest appropriate materials.

The Philosophy of this Course: Scrappy Sustainability

Students, staff, and faculty figure out how to make sustainability happen on campus with no full-time staff and few funds. Such efforts lead to broader conceptual and practical insights into the field of sustainability.

Course Learning Objectives

Initiative: One of the more important things I learned in college (eventually) was to take initiative and develop my ability to actively engage in courses and collaborate with my peers. Students in this course will be expected to take initiative and explain how their initiative has helped to move applied sustainability forward on campus.

Leadership: Leadership is more than being in charge. In this course, I expect students (individually or in small groups) to lead efforts to develop or expand current sustainability initiatives on campus. This requires that students understand the context of the initiative, clearly define a plan for their work, effectively collaborate and communicate their efforts, take responsibility in scheduling and completing required work, effectively work with people (staff, faculty, students) outside of the course, and, ultimately, complete the project by the end of the semester.

Trust: An important aspect of work-life is trust: that you can be responsible and organized and depended upon to take on a task, manage it, and complete it on time without others needing to be guiding and watching your every move. Students in this course will be trusted to use the class time in an appropriate manner for meetings, fieldwork, etc. We will have some required group meetings, but the goal is that each student can be trusted to do what needs to be done to complete the work in the class.

Tenaciousness: The “philosophy” of this course is “scrappy sustainability,” which, in essence, means the capacity to be pertinacious, persistent, stubborn, or obstinate. In a context like ours at OWU (no sustainability coordinator, no sustainability experts, few funds for sustainability efforts) we need to be all of those things to get anything done on campus. Successful sustainability efforts (May Move Out, reusable food containers, recycling, etc.) have taken an inordinate amount of effort to start and keep going, with many obstacles and plenty of reasons for the weak of heart to give up and back away. Students in the course will be expected to be able to keep at their projects regardless of impediments and succeed with their goals.

Pragmatism: The core of this practicum is the idea of pragmatism. Being pragmatic is not just being practical, however. Pragmatism consists of the mindset (and philosophy) that there is something important about what works (as opposed to what ideally should be). Knowledge is the outcome of a problem-solving process. You may strongly believe that we should “ban the bottle” (bottled water) on campus; however, this is a sort of specific ideology that, in practice, does not really work wherever it is imposed. Instead, the idea is to come up with a plan that works, and there is something important with that plan because it does work. For example, as we install more filtration stations on campus and promote their use, we see a drop in the purchasing of bottled water. Students in this course should expect to develop a pragmatic approach to sustainability projects on campus, and this requires critical thinking, and the ability to move beyond ideological absolutes and focus on what works.

Integrative Learning: The above course learning goals grow from years of working with students at OWU (and elsewhere). These goals are part of what can be called integrative learning: “Integrative learning is an understanding and a disposition that a student builds across the curriculum and co-curriculum, from making simple connections among ideas and experiences to synthesizing and transferring learning to new, complex situations within and beyond the campus.” “Fostering students’ abilities to integrate learning—across courses, over time, and between campus and community life—is one of the most important goals and challenges for higher education. Indeed, integrative experiences often occur as learners address real-world problems, unscripted and sufficiently broad, to require multiple areas of knowledge and multiple modes of inquiry, offering multiple solutions and benefiting from multiple perspectives. Developing students’ capacities for integrative learning is central to personal success, social responsibility, and civic engagement in today’s global society.” (AACU Integrative Learning Value Rubric).

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