Inside Mizzou: Sustainable Today

Renewable Energy illustration of power lines below campus

March 5, 2019

Did you know that Mizzou recently was ranked the #2 university in the country for generating on-site renewable energy by the EPA? Or that our campus, which is a living botanic garden, became one of only 64 campuses to be a certified Bee Campus USA in 2017? As a comprehensive institution with a strong commitment to community, Mizzou remains a leader in innovative, sustainable solutions that change the world.

Join Chancellor Cartwright for this week’s Inside Mizzou podcast where he talks with Raghu Raghavan, the manager of MU’s Sustainability Office; and Daniel Yuhasz, an intern with Mizzou Botanic Garden who is completing his doctoral degree in rural sociology. They discuss the multidisciplinary nature of sustainability as well as some of the initiatives happening across the Mizzou community.

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[00:00:09] From the classroom to the cornfield, journalism to SEC athletics, the University of Missouri works 52 weeks a year, every year. This is Inside Mizzou — real stories, real discoveries and real impact of the Mizzou community.

Moderator: [00:00:30] Today’s episode is called “Sustainable Today.” We often think about sustainability in terms of science, but it’s actually much more complicated than that. Sustainability intersects with science, culture, technology and even art. Joining Chancellor Cartwright to talk about the comprehensive nature of sustainability and some of the initiatives happening across the Mizzou community are Dan Yuhasz, a PhD student in rural sociology who is also an intern with the Mizzou botanical garden; and Raghu Raghavan, the manager of MU’s Sustainability Office. Thank you all for being here. We’re happy to have you.

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:01:05] Great to be here.

Daniel Yuhasz: [00:01:06] Thank you.

Raghu Raghavan: [00:01:06] Thank you for having me here.

Moderator: [00:01:08] First of all, I mentioned that sustainability isn’t just about the environment. It’s much bigger than that. So, I think it would be helpful to provide some clarity for our listeners. What is the difference between sustainability and environmentalism?

Raghu Raghavan: [00:01:22] I want to begin by stating the most popular definition for sustainable development, which comes from the Brundtland Commission, which states that sustainable development is meeting the needs of the present without jeopardizing the needs of future generations. So what does this mean? What this means is we have to live responsibly with the resources that we currently have, and distinguishing very carefully between want and need. Environmentalism has a perception that its focus has a very narrow focus, a very exclusive focus on environmental issues, whereas sustainability looks at issues with a much broader perspective. It also takes into consideration socioeconomic issues. So, that is one of the — sustainability includes environmentalism and looks at systemic and structural issues within society. The environmental issues that we see are frequently a symptom of a broader socioeconomic dysfunction. And if we were to address these dysfunctions, then frequently the environmental issues would also be fixed.

Moderator: [00:02:34] Thank you. Something so complex can sometimes be difficult to study or measure. What are some ways we understand and measure sustainability?

Raghu Raghavan: [00:02:45] So, I want to address measuring sustainability within the higher-education context. The tool that we used to benchmark sustainability is the Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System (STARS). This is the most popular tool for benchmarking sustainability in higher education in the U.S. and Canada. To give you an idea of the complexity, it has 65 categories. These categories are broadly divided under academics and research, engagement, operations, planning and administration. Points are awarded based on performance in each of these categories. Depending on points scored, a rating of platinum, gold, silver or bronze are certified as awarded. You may be surprised to know that we currently hold a gold rating in STARS. We lead the SEC in points scored. This is pretty good. We’re doing better than schools with far more resources than us.

Moderator: [00:03:40] Dan, do you have anything you would like to add? Any thoughts?

Daniel Yuhasz: [00:03:45] I’d like to get back to the first question if I could, because I feel it’s a very important question. And for those of us that have been studying sustainability, or teaching it in some form or other, I find it to be the single greatest challenge to get people to care. So, I agree completely with Raghu: We have to extend our thinking beyond the environment. One way that we’ve done this is by expanding on our language. There’s a term out there that we’ve been using lately; it’s called “regenerative.” My past university, I got my master’s and I also did some teaching — The Center for Regenerative Studies — and that was just another term for sustainability. We brought together many faculty from many departments and put together a curriculum for undergraduates and master’s students pertaining to regenerative economics, regenerative culture and, something that has gained a lot of traction, regenerative agriculture. Regenerative agriculture is an approach towards rebuilding soils. Farmers and scientists have discovered the importance of soils that can renew nutrients. And at the Mizzou Botanical Garden, we take that a step further. We look at the web of life. We realize the importance of pollinators. So thus, you know, our effort to bring beekeeping onto campus, and our efforts to recreate the monarch butterfly habitat. Let me offer a couple of solid examples about how we are extending beyond the environment. The public supports sustainability without a direct link to the environment. One is food. Folks are now asking where their food comes from. That’s not a real environmental question. They’re asking, “How is it produced?” So, ultimately, you know, without being specific, they’re asking, “Are the animals being treated humanely? Are the workers treated fairly? Was there any harm to the environment?” Another example that I can think of is plastics. And they’re not asking the same questions about plastics, but they’re asking, “Where are these plastics going?” More and more people are realizing they’re ending up in the ocean. As a result, people are now, across the country, banning the use of plastic bags. So, slowly but surely, I think we’re moving away from this direct connect between sustainability and the environment.

Raghu Raghavan: [00:06:17] If I can tack onto that — so, what is the end game of sustainability? The end game of sustainability is to build and live in a healthy community for all. And here I want to emphasize “all.” So, the end game of sustainability is a healthy community for all of us — a healthy environment and a healthy society. That’s essentially the end game of sustainability.

Daniel Yuhasz: [00:06:41] And measurement as well. You’d asked about measurement. I think that we limit ourselves when we look strictly at measurement, because what we’re measuring is harm. And ultimately, we’re trying to reduce that harm. If we want to create positive change, we’re looking at improving the quality, so we look at qualitative research. Measurement comes from quantitative research, but quality improvement comes from qualitative research — thus, regenerative studies, the ability to look at things that are improving. And, if I can add food as an example here again — if we look at measurements we’re measuring the harm — harmful effects — that agriculture can have, the amount of inputs that it takes. If we look at what regenerative agriculture is proposing, they’re tapping into the potential of improving soils: the benefit of having healthy soil, healthy organisms, healthy habitats for pollinators. So, we have to perhaps shift our thinking, or include both qualitative research with quantitative research.

Moderator: [00:07:48] Thank you both for your thoughts. Chancellor Cartwright, recently Mizzou was ranked the #2 university in the country for generating on-site renewable energy by the EPA. That’s fantastic! Can you talk a little bit more about the role sustainability plays across campus and the community?

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:08:06] Yeah, I mean Raghu and Dan have done a great job of talking about, you know, some of the things that are going on on the campus. I’d like to emphasize that what you heard was this connection between education, research, engagement — all of the things that we’re doing to have this become part of the entire campus. And it’s that connection between multiple disciplines across the university that allows us to really think holistically about what sustainability is. And we have people in all of our disciplines, actually, interested in what is happening in sustainability. The agriculture that Dan mentioned — you know, our Forage Systems Research Center, for example, they really are looking at how do we more effectively use land? What’s the way we have our cattle grazing? And this is something that has really impacted and changed a lot of how people are raising cattle and rotating where they are in the land and making sure that that enables that we’ll have a healthy ecosystem for our farmers and ranchers into the future.

Moderator: [00:09:17] Thank you. Dan, this next question is for you, and thank you for bringing those lovely calendars there. So, Mizzou has many unique features. In fact, our campus is an actual living botanical garden, and we are one of only 64 campuses to be a certified “Bee Campus USA,” which recognizes how bee friendly we are. Dan, you work with the Mizzou Botanic Garden every day. What does the garden mean to our campus, and what kind of impact does it have for all of us here?

Daniel Yuhasz: [00:09:48] First of all, I’d like to add on to the role that the Mizzou Botanic Garden plays in the collaborative efforts here on campus, because many of their projects have been the direct result of successful collaborations between students, staff and faculty. We take our responsibility to the people of Missouri very seriously there at the Mizzou Botanic Garden. We support the mission of the university. We really encourage students to take the lead on many of these projects. For example, beekeeping was started by students that saw the benefits of bee pollinators on campus, and thus we have two beehives on campus. Students also initiated the effort to educate schoolchildren in the local area about the importance of pollinators, and I’ve got handouts here of the very things that we hand out to young folks. We want them to learn at a very young age the importance of pollination. I want to add to that the other things that the Mizzou Botanic Garden has collaborated with — both countywide and statewide — “Grow Native!” prairie restoration; a children’s grove, which stresses the importance of orchards and landscapes to the health of children. We were the first signatory of the Mizzou Invasive Species Pledge and the founding member of Missourians for Monarchs. As far as what the feeling is on campus, there’s a great sense of pride. We have a very beautiful campus here, but I think that the sense is that we all have something to do with it. There’s a sense of belonging, a sense of ownership and responsibility in staff, faculty and the organizations. So, when the students take the lead, the Mizzou Botanic Garden wants to support them, and these projects are useful both inside and outside of the classroom. And we’d like to look at it as a living laboratory — not just for plant life, but also for social life on campus. And this is the same sort of attitude we want to approach with our new community gardens on campus.

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:12:07] I would second a lot of what Dan said there, in terms of, if you look at our gardens around the campus. And we get to enjoy it every day. We get to see the beauty. We get to really cherish what it means to be on the Mizzou campus. Anybody who visits here, one of the first things they notice is just the real connection that we have to nature on this campus and how much we value it. So, it really adds to what we’re doing as an institution.

Moderator: [00:12:37] Can you touch a little bit on the George Washington Carver community garden?

Daniel Yuhasz: [00:12:42] Certainly. That is part of a larger initiative from the Mizzou Botanic Garden. It’s got three parts to it. The whole purpose is to acknowledge the inequalities inherent in our food system. We do need to address that. One aspect of that is we have an undergraduate course in rural sociology that looks at the social issues of agriculture. A second aspect is we try to host (we haven’t yet) host special events, guest speakers or whatnot. And the third part, the part that I’m most heavily involved in, is the establishment of the community gardens. All three of them, each of them named after a prominent African-American, George Washington Carver, of course, himself. This would be our second full year of this project, at least the gardens themselves. Last year, we broke ground on the Henry Kirkland garden, which is over at University Heights. We installed some raised beds there. This is the first year that we’re looking forward to actually having a growing season. So, we’re looking to install some fencing, put in some tool sheds and then get some seeds in the ground and start growing. Very soon we want to have a second garden established at the Tara Apartments on Ashland, and we want these gardens to be very interactive and collaborative — very much in line with the other projects that we’ve had on campus. We want students and faculty and staff to have a sense that these are theirs as well. We’re gonna try some different things at the gardens, and we realize that the brunt of the growing season is when students aren’t here. So, we’re going to try to see what we can do about getting workshops, social events, getting plants that will harvest in the spring and the fall. And we want this to be just as meaningful a project as the other projects that we have at the Mizzou Botanic Garden. And we want people to be just as proud of this as they are everything else.

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:14:43] Raghu, are there are other projects that you are aware of that you’d like to talk about today?

Raghu Raghavan: [00:14:53] Well, we want to make progress on all 65 categories that we have under STARS. So, we are working closely with faculty to increase the sustainability content within curriculum. This is not an easy challenge, but we do have a lot of motivated faculty on campus that we work with and are interested in pursuing these topics. So, I’m very optimistic. As far as the direction in which Mizzou is heading, in terms of incorporating sustainability with a curriculum, that is one of my office’s major initiatives, along with working with other faculty. We’re also looking to improve recycling here on campus, so I’m currently working with a group within AdZou, which you may be familiar with. So, they’re helping us craft messaging for recycling here on campus. We work with a lot of students in my office. A lot of their capstone projects, again, to improve recycling on campus. We worked with student groups in the industrial engineering department to help us with recycling logistics. So, improving recycling on campus is another major push from within my office.

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:16:11] For those of you who aren’t aware, AdZou is a marketing firm actually in our journalism school that actually works with a lot of industrial partners, and it’s great to see that they’re also working on the campus with us to be better at our marketing.

Raghu Raghavan: [00:16:23] This is my office’s third project with AdZou.

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:16:26] Terrific.

Raghu Raghavan: [00:16:27] Yes.

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:16:28] With communications and marketing coming up.

Moderator: [00:16:29] I have to say, your reach is there, because I was just in a conversation the other day with someone, and they said that they knew you from Summer Welcome — you had visited their Summer Welcome group and were talking about how important it was that we recycle here on campus in the dining halls, with our takeout trays and things of that nature.

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:16:45] Yeah.

Raghu Raghavan: [00:16:45] We’re making progress, and we’re happy and proud to partner with AdZou.

Moderator: [00:16:53] Thank you. Well, thank you all again for being here today. This has been a wonderful conversation. One more thing before we all leave: Why did the cell phone need glasses?

Daniel Yuhasz: [00:17:08] I give up.

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:17:09] No idea.

Moderator: [00:17:11] It lost its contacts!

Everyone: [00:17:12] (laughing, groaning)

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:17:14] Okay. Let’s work on those jokes.

[00:17:29] Our audio engineer is Aaron Hay. Our featured music is “Forest Park Rhapsody,” composed by MU undergraduate and music composition major Ben Colagiovanni. You can find more information about Ben and his piece on the Inside Mizzou webpage. Make sure to join us next time, and keep an eye out for the chancellor’s newsletter to stay on top of what’s happening at Mizzou. Thanks for joining us on this episode of Inside Mizzou. See you around the columns!