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Michael C. Nelson
Teaching & Learning

Last modified: Thursday, January 28, 2010

'Teaching and Learning' spotlights sustainability at IU Bloomington

Jan. 28, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- How is IU Bloomington becoming a greener campus? What opportunities exist for students to learn eco-literacy? The Fall/Winter 2009 issue of Teaching & Learning magazine surveys sustainability efforts at IU, from courses on sustainable design and business to student-led efforts to reduce waste and lower energy consumption on campus.

A guest introduction by sustainability interns Nathan Bower-Bir and Kristin Hanks stresses the importance of integrating students into all aspects of campus environmental endeavors. Students' enthusiasm and willingness to take on challenges such as inventorying trees on campus and assessing IU building standards have become central to making IU more sustainable.

Teaching & Learning Magazine

In a wide-ranging interview, IU's new director of Sustainability Bill Brown talks about laying the groundwork for eco-literacy, and his role as a facilitator and catalyst for change.

"The campus is a microcosm of the bigger picture. It's a great learning lab," Brown says. "The more I can help people use it as a learning lab, the more we can solve some of these problems on the operational side. The more you solve the problems on the operational side, the more money you have for the academic side, which I think will motivate people."

The 1,500 acres of fields, forests, wetlands, ponds and lakes that make up IU's Research and Teaching Preserve present ample opportunities for pedagogy beyond the classroom. Set aside by the IU trustees for use by faculty, researchers and students, the preserve enables biology students to perform direct observation, and offers noncredit educational programming such as preserve director Keith Clay's "Attack of the Alien Invaders!" workshop on invasive species. Says Clay, "The preserve is for us [biologists] what the cyclotron is for physicists, the observatory for astronomers."

Students and faculty from the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs spent the first half of 2009 performing a sustainability assessment for Bloomington beer maker Upland Brewery, analyzing such factors as water use, energy use and transportation costs. Students not only made recommendations for Upland, but they also created a model for sustainability audits that can be applied to other businesses.

"In the two years I've been at SPEA, the Upland project has been one of the classes I've learned the most from," says Benjamin Au, one of the students who participated in the project.

Students from a wide variety of groups take the lead in projects designed to make the IU Bloomington campus green. Sustainability Interns, Volunteers in Sustainability, Students Producing Organics under the Sun (SPROUTS), and other groups are working to establish green food service practices at the Indiana Memorial Union, encourage native landscaping on campus, and to start a sustainability campaign in the IU Department of Athletics, among many other initiatives.

In one of a growing number of IU courses structured around sustainability issues, Kelley School of Business students act as corporate sustainability consultants who balance the drive to increase profit with stakeholders' demand for environmentally sound business practices.

"We looked around and saw that there weren't many similar courses in other business schools, despite growing interest on the part of students," says Steve Kreft, who developed the Sustainable Enterprise course in 2008. A case-study approach forces students to immerse themselves in the tough decisions concerning sustainability faced by real corporations like McDonald's and Apple.

The collaborative projects of the School of Informatics and Computing's Sustainable Interaction Design Research Group transcend discipline to engage policy and politics, engineering and science, marketing and fashion, culture and history. Heeding Professor Eli Blevis' admonishment that "interaction designers . . . get people to change their behavior," for example, SID graduate student Xi Zhu is working on the design of LED signaling systems between bikes, cars, and pedestrians that would improve road safety and make bicycling a more viable form of transportation.

An IU course and museum exhibit presented by the directors of art organization The Canary Project empowered students to help alter the course of climate change. Canary co-founders Susannah Sayler and Edward Morris taught Engagement/Art/Activism: Response and Intervention on Climate Change for the Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Arts, in concert with a School of Fine Arts (SoFA) Gallery exhibition.

Large-scale photographs from the original Canary Landscape of Climate Change project, juxtaposed with artifacts from the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, Lilly Library, IU Herbarium, and Department of Biology collections, engaged students, who created artworks as part of a semester-long project. Sayler and Morris return in February for an exhibition of the students' work.

The Teaching & Learning issue can be seen online at