Can sustainability be sustained?

By Roman Gerus

As humanity grows, the world shrinks. As our population and our technology expand to new heights, what will become of our environment? How can we use our
environment without harming it? How will we sustain our civilization for posterity? These are the questions a sustainability major has to try to answer.

Sustainability is a branch of science that focuses on how we as a civilization can further our endeavors without harming the resources that sustain us. It is gaining momentum across the nation, and Kean is no exception. In 2011, Kean joined the global call to arms for a more sustainable society.

There are 34 officially declared sustainability majors at Kean and as many as 40 undeclared. This January saw two graduates: one is now working with Bayshore
Recycling, and the other is working with Verizon. There are at least seven more sustainability major students expected to graduate this spring.

However, this branch of science is still finding its footing at Kean. It has been hit hard by large-scale budget cuts, class cancellations and the revoking of a bid for tenure by Dr. Nicholas Smith-Sebasto, executive director of the Center for Sustainability Studies. As a result, there is still one looming question: can sustainability be sustained?

Dr. Paul Croft, the executive director of the School of Environmental and Sustainability Sciences, believes so. He believes that the program is still “orienting itself,” and that the trend of class cancellations, budget cuts and layoffs is not unique to the sustainability and environmental science programs.

“The geology department, for example, is a much larger department and there could be many more students dropping it than in sustainability, but because the sustainability department is much smaller, it is more noticeable,” said Croft.

However, there is still the ever-present problem of class cancellations such as: SUST* 2000, 2006, 2007 and 3000. Numerous classes in the sustainability and environmental science program have been cut this past fall semester alone.

“Revisions have been made, some classes are not required anymore or don’t exist,” said Croft. As a result, many classes have been substituted and others have
become electives.

Despite some setbacks, it is still believed that sustainability will survive and, ultimately, thrive. There is a projected growth rate of at least 10 to 15 percent in the sustainability sector within the next ten years and projections of up to 60 percent beyond that.

Even with these various obstacles, contributions by the sustainability program to the Kean University community are evident. Within the past few years, a large-scale composter digester has been installed at Kean. Various crops are grown from the composted soil and are used in the cuisine at Ursino restaurant behind the STEM building.

Success in the program also depends on expansion into larger fields and communities.

“We’re trying to reach out to community colleges and institutions, such as Busch College with its Sustainability program,” said Croft.

The program is seeking partnerships with community and four-year colleges to offer sustainability courses. The Sustainability department is also proposing a program in Elizabeth to aid in post-Hurricane Sandy restoration.

Sustainability does not stop at the local level, however. It transcends national boundaries.

There is currently a plan for a Kean sustainability program in Wenzhou, China by 2016 with a program already underway at
a college Kean works with in Wuhan, China.


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