October 15, 2010

Graham School sprouts Green Business 101

Less than three years after taking up the green campus movement, and 18 years after developing a major in environmental science, the University finally has a class that teaches how to make money from sustainability.

The Graham School of General Studies launched a “Leadership in Sustainability Management Certificate Program” this fall, a new non-credit program that offers students the opportunity to take six classes and participate in a cumulative final project at the end of year, all to make their businesses greener.

The focus of the program is to give professionals the tools they need to help their business go green. “Our typical student is early to mid-career, who is working in an industry where they are trying to practice sustainability more thoughtfully,” said Cary Nathenson, associate dean of the Graham School. “We have seasoned professionals to students who just graduated enrolled in our classes.”

While the Graham School had previously offered environmental studies classes, the school had been receiving requests for classes with an applied focus.

The program is being offered through one of the Certificate Programs at the Graham School, which allow students and professionals to take advantage of career-oriented education. There is no degree offered for completing this program, but the Graham School is offering students who successfully complete the program a certificate in sustainability management.

“One of the things I really like about it is the holistic approach. We tend to be very academic and not focusing on the day-to-day operations, but this program looks at the real world applications,” said Ilsa Flanagan, director of sustainability and member of the program’s advisory council.

The new program is one of a host of efforts by the University to improve sustainability, following the establishment of a Sustainability Council, the first of its kind at a university, the appointment of a director of sustainability, and the construction of three new LEED-certified buildings.

However, the University of Chicago has been roundly criticized for its lack of consistently sustainable practices, receiving “C”s from both the Princeton Review and the Sustainable Endowments Institute. Harvard, Yale, and Middlebury all received “A”s from both for efforts like LEED-requirements for all new buildings, renewable energy sources, and reduced campus pesticide use.

“Universities are supposed to be leaders in adaptation and technology.” Nathenson said. “We want to take full advantage of the community of people working on sustainability, and use their knowledge and experience—there is a network of efforts being directed towards educating people on sustainability.”

The Graham School courses range from “Science of Sustainability” to “Mediation, Negotiation, Communication,” allowing students to prepare for a career in sustainability management through many different lenses.

“We’re building on the liberal arts tradition here,” Nathenson said. “It’s interdisciplinary, with offerings from philosophy to science, economics to communication. We think of it as an applied liberal arts program.”

Biochemistry professor emeritus Dr. Thedore Steck, who will be lecturing for “Introduction to Sustainable Development,” said he is focusing on how to connect what he teaches with the careers of his students. “All these people have careers, and this has to somehow mesh with them. We’re here to introduce them to new ways of thinking about sustainability,” he said.

Instructors for the classes are drawn not only from professors at the University of Chicago, but from experienced professionals working in the field as well.

Students will take classes taught by Jeffery Johnson, director of facilities and operations at the Museum of Science and Industry, Katie McClain, the Chicago d irector for the Clinton Climate Initiative, and Rodger Field, a retired policymaker from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“This program will connect our campus initiatives to the urban center that we live in,” said Patrick McGuire, a researcher in the Department of Geophysical Sciences and the lecturer for “Science of Sustainability.”