We asked Sue Tannehill, adjunct instructor of English, to tell us about her work in and thoughts on sustainability.
What kinds of sustainability related research/projects do you pursue at UB?
Because I teach writing (Writing 2 also called ENG201) and can pick a theme, I chose environmentalism. I did this for several reasons, but primarily because I am interested in creating awareness among students who don’t necessarily think of choosing an “environmental” course. Students must take the Gen. Ed. course I teach. Many of them say, in their end-of-the-semester evaluation, that when they came to my class, they thought environmentalism was for “hippies and tree huggers,” not all that important, and that their own environmental awareness had rarely extended beyond picking up litter or perhaps owning a reusable water bottle. These same students often leave my class with a new awareness of what has been done to our earth by humans and how important it is to pay attention to the effects of their own impact on the earth as well as becoming advocates for larger issues such as climate change.
I have about 96 students a year, and every one of them has to come into contact with both written and visual information about their world—who is fighting to keep it viable, what has been done to damage it and what might be done to repair some of that damage. It’s a small number, but each year a few more have their awareness raised.
How are students involved in your sustainability work?
They are involved in two ways, the first content driven. I teach research based writing and students must learn about well-known environmentalists and learn what influenced them to become engaged with the environment. They must then research an environmental crisis --Love Canal, Bhopal, Seveso, the BP oil spill, are only a few examples of the crises they can write about. Finally, their longest paper must argue for a solution to some aspect of the environmental problems we face. This is where their own interests should intersect with environmental concerns. Engineering students may explore geothermal or wind power. Students interested in cars may research the viability of hydrogen fusion, hybrid or electric cars, biofuels, etc. Others choose to explore simple living, the tiny house movement, retrofitting buildings to make them more “green,” etc. The topic is limited only by their imagination and research skills. Again, this primarily raises awareness, and with increased awareness and education, actions may result. The second way my students are involved is that my students learn how to write, peer edit, and submit work online. I refuse to have my students purchase a $70.00-80.00 composition handbook and instead use free online resources and teach students how to use those. In this way, they learn just as much, but reduce their environmental footprint in terms of textbooks and paper use. They learn how to access materials that do not waste paper and can serve them long after graduation. The OWL Purdue website is a good example of a resource that I use. I model sustainability as much as possible for example, reusing paper and creating sets of readings that can be accessed online rather than printed.
What are you doing to help UB become more sustainable?
Well, other than the ways in which I use UBLearns and don’t use many hard copy handouts, I am not specifically making UB more sustainable.
What is the one thing you would like people to know that you do in your personal life to further sustainability?
In my own life, I live without a clothes dryer, heat my home primarily with wood, have a large garden and belong to a Community Supported Agriculture farm so that I can eat mostly organic and mostly local. In addition, I drive a hybrid car, use the “earth gym” for exercise by walking, hiking, kayaking, cross country skiing and I wear thrift shop clothing. Our family gifts tend to be experiences or homemade – oftentimes using garden produce.
I was told once that the Amish don’t refuse modern conveniences because of some commitment to a previous time. Instead, the question that drives them to adopt or reject any new behavior is, “How will this support and sustain our community?” For example, an electric sharp-bladed bean sheller might go very fast and shell lots of beans, but it removes the opportunity for the 5 year old and his grandmother to sit on the porch together shelling beans for the rest of the family to use over the winter. In so many ways, the second scenario promotes community and meaningful work, while the first, does nothing except do a job faster. Similarly, before I purchase anything, or take on new activities, I ask myself how the new purchase or activity will affect first my family/ community and second, the environment.
How could UB improve its sustainability efforts?
This is a small thing, with an easy fix and a significant impact. Each month, adjuncts receive a colored, printed form asking about unexcused absences. Each adjunct must sign it saying that s/he has not had any unexcused absences. Then, it goes to someone else for his/her signature and then on to Human Resources. I was told by one of the secretaries that these forms have to be kept on file for a number of years. Consider that the English department alone has over 60 adjuncts times ten sheets of paper (one for each month). Every department uses adjuncts and the amount of paper wasted for a single signature must be considerable. The thing I find most maddening about this is that the technology already exists to use an electronic signature which could come from your own email. This would use less paper, less filing space and less secretarial time.