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Message from the Center

Green Wall in Vienna

May, 2014
By Mike Keen, Director

As Gabrielle and I arrived for our annual visit to Vienna, we could not but help notice a world of difference.  Coming into the city we saw an entire building covered in living green walls.  The grass in the parks and along the boulevards has been allowed to grow.  Often accompanied by a sign, “Die Weise lebt” (The meadow lives).  The train station and many other buildings are heated with geothermal, the buses run on compressed natural gas.  Bike share stations are everywhere.  A deep eco-sensibility is built into the infrastructure and routines of daily living.

And yet, it is also a world of the all too familiar as well.  Last year we were treated to “100 year” floods across the region.  This year they are back once again.  Throughout Europe, long-term economic dislocation has led to widespread dissatisfaction with existing institutions and political leaders that is fueling a populist backlash that is often nationalistic, anti-immigrant and hauntingly reminiscent of the post-depression 1930s. 

We are reminded that here in Europe, as well as at home and around the world  a sustainable future is only possible when people are not subject to conditions that deny them the ability to meet their own needs.  Ecological soundness and social opportunity cannot be separated from one another.  This, of course, is one of the core tenants of sustainability, one that we tried to feature at the most recent GreenTown Michiana 2.0, and on which we will continue to focus going forward.

With our 6th Annual Earth Day Celebration we recognized a new cohort of sustainability champions before a record attendance of more than 130.  We were particularly pleased with the regional flavor of the celebration as we continue to help knit Northwest Indiana and Southwest Michigan into one of the nation’s leading sustainable eco-regions.  I was particularly proud to announce the launching of our new Graduate Certificate in Strategic Sustainable Leadership, one of the first in the region.  We are now eagerly anticipating the launch of our new B.A. degree in sustainability studies, also a first.

In the Fall, we will welcome a new faculty member, Edwin Joseph.  An expert in geographic information science and sustainable urban agriculture, Edwin will bring to us some much needed cross-cultural expertise, in this case from his native Trinidad.  At the same time, Krista will be leaving to to help set up the City of South Bend’s new Office of Sustainability.  While she is gone, Jessica Mikels-Carassco will fill in as Acting Assistant Director.  Jessica has just graduated from Notre Dame with a Ph.D. in sociology, focusing on the environment and children.

As always I want to thank all our friends of the future for all of your support and encourage you to continue your work to create a sustainable future throughout Michiana one step at a time.  Plant those yardens.   Enjoy Michiana’s regional bounty. Thank your local farmers and producers.  Continue to educate, empower and engage your friends and families.     

February, 2014
By Krista Bailey, Assistant Director

After the holiday season is “over,” it seems like it is suddenly February and the task of treating someone to some thing is upon us again


Valentine’s Day cards were first given in England in the 18th century and tended to be handmade and decorated with ribbon and lace. Gifts were personal expressions of love between lovers. The tradition of giving such tokens of love did not catch on in the United States until the 1850s when Valentine cards were first mass produced by Esther A. Howland. I find this an interesting comparison: people in the U.S. did not start giving until a mass produced product was available. Today, in fact, Valentine cards make up 25% of annual greeting card sales, according to the Greeting Card Association.

So, I am feeling the pinch to have to express my love through some store bought item because that is how we do it here. I wonder, though, does it have to be this way?  Will my sweetie really get how I feel from a card that was likely purchased and sent to thousands of other sweeties from their lovers? I think it is time to change how we do things around here, but I realize that has to start with me and how I expect things to be done. What would thrill me, make my heart skip a beat, and be proof that I am loved? Is it a card and a dozen roses from the grocery store? No.

homemade imageTrue, heart-felt gestures, tokens, and experiences not only show that someone loves you and knows what thrills you, it shows that they are paying attention because you are important. I like to think I have expanded this approach to how I live my day to day life on this planet. I try to pay attention to what is important: clean air, water, and soil; healthy food and healthy bodies; rewarding and fulfilling work in and out of the home; time in the sunshine, time laughing, and time dancing and moving could all do a lot to give us all a good life and to preserve our environment.

With Valentine’s Day approaching, what does this mean for my loved ones and for the places and spaces I enjoy the most? It means I will mail out the homemade cards to the family who live far away. I will prepare oatmeal cut cookies in the shape of hearts, with a drizzle of dark chocolate, because oats and dark chocolate are not bad for you – at least in limited quantities. I will recognize the good work done by others and I will recognize the fragility of the natural world by reducing my impact and investing in ways to make it a better place (I like to think I will order seeds for the garden, if I can get my plans ready in time!). I will share love songs and time to dance with my friends and family so we can enjoy each other and create good memories.

How about you? What and who is important, and how will you recognize the difference love has made in your life?

We have been working at the Center for a Sustainable Future to share some ideas about how you can find new, meaningful ways to celebrate the loves in your life this year and have posted pictures and resources across our social media platforms. We hope you check them out and share how you celebrate.

Our world would not be the same without you…

Earth Love image

December, 2013
By Mike Keen, Director

The holiday season is upon us, and with it the cold winds of winter are approaching.  Gabrielle and I have our afghans, cozy sweaters, and hand-knitted socks ready to go.  Our programmable thermostat is automatically turning the temperature down to a crisp 58 degrees at night as we snuggle under our down comforter.  It wakes up a half an hour before we do and turns it back up to a toasty 67.  According to Energy Star, for every 1 degree we turn our thermostat down over night, we save 1% off of our monthly energy bills. 

Gabrielle and I spent the last mild weather weekend putting our yardens to bed, and preparing for next year.  We went out to the Blueberry Ranch with our neighbors, Samuel and Erika Valenzuela, and picked up several varieties of blueberry bushes.  Then we came back and planted them together at our homes.  Afterwards, Samuel and Erika invited us to a brunch with a final taste of the kale we had planted together last spring. 

At the Center, we are also finishing up, planning for the holidays, and preparing for the next semester that will soon be upon us.  I love the holiday season for it gives us a chance to thank all of our partners and supporters and celebrate what we have achieved working together over the last several years. 

A minor in sustainability studies is well established with more than 45 students enrolled and over a dozen graduated, most of whom will go on to help us all create a more sustainable future.  I think of our first graduate, Myles Robertson, star of “What’s Up Myles,” and who is just finishing up a stint at Pokagen State Park.  Also, Meridith Mikos, who has been working with our good friends at General Sheet Metal as they develop plans for a new green manufacturing facility; Joe Chandler, who has been leading the way towards creating and implementing more sustainable systems at Better World Books;  and Ben Futa and his continuing work with Fernwood.  And of course, our own Krista Bailey, who started as an independent study student, became an intern, continued on work study, and is now our Assistant Director.  

This coming semester we will launch a new Graduate Certificate in Strategic Sustainability Leadership, and next fall we hope to announce approval of our proposal for a new B.A. in Sustainability Studies, and with them many more success stories like those above. 

As I look back this year I am particularly thankful for the success of our Sustainability Fellows Program.  It is hard to believe we have worked with more than 20 fellows since we first established it.  We had no idea what an impact they would make on us, or in the community.  We are so proud and privileged to have worked with all of them.  They include Sara Stewart, one of our first fellows and founder of Unity Gardens; Willow Wetherall, who has Ignite(d) Michiana; Jan Pilarski, of Green Bridge Growers, who will soon be dedicating the skybridge herb garden; and Angel Hernandez, who enabled us to be “Talking Sustainability” on WNIT’s Experience Michiana.
(I will let you in on a little secret: we have already been out scouting and have already identified several exciting prospects for next year’s crop!) 

In the meantime, we encourage you all to celebrate a sustainable holiday season and give gifts of sustainability.  Don’t forget to check out our YouTube holiday classic from the CSF Choir, “The Twelve Sustainable Days of Christmas,” and tune in this year for a new holiday release.  Better yet, join us when we send out our casting call! 

As always, we heartfully thank all of you for helping to make all that we do possible, and encourage all of you to join our Friends of the Future.  

Keep an eye out for 2014, as we promise you a new year of exciting opportunities to learn and make a difference:  TEDxManhattan Changing the Way We Eat (March 1), GreenTown Revisited (April 4), Earth Day (April 22), and of course our annual E-Waste Collection Fest (May 9-10) to name just a few. 

Feliz sustainabilidad y un prospero nuevo ano!

Message from the Assistant Director
Summer, 2013

Early this summer, I traveled out of the country for a conference. Sound exotic? Excessive? Or, does it sound like unwelcome drudgery? I wasn't sure what to expect aside from being in the presence of many practitioners, business people, authors, and academics focused on sustainablity from across the globe. The event, Accelerate: Collaborating for Sustainability,organized by The Natural Step of Canada, was designed to bring together over 200 leaders, social innovators, and decision makers from large and small businesses, corporations, higher education institutions, government, non-profits, social enterprises, social venture capital firms and more in exploring how we can effectively collaborate to create a sustainable future. The opportunity to hear from world-class sustainability experts and industry leaders on topics such as “Why Collaboration Matters,” “Redefining Success,” and “Exploring Collective Impact and Shared Value” seemed espcially timely as locally we plan for GreenTown Michiana, which is designed to foster regional collaboration on shared issues and projects. Plus, conference materials promised I would have the opportunity "to network with sustainability professionals from a variety of sectors and industries, collaborate and share my expertise with others, and participate in collective action to accelerate the change toward sustainability." I figured I had better be on my best behavior, be ready to share the good work going on in Michiana, and be ready to learn and absorb and interact as much as possible. The conference did not disappoint! I was rejuvenated, enjoyed the time spent contemplating not only what I do but refilling my tank of knowledge, making new friends, connecting with professional resources, reflecting on my life and work, and feeling hopeful about the field I am in and the future of us all.
An especially memorable part was the conversations I was in during the Open Space portion of conference. We talked about Teaching Sustanabiilty, and I left with new ideas, tools, and sense of validation that what we are teaching and how we have structured our classes is providing top level skills and a high quality learning experience. Our goals for people in the Sustainability Studies program are for them to:
  • Identify and employ the literacies and concepts of sustainability associated with understanding the triple bottom line of environment, economy and society.
  • Employ a systems approach, which demonstrates holistic thinking, integration, and complexity.
  • Formulate and apply sustainable solutions in real-life settings, using practical application.
  • Recognize and be able to judge the applicability of existing sustainability tools and frameworks, such as LEED, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), Biomimicry, Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), The Natural Step, Energy Star, Cradle to Cradle.
  • Apply collaborative and leadership skills.
  • Practice transformative thinking to become an effective change agent.
  • Demonstrate an ethical sensibility and capacity for empathy.
  • Utilize interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary avenues for learning and application of knowledge of sustainability.

One tip from my peers, in addition to doing footprint activities, was to review Walmart's, a web-based sustainability planning tool which is designed for their employees but open to the public. I was skeptical, but took a look. It asks users to set goals in the categories of your health, your planet, and your life. Some goals seemed simple or obvious, like "walk or bike to work." Others impressed me and inspired me to focus on sustaining myself this summer. They include: learning new skills, managing money, make quality time, and help others. Perhaps these will appeal to you as well? Some sound hard, and will push me out of my comfort zone. Others are good reminders of what I should be doing to take care of meso I can continue to help others learn to care for themselves, their community, and Mother Nature.

Here are some examples:
Connect with One New Person Every Week: Get to know someone who works in a field you’d like to learn more about.
Read a Daily Blog/Newsletter Related to My Career Goals: A few minutes of reading each day can go a long way in building your professional knowledge base.
Take a Class: Spend an hour taking a class online or in your community.
Spend 30 Minutes Daily to Process the Day's Events: If you are in a committed relationship, think about using 15 minutes for you to share your day, and 15 minutes for your partner to share his/her day with you.
Practice a "Random Act of Kindness": Keep your eyes open for moments of kindness in each day.

Hopefully, this won't be a summer vacation style selection of activities, but a habit forming practice that will stick with me and help sustian me to educate, enage, and empower others to live and work sustainably.

Message from the Director

January, 2013

A few days ago, Krista and I were commiserating about how much email we are getting each day, and how much of each morning reading and responding to it takes.  I am sure you all can empathize.  However, as we eventually concluded, this is not all bad.  A couple of years ago our mornings were virtually free of such a deluge, but that was because not that many people knew we existed.  With the help of our faculty, advisory board, and many supporters, the Center has become one of the go-to organizations for all things sustainable in Michiana.

This observation is supported by the explosion of interest in our social media platforms:  our website, our blog, our FaceBook page, and our YouTube channel.  Last year, 9233 unique visitors clicked onto our website 16,764 times, spending an average of 4.5 minutes per visit.  That’s a total of 75,438 minutes, or 1250 hours.  Surprisingly, we discovered that our top downloads have been our White Papers.  Our most visited pages are the blogs that our students have been putting up based on their internships.  We now have 644 “likers” on our Facebook page.  Kudos to Krista for accomplishing this as she completes her first full year as Assistant Director.

Sitting here at this Director’s Desk as we begin yet another new year, it feels like the Center has reached a new level.  This is evident not only in the increasing traffic through our social media platforms, but also in our curriculum development and civic engagement.  We are pleased to announce that our new Graduate Certificate in Strategic Sustainability Leadership has been approved and we will launch it next spring.  Students will be able to take the Certificate alone, or as part of a Master of Liberal Studies Degree.  Our minor continues to grow and we have reached a pivotal point in the proposal for a new major, with good news to come in the near future, we hope.

In addition to our workshops, the virtual lecture series, and the Ewaste Fest, we are also pleased to be collaborating with A5 and Seven Generations of Chicago to bring GreenTown Michiana to South Bend in the fall.  GreenTown is a major 2-day conference that brings people together from across the region to learn about best practices from around the nation and throughout the region, and build networks through which to implement these practices in our own backyard.  So far, the University of Notre Dame, the City of South Bend, First Source Bank, Memorial Hospital, and Abonmarche have signed on as major underwriters and we expect to announce several more soon.  Perhaps most exciting, Michigan’s Great Southwest Sustainable Business Forum has agreed to collaborate with us in bringing GreenTown to Michiana, and as a result, the conference will serve as an opportunity to begin to create a vision for and knit together Northwest Indiana and Southwest Michigan into a sustainable community and economic development region.

Finally, Punxsutawey Phil did not see his shadow so supposedly spring is right around the corner.  While Phil has only been accurate around 36% of the time, I suspect this time he is likely to be right, given that last year was one of the warmest on record and the continuing compelling stream of evidence pouring out on climate change.  Here at the Center we won’t be sitting still long enough to see our shadows, and we suspect you aren’t either.

December 2012

As the year rushes to an end, we at the Center want to wish you and yours a joyous holiday and a happy new year. This is certainly one of my favorite times of the year with the many colorful festivities we variously celebrate as Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa and each in our own way reflect upon the reason for the season. Looking back over the last year we have much to be thankful for: another year of successful programing and unprecedented community support, a growing and enthusiastic group of highly talented students, increasing institutional support, and ever greater visibility and recognition.

As we turn our eyes toward the future, which we always do at this time of the year, we have great reason for hope, but also concern. Recent reports have just indicated that carbon dioxide levels have hit new highs this year, and will move even higher in the next. Global ice sheets are melting faster than any of our climate models have predicted. Superstorm Sandy gave us an all too real snapshot of what might become the new normal.

Yet, at the same time, solar power is reported to be the fastest growing source of energy in the world right now, and wind power in the U.S. has jumped from 18% of electricity generating capacity to 32% in just over a decade.

Perhaps the best news of all is the holiday season gives each of us a chance to join in and make a difference. On average, each person is expected to spend more than $500 in gifts this year, not to mention decorations and food and beverages. As we have noted in the past, every dollar we spend is a vote for the type of future we wish to see, so we encourage everyone to use this time as an opportunity to vote for a sustainable future.

In order to help us do this, Krista has been compiling ideas for sustainable gifts, decorating ideas, and recipes for our favorite holiday dishes, sweets, and family traditions. Look for them daily on our Facebook page. And while you are at it, share your favorite sustainable holiday suggestion with the CSF community on our page.

Finally, make sure to follow the “12 Sustainable Days of Christmas” as we count down to December 25 with a new sustainable gift idea each day. MAKE SURE to click in on the 25th when the CSF Choir will sing a full rendition for your entertainment. Better yet, come join us when we gather the choir to produce the video. Krista will let you know when we will be filming - no auditions necessary!

In the meantime, enjoy this holiday missive chocked full of ideas how you can celebrate the season and help give the gift of a sustainable future to the planet and all the precious species with whom we share it.

~Mike Keen, Ph.D., LEED-AP
Director, Center for a Sustainable Future

 Watch/listen to the Fall, 2012 message here or click the "play" icon below