Promoting Sustainability Through Teaching
Gonzaga works tirelessly to infuse the foundation of the university with the principles of sustainability. Part of that mission is employing professors that weave sustainability into their curriculum, professors like Dr. Brooke Swanson.
What is your position and department at Gonzaga?
I am a Professor of Biology.
What does sustainability mean to you?
I think of sustainability in a couple of different ways. There is the utilitarian idea that sustainability is the use of resources at a rate that they can be replenished. Therefore, the resource use is sustainable because you should never run out. On the other hand, I think of sustainability as the idea of minimizing our impacts on our environment. That way we can sustain our relationships with the natural world without excessive negative consequences.
How have you been involved in promoting sustainability on campus?
My biggest involvement in sustainability is in my teaching. I try to weave ideas related to sustainability throughout my courses. This can come in the form of teaching about ecological interactions between organisms and how we as humans are dependent on the natural world. There is also a rich body of research about how human activities affect the world around us. Our students will be the ones making the decisions about whether we have a sustainable future, so I think education is really the key.
What are some things you do in your personal life to live sustainably?
I think that it is important to be thoughtful about your choices. I choose to do things like ride my bike, eat less meat, recycle, and reuse things because those actions reduce my resource use and environmental impact. However, although I think that individual choices are important, we recognize that small gestures are far from enough to have a sustainable future. I recognize that my lifestyle is probably not sustainable. Therefore, I teach about these and I vote to try to have policy makers that will change policy to be more sustainable. A few of us making voluntary choices to be more sustainable won’t have a positive impact as long as the policies and systems are in place to reward unsustainable actions by others.
How could Gonzaga continue to improve its sustainability efforts?
I think that Gonzaga has an opportunity to really engage with sustainability from a couple of different but related points of view. First, sustainability is required for social justice. Resource scarcity and the negative impacts of resource over use (like climate change) disproportionately affect the poor and vulnerable. Therefore, sustainable actions and the promotion of sustainable policies are directly in line with our mission. Second, Gonzaga is on the traditional lands of the Spokane people. Native thinkers talk about humans being part of the natural world, not separate from it. This means that we are dependent on the functions of the natural world for our survival and that our actions have consequences. I think that these ideas should show up in more classes and in university policies.
How will you continue to promote sustainability at Gonzaga?
I will continue to teach and advocate for sustainable actions. I think that our administrators agree that we should be making sustainable choices. We, as members of the community, need to keep pushing and educating so that those choices keep getting better.