Campus Community

Just Sustainability

Written by Mike Thee

July 14, 2014

a bird perched atop a tree with fall leaves

A key milestone is marked in the life of the Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability as it hosts its inaugural conference.

A key milestone will be marked in the life of the Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability when it hosts its inaugural conference, "Just Sustainability: Hope for the Commons," Aug. 7-9. 

More than 140 attendees, hailing from parts as distant as Nicaragua, the Philippines and South Africa, are already registered. And while the conference is intended to appeal to a wide range of people, organizers have been particularly keen on reaching out to staff and administrators from other Jesuit institutions. As of now, representatives from a dozen Jesuit schools are expected at the conference (University of San Francisco; Scranton; Loyola University Chicago; Xavier University; Santa Clara; Gonzaga; Regis; Creighton; Saint Louis University; Fairfield; North Bengal St. Xavier's College, India; and the University of Central America, Managua). 

Loyola University Chicago is co-sponsoring the event. (SU and LUC are two of just a five Jesuit institutions that currently house a central academic unit dedicated to sustainability issues.)  Other sponsors include Puget Sound Energy, U.S. EPA Region 10 and Yes! magazine. 

The conference will explore sustainability from a multitude of angles-from best practices in facilities and operations to theological and social justice perspectives. Saturday's plenary session, for instance, will focus on how Native Americans are being negatively impacted and forced to relocate because of climate change. There will also be a session on how proposed coal trains will affect communities in the Northwest. 

"Bringing these types of environmental justice issues to the fore is really important for us to do," says Phil Thompson, director of the Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability. Just as important, he adds, is to explore "what we can do to move forward in a positive way." 

Speakers include such heavyweights as Denis Hayes, the founder of Earth Day, as well as noted author and leading environmentalist Bill McKibben, who will join via live video feed, and Vandana Shiva, a leading voice for environmental justice in the developing world, who has recorded a special video message for the conference. 

A number of SU faculty will take part in the conference. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, associate professor of theology and religious studies, will moderate the Saturday morning plenary session. Jessica Ludescher, associate professor of management, April Atwood, adjunct faculty in marketing, and Wes Howard-Brook, instructor in theology and religious studies, will give presentations. The best conference papers will be considered for publication in a special issue of the journal Interdisciplinary Environmental Review

"Another thing about this conference that stands out is that we're trying to bring hope to people and connect them emotionally to environmental issues through the arts, particularly film" says Thompson. A number of local filmmakers will be showing their pieces during a session on Saturday afternoon. 

SU's leadership in bringing a Jesuit perspective to sustainability comes at an opportune time, with Pope Francis having recently identified environmental destruction as a sin. Thompson actually made efforts to invite Pope Francis to the conference, and while the pontiff's attendance is unlikely, his forthcoming encyclical dealing with the environment is eagerly anticipated by Thompson and others. 

Thompson hopes the conference becomes an annual or biennial event. "We want to keep the conversation going and, more than anything, support the research and scholarship efforts that faculty at Jesuit institutions are doing on environmental justice and sustainability."