How sustainable are we?

Sustainability has been a cornerstone of the Sierra Nevada College mission ever since its first days as an established institution. The original core themes of alternative energy and environmental science have given way to the much wider discipline of sustainability, but as the school grows and finds new ways to be economically viable it has become the responsibility of the students, faculty and administration to realize our sustainable potential as well.

According to Adjunct Professor Brennan Lagasse there is an incredible potential for SNC in the realm of sustainable education.

commencement“I think that this school has the ultimate opportunity to be the most, and I mean this, progressive institution with regards to its sustainability studies that there is, in terms of a small liberal arts private school, with 500 people, with cap that exists at 1,000, that is right on the shores of Lake Tahoe in one of the beautiful places in the world,” Lagasse said.

Lagasse recently returned from a class focused on holistic sustainability in the arctic, in which he and six SNC students experienced the lives of members of the Gwich’in tribe in Arctic Village, Alaska. According to Lagasse this class represents all of the positive possibilities for the future of sustainable education at SNC.

“What we did in Alaska, that’s it man,” Lagasse said. “I guarantee any liberal arts school, any progressive sustainability program, anybody that sees that and knows what’s up in the sustainability world would look at that and say ‘Wow that’s cool’.”

Although the course in Alaska was a success according to Lagasse and Senior Rachael Blum, a sustainability major who joined him in Arctic Village, a few of the key courses in the Humanities requirement within the sustainability major were cut this year due to low enrollment numbers.

“You can have some great classes, that don’t have sufficient numbers, that need to be cancelled from time to time,” President Lynn Gillette said. “That’s something that the provost and I work closely with Sue Johnson, the CFO, and at times tough decisions have to be made related to whether certain classes can go.”

According to Gillette whether certain classes are cut or not is closely related to coming in at budget, and the avoidance of substantially low student to faculty ratios.

“I’m highly supportive of sustainability, however we need to make sure that we get numbers up in those classes,” Gillette said.

The progression toward sustainability for SNC is largely student driven. According to Sustainability Professor Soraya Cardenas there is a need for student responsibility to make their views heard and maintain consistency with their efforts. Cardenas stated that, as a school we are not nearly as sustainable as we could possibly be, but there is a lot of student awareness that could contribute to positive change.

“We need to always stay constant, that is the key,” Cardenas said. “It’s like being part of a family and everyone has a chore to do. Not everybody likes their chore but if we don’t do it then it doesn’t get done. So if we want to run together everyone has to contribute.”

According to SGA Sustainability Chair Marina McCoy, SNC leans more heavily toward the economic perspective of sustainability.

“Is SNC sustainable right now? I don’t believe that we live up to our core theme of sustainability from an environmental perspective; maybe economically but definitely not environmentally,” McCoy said. “If we really were a sustainable college then I think that all of the students and faculty would have that ideal imbedded in their daily lives.”

There is more to sustainability at SNC than the environmental foundation of the pillar as well. The SNC mission itself speaks of social, economic and educational sustainability as well. Lagasse calls this pairing of disciplines ‘holistic sustainability’.

“It’s not sustainability through an environmental perspective; it’s sustainability through environmental, economic and political levels,” Lagasse said. “That’s holistic sustainability: looking at those multiple lenses and creating academic spaces that nurture the subject matter and support our students and support our institution ultimately. That is the way.”