When Dave Gosselin met with five other University of Nebraska-Lincoln colleagues a little more than a year ago to discuss creating a sustainability-related minor, one thing was clear: It had been a long time coming.
“There was a quote in one of the minutes of the meeting that basically said, ‘It’s been a long-awaited action,’” Gosselin, the director of Environmental Studies at UNL, said. “For quite some time, the word ‘sustainable’ or ‘sustainability’ wasn’t being used much here at UNL.”
In recent years, UNL has become more conscious of sustainability with the addition of programs such as Sustain UNL, the Office of Sustainability and the Environmental Sustainability Committee within the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska.
Gosselin said creating the minor, called the society and the environment, was the next logical step for the university.
Classes within the minor, which started this semester, are offered within several different colleges to make it accessible to as many students as possible, according to Christine Haney, adviser and program coordinator for environmental studies.
“Generally speaking, the concept is to open the doors to students who think, ‘Gosh, I have a real passion for sustainability, but this isn’t my major, and I don’t want to pursue that as a major, but I think that it would fit well with my major ideas,’” Haney said. “This is a chance for them to kind of add that step to whatever their major is.”
Gosselin said a minor in society and the environment can be applied to most, if not all, career paths.
“Almost any company that you go into anymore, they’ve got environmental things they have to do,” Gosselin said.
“Whether that’s environmental health and safety or whether they’re just trying to reduce their carbon footprint by not using as much fuel, everybody’s doing it.”
Haney said the minor can be applied in fields such as art, human behavior and life science, landscaping and agriculture and even economics and business.
“I think the real question is, which areas don’t include sustainability?” Haney said. “Everything has to do with sustainability today, and it’s just going to continue to expand and continue to become more and more important in every aspect of our lives.”
Gosselin said sustainability is defined as preserving things “now and into the future in terms of resources and the environment upon which we depend.” He said in business, sustainability is typically thought of as a stool with three legs: equity, the environment and economics.
“When you start looking at how you’re going to deal with issues from a sustainability context, you need to be looking at it from all three of those perspectives and how you balance it out – not just being driven solely by an environmental thing,” Gosselin said. “It needs to consider the ramifications it may have for a particular culture, particular population and that you’re doing it in a way that’s economically feasible.”
Gosselin and Haney said environmental sustainability has become more of a global focal point in the past ten years.
Haney said UNL has been very proactive in following that trend.
“I think the importance [of sustainability at UNL] has been growing for a really long time,” Haney said. “But I think we’re just kind of at a precipice where we can make [the minor] happen because of how much is going on globally, with the Big Ten and even at the government level. The U.N. is putting a bigger importance on sustainable action and development. Every agency that we work with within the U.S. is putting a greater importance on sustainability.”