Sustainability – A Pithy Formulation

Posted in The Dean's Blogs on November 15th, 2011 by dhassenzahl – Be the first to comment

David Hassenzahl, Ph.D.

The faculty and staff at the School of Sustainability and the Environment have begun a conversation about how best to frame “sustainability.” The following formulation (and the one that I favor) now suffuses our various advertisements, websites, interviews, videos and other media, as well as the memories of the several hundred people who have attended SSE presentations:
Sustainability requires treating as co-equal in importance the social, economic, and environmental aspects of well-being; to understand and make decisions about sustainability requires a systems perspective, informed by appropriate knowledge.
When given a bit more time, I generally add next:
Sustainability is best understood as a process, not an outcome or end state
and then
Living sustainably means using resources here and now in a fashion that does not undermine the opportunity for people in other places and times to enjoy well-being at least as satisfactory as our own.
I understand and appreciate the objections to this pithy formulation, and would be upset to find that any of our students went away thinking that it is an adequate formulation. It does, however, have broad appeal, and the adjectives bring together diverse audiences, some of whom recoil at one or more of the nouns (“social justice” or “society,” “economics” or “economic development”, and “environment”)
Some may be comforted to hear that in the mid 1990’s I had given up on the term “sustainability” after a Chicago school economist said that “whatever we do is by definition sustainable.” I have since embraced the term as a useful organizing principle. So we have considerable momentum (inertia?) in our formulation now, but not immutability. That said, one thing that conservatives in the US have shown clearly is the power of a consistent, tersely stated position.
I do not think “ecology” captures (for me, but more importantly for most audiences) the same aspects of sustainability that “environment” can. For many people, ecology is the interactions of living beings with each other, in the absence of humans. Others include humans but not physical conditions. Few people think that human artifacts (buildings, cars, roads) are part of an ecosystem UNLESS they have been abandoned by humans and populated by other organisms. “Environment” can include this a broader set of aspects in a way that no other single word can. To capture what we really mean by that “environment” term, unfortunately, would require a bunch of additional adjectives, and we would lose the pithiness of “economic, social, and environmental…”
Finally, I dislike using adjectives before “sustainable.” That is, if we think of sustainability as including economic, social, and (biogeophysicoecological) aspects of well-being, then to say “ecological sustainability” or “economic sustainability” becomes nonsensical.

SSE Faculty Paper to be Presented in Brazil

Posted in News from SSE, Uncategorized on September 30th, 2011 by ffisher – Be the first to comment

Sustainable agriculture – more specifically Sustainability Indicators for Cattle Farms is a paper co-authored by Allen Matthews, our Director and Instructor of Sustainable Agriculture at Chatham University  and Juan Alvez of the Inst. of Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont is being presented at the first Pan-American Conference on Agroecological Pasture Management in Chapeco, Brazil.

The authors explore and propose the indicators and variables to be considered for sustainability analysis – particularly for farming practices that could reduce carbon footprint and increase sustainability of livestock.  Indicators include animal welfare, biodiversity, production and productivity, community, energy, economic aspects, nutrient management and more.

Matthews and Alvez say that in order to start a dialogue, the parties (universities, government agencies and farmers)  and other relevant parties to identify areas for improvement and begin the transition to sustainable farming practices, taking into account the interdependence directly or indirectly between variables.

Hectic and Exciting Times at SSE

Posted in News from SSE, Uncategorized on September 30th, 2011 by mfinewood – Be the first to comment

The semester is in full swing and although it has been hectic, some great things are happening. In the Food and Climate Change course we are exploring the reciprocal relationship between food production/consumption and a changing climate. I am learning a lot from the second year FST Masters students and I can tell that they are going to make us proud once they move on from our program. No less impressive, my Environmental Governance students just finished writing politicians about a range of important environmental issues, from Pittsburgh bike paths to Marcellus Shale drilling. I am excited to see what kinds of responses we get. I have also been busy writing. A few weeks ago I submitted a paper on my coastal development research to Local Environment and tomorrow Dr. Katherine Cruger (from Chatham’s Graduate Communications Program) and I will submit a paper about environmental justice discourses and Pennsylvania’s fracking debate. To top it all off, SSE faculty and staff have been working hard to get our curriculum finished. The Certificate Program starts in January!

Although I have had some great experiences thus far, this past weekend was one of my favorites. Last Friday I had the opportunity to join Dr. Sean McGreevey, Dani Pais, Patrick McKelvey, and sixteen Chatham undergraduates on a Wilderness Expedition, put on by Student Affairs. What a great experience! We traveled to Ohiopyle where we rafted the Yough and slid down the natural rockslides. It was a great chance to get to know some of the Chatham Women and talk about leadership and sustainability. I was really impressed with our group as well as the unbelievable beauty of Pennsylvania’s natural resources. It was a fantastic time and I am looking forward to developing the relationship between SSE and Student Affairs.

SSE’s David Hassenzahl (Dean) Talks About Sustainability

Posted in The Dean's Blogs on August 2nd, 2011 by ffisher – Be the first to comment

Here’s SSE’s Dean David Hassenzahl during a radio interview he had last week with JoAnn Quinn-Smith of Positively Pittsburgh


Getting settled in as a new faculty member of SSE

Posted in Uncategorized on July 15th, 2011 by mfinewood – Be the first to comment

Although I am only partially moved, I arrived in Pittsburgh (Pgh? Pitt? The ‘Burgh?) last weekend and I am settling in. Things have been exciting and hectic! It is great to meet some of the faculty and staff, and I am really looking forward to getting down to the business of planning for the coming year. In the meantime, I just submitted a paper to the Journal of Contemporary Water Research and Education on research I am conducting with Dr. Laura Stroup (St. Michael’s College) and Beth Kinne (Hobart and William Smith Colleges). We are interested in the impacts of hydraulic fracturing and how people aggregate information to make decisions about drilling on their land. It is clearly a controversial issue, especially here in Pennsylvania, and there is a lot to learn. I encourage anyone who is interested to contact me. As for the next couple of days, I am off to Virginia to move more of my stuff. Stay tuned…

School of Sustainability & the Environment Welcome New Faculty

Posted in Uncategorized on July 15th, 2011 by ffisher – Be the first to comment

Ready to expand with new academic programming, the School of Sustainability and the Environment (SSE) at Chatham University announced the names of its new faculty. Founded in 2009, the SSE is a transdisciplinary academic institution that provides sustainable answers to today’s regional, national and global social, economic, and environmental concerns.

The faculty will take the lead in developing SSE’s new Master of Sustainability and online Certificate in Sustainable Management, both of which launch in 2012. They will engage the University’s historic 39-acre Shadyside Campus and Chatham Eastside facility, as well as the recently acquired 388-acre Eden Hall Campus in Richland Township as its living and learning laboratories, according to David M. Hassenzahl, Ph.D., the School’s founding dean.

Michael H. Finewood, Ph.D. is assistant professor of sustainability; Molly G. Mehling, Ph.D. is assistant professor of ecology and sustainability; Crystal L. Fortwangler, Ph.D. is assistant professor of sustainability and anthropology; and Allen G. Matthews, MS will be director and instructor of sustainable agriculture. Funding for the new faculty hires was provided by an anonymous donor. The four join Alice Julier, Ph.D., program director of SSE’s Master of Arts in Food Studies program, which welcomes its second cohort in fall 2011.

“I am pleased to welcome candidates of such caliber at this exciting stage in the development of the School,” Dr. Hassenzahl said. “The combination of their individual research and experience will be important in our work to develop tomorrow’s local, national and global leaders in sustainability.”

“In addition, we received hundreds of applications from around the world for these positions, so the interest for Chatham’s sustainability initiatives is attracting attention.”

Michael Finewood, Ph.D. is assistant professor of sustainability and joins Chatham from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia where he was visiting instructor, Department of Political Science and Geography. Describing himself as a human geographer and political ecologist with an explicit focus on critical geographies and justice, Dr. Finewood has instructed courses in various areas including Environmental Geography, Economic Geography, and Map Use and Analysis. Recent presentations include Redeveloping Development: Considering Justice Through Discourses of Sustainable Development, Planning and Environmental Health Science, given at the 2010 Association of American Geographers annual meeting.

He holds a bachelor of arts in anthropology from North Carolina State University and a master of arts in cultural anthropology and Ph.D. in human geography from the University of South Carolina.

Crystal Fortwangler, Ph.D. is assistant professor of sustainability and environmental anthropology and was a Mellon post-doctoral scholar at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. as well as a visiting assistant professor at Oberlin College in Ohio. Dr. Fortwangler’s field research has included environmental protection and social justice; the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area in Belize; and a multi-year project in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands that explored protected areas, human-land-livestock relations in the islands, and the ecological and socio-cultural changes resulting from the introduction of the green iguana. She has written several articles regarding her research as well as other subjects, including book chapters on social justice and ecotourism.

She earned a bachelor of arts in political science from the University of Pittsburgh, a master of arts in international relations from the University of Chicago, and a master of arts in anthropology and a Ph.D. in anthropology and natural resources & environment from the University of Michigan.

Allen Matthews, MS is director and instructor of sustainable agriculture. Mr. Matthews returns to Pittsburgh after having served as enterprise coordinator/senior outreach research specialist for the Center for Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Vermont. A native of Washington, Pa., Mr. Matthews is a sixth-generation farmer operating Matthews Family Farm LLC, a 143-acre vegetable and greenhouse farm. He developed the first farmer-initiated research grant for the USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program and has organically certified several farms. Prior to his years at the University of Vermont, he served as the regional coordinator for the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture’s Community FARM Initiative, where he established the Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance, which now counts over 30 farm members.

Mr. Matthews earned a bachelor of science in liberal arts from Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind.; and a master of science in community and organizational development from the University of Louisville.

Molly Mehling, Ph.D. is assistant professor of ecology and sustainability and most recently a visiting faculty member at Miami University of Ohio. Dr. Mehling is a science and sustainability photojournalist who founded – a collaborative endeavor to fulfill the needs of the science-photography community. She is a freshwater ecologist whose research interests include sustainability science, global water resources, community ecology, and women’s and children’s environmental health. As a 2011 Research Ambassador Fellow, Dr. Mehling merged science and photography to teach preschoolers about aquatic biota. She also consulted with childcare providers to discuss methods for outreach and engagement for ecology and toxicology for care providers and parents of young children. She holds a bachelor of science in environmental biology from Mount Union College (now University of Mount Union) and a master of environmental science and completed her Ph.D. in zoology at Miami University in 2011.

Risk and Sustainability

Posted in The Dean's Blogs on July 13th, 2011 by dhassenzahl – Be the first to comment

This Friday I’ll be giving a talk at the 2011 Conference on Environmental Toxicity and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Neurodevelopmental disorders are not my area, so I will focus on lessons from analogous risk arenas that might help shape research, policy, and personal decisions in this case. Since my presentation is on risk analysis–the subject I have been working on for the past two decades–several people have asked “what does risk have to do with sustainability?” Or, less favorably, “isn’t sustainability a better approach than risk?” I have given this a lot of thought, and I think these comments reflect misconceptions about risk analysis, sustainability, or both. If done appropriately, risk analysis is a systems perspective (that is, it does not assume simple relationships but includes alternatives, tradeoffs, uncertainties, and higher order interactions) that requires a range of appropriate sources of information (including, for example, natural sciences, social sciences, preferences, and informal knowledge). Risk assessments can address economic, social, and environmental factors. If you look back across the last two sentences, you will see the fundamentals of sustainability: the coequal elements of social, economic, and environmental well-being, drawing on a transdisciplinary knowledge base to inform a broad systems perspective. My response to the challenge of “sustainability versus risk,” then, is that if we do both well, they are compliments.  If you come across a risk analysis that does NOT accommodate sustainability, look to its assumptions, and see where it went wrong.


David Hassenzahl, Ph.D., Dean of the School of Sustainability and the Environment, Chatham University

Eden Hall Campus – A Splendid Vision

Posted in Eden Hall Campus, May 2011, Uncategorized on May 12th, 2011 by ffisher – Be the first to comment

Chatham University received the 388-acre Eden Hall in Richland Township, Pennsylvania from Eden Hall Foundation on May 1, 2008. The gift established the largest university campus in Allegheny County and will enable Chatham to expand its academic and environmental programs for the University’s nearly 2,200 students and for the North Hills community at large. The Eden Hall Campus will also be the new home of Chatham’s new School of Sustainability and the Environment. Programs at Eden Hall Campus include an environmental learning lab, initiatives in sustainability and environmental studies, food studies, landscape architecture, and women’s studies.

Past History

Originally a farm and retreat for the working women of Pittsburgh, Eden Hall was the vision of Sebastian Mueller (1860-1938) who immigrated to Pittsburgh from his native Germany in 1884 to work for his cousin Henry J. Heinz in his fledgling food processing operation. Mr. Mueller spent more than five decades working for what was then called “The House of Heinz”. He headed the company’s manufacturing operations, served on its board of directors and ran the organization during Mr. Heinz’ absence. Sebastian Mueller won the respect and gratitude of not only the company’s founder but also its legion of working women.

Mr. Mueller was generous in providing Heinz’ female employees with medical care and financial assistance – long before the existence of corporate health care plans or government programs. His estate became the retreat for generations of Pittsburgh’s working women and served as a memorial to the Mueller’s two daughters, Elsa and Alma, both of whom died in childhood. Having no heirs, Mr. Mueller willed Eden Hall to serve as a vacation and respite destination for the working and retired women of the H.J. Heinz Company, as well as for the working women of western Pennsylvania.

Welcome to the School of Sustainability & the Environment at ChathamU.

Posted in Uncategorized on April 26th, 2011 by ffisher – Be the first to comment

Welcome to Chatham University’s School of Sustainability and the Environment! The School was founded in 2009 as a transdisciplinary academic institution that recognizes the three foundations of sustainability—economic development, social wellbeing, and a robust environment. We approach sustainability from a systems perspective, and seek appropriate sources of knowledge to answer complex, and often very uncertain questions.

Our current activities are focused in several areas.

First, we now offer one degree program—a Master of Arts in Food Studies. – under the able direction of Dr. Alice Julier. This program has attracted a truly outstanding first cohort of students, and we are now accepting members for our second group, to begin in Fall 2011.

Second, we house the Rachel Carson Institute, a longstanding Chatham University outreach program, which has been moved into the School with a new Director, Dr. Patricia (Patty) DeMarco. Dr. DeMarco has spent her career pursuing a goal of managing our life-support systems (clean air, pure water, fertile soil, and biodiversity) through collaborative decision making and sound science. She exemplifies the ideals developed by Chatham Alumna Rachel Carson, whose ability to communicate science clearly on important sustainability challenges transformed the way we think about the environment Third, we are hiring a new faculty that will develop a thriving, collaborative research agenda for the School, as well as our next round of degree program, a Master of Sustainability. These new faculty are being recruited for their ability to collaborate across disciplines, work with students, other faculty, and work with a broad collection of constituents. Keep watching this site as we introduce these new faculty members over the coming months!

Fourth, we are a major participant in the development of Chatham’s new Eden Hall Campus, which will eventually be our home. Development of Eden Hall reflects our academic mission—it will be a living laboratory at which faculty and students will research and learn from their natural and built environment, and model sustainable practices.

As we undertake these activities, we are mindful that what we do and learn at the School and the Eden Hall Campus should represent a better lifestyle— a lifestyle rooted in our three core goals of advancing economic development, social wellbeing, and a robust environment – in a fashion that people will want to adopt. To this end, Eden Hall should not be an isolated place. Rather, what we learn should be shared broadly, and communicated clearly, with a substantial virtual presence.

If you are as excited about this project as we are, please follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and at this blog. Oh – and here’s our website.