Monthly Archives: August 2013

Sabbatical Year at Duke University

For the upcoming 2013-2014 school year, I am going to be on sabbatical at Duke University.  I am very thankful to Davidson for giving me this opportunity to focus on my research and writing, and to Rick Larrick at Duke for helping set me up with an office and as a visiting faculty member at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business.  I have started connecting with staff and faculty there who are interested in the intersection of corporate strategy, management, marketing, and sustainability issues, and learning about the wide variety of research and programs they are involved in.  I’ve also begun connecting with people at the Nicholas School of the Environment, The Sanford School of Public Policy, the School of Law, and various departments on campus, including political science, sociology, anthropology and psychology, and look forward to connecting with more.

While most of my focus of the year is to make major progress on my existing writing and research projects, I hope to also explore possible new collaborations with researchers both at Duke and elsewhere during my year on sabbatical.  If you are interested in meeting up while I am in the Research Triangle, please get in touch and we’ll find a time to get together.

Retreat to Bald Head Island

In mid-August, I headed down to the southeast coast of North Carolina to join a two-day retreat of Davidson’s Environmental Studies Department.  We decided to get off campus and meet up at the Bald Head Island Barrier Island Study Center, which is near Wilmington, NC and a beautiful place to have a retreat.  It was a great opportunity to hang out with my ENV colleagues more, and also get some work done on some pressing departmental business.

Our first class of majors is graduating this year, for example, and are beginning their set of capstone courses this fall.  So we spent a good amount of time talking through the plans for these courses and the students’ associated capstone projects.  As a new department and new major, there are a number of these types of issues that it was really helpful to have a chunk of time to focus on.  We also had a little bit of time to walk on the pristine beach and get a tour of the research facilities that the Bald Head Island Conservancy manages.  There are a lot of possible research possibilities for students there, both in the natural and social sciences, and we look forward to exploring them more in the future.

Photo credit: http://www.bhic.org/

Sustainable Consumption vs. Sustainable Citizenship: SCORAI Conference Presentation at Clark University

In June, I attended the Sustainable Consumption Research and Action Initiative (SCORAI)’s Conference at Clark University.  I had never been to Clark, which is located in Worchester, MA, but had heard good things about it from one of my Nature Conservancy colleagues from China who had gotten her masters degree there.  It is a little hard to get there, but has a beautiful campus that is easy to get around.  The plenary sessions of the conference were held in a particularly beautiful and airy space, Tilton Hall.

The conference itself had a great range of talks and panels relating to consumption and sustainability.  I presented a paper on “The Consumer/Citizen Relationship across Time and Space: Millennial Perspectives on Responsible Citizenship in Different Issue Domains,” which built on insights from my political science seminar on citizens, consumers, and the environment.  In the seminar, students are required to write a 20-25 page research paper on responsible citizenship applying concepts and theories discussed in the class to a particular issue area that they are interested in – water, energy, climate change, etc.  I thought it would be interesting to systematically examine the approaches they took and the citizenship-related ideas they used in their papers.  The analysis was an interesting window on how the concept of citizenship translates both across issue areas and generations.

Overall, the students used a wide range of concepts in their papers, but made particularly extensive use of ideas from our readings on communitarianism, consequentialism, the engaged citizen, and social capital.  One of the overarching conclusions of the paper and from the course is that responsible citizenship as an overarching frame of reference may be more appealing to younger generations than sustainable consumerism, which increasingly may be seen as a necessary but insufficient component of a citizen’s responsibilities.

Talk on the Politics of Sustainability for CTI

The Charlotte Teachers Initiative (CTI) is an initiative focused on strengthening teaching in the Charlotte area.  It hosts a wide range of seminars for teachers led by college professors in the region as well as special events on particular topics for both teachers and the public.  I was invited to speak at one of these events in October on “Exploding Canons: Sustainability in Charlotte and Beyond.”  It was preceded by a reception and information expo with tables from dozens of sustainability and education related organizations from the area, and moderated by Rob Phocus, energy and sustainability manager for the City of Charlotte.

I was one of several speakers from Davidson College, UNC Charlotte, Wake Forest University, and two Mecklenburg public schools, and started off the event with a presentation on the “Politics of Sustainability.”  I talked about the transition from “government to governance” in the context of environmental issues, and the idea of multi-scale polycentric governance that Eleanor Ostrom and others have described as the current reality of sustainability politics.  I used two case studies from my own professional experiences to explore the challenges of sustainability issues – one from my work in China with the Nature Conservancy and one from my work as a Co-Founder of GoodGuide.

The audience had some great follow-up questions and comments, and overall I thought the event went really well.  I particularly enjoyed meeting some of the teachers and faculty members who have participated in CTI, and learning about all of the organizations that are working on sustainability-related projects in the Charlotte region.

Faculty Series Presentation on “Policy and the Environment”

In September, I gave a presentation as part of Davidson College’s ongoing faculty series on “Policy and…”  Every month over the course of the semester, several faculty and staff members presented on different aspects of policy from the vantage point of their own research and professional work.  My topic was Policy and the Environment, and as the first speaker in the series, I first discussed what we mean by “policy,” tracing the words origins back to no less a source than Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

I then explored its use in the environmental context, and how environmental policy has evolved over the last several decades.  I concluded with a discussion of information-based governance and policy, such as the use of eco-labels and ratings to encourage pro-environment behavior, which has boomed in recent years and is the focus of my  research.

My presentation helped frame the next two presentations, which were focused more on local issues of environmental policy and the preservation of natural forests and habitat from destruction and development.  These faculty panels are great opportunities not only for students to learn more about what their professors are working on, but also for faculty to learn more about each other’s work.  I had some nice conversations with several of my colleagues after this and other similar events about various connections between our areas of interests and expertise.  This is one of the benefits of being at a liberal arts college – there is a real opportunity and possibility of engaging in substantive discussions and even collaborations with faculty from very diverse backgrounds who you would not likely ever even meet at a large university.

Environmental Politics and Presidential Elections

The day after the 2012 election, I had the pleasure of leading a class of Davidson Learns, a new lifelong learning initiative serving the Lake Norman area, on environmental issues in Presidential elections.  The talk was entitled “Does the Earth Matter, and in it I took the audience on a whirlwind tour of presidential debates, which was fun because unlike my Davidson undergraduate students, most in the audience remembered these events very clearly.  We watched clips from debates between Bush, Clinton, and Perot, Clinton and Dole, Bush and Gore, and Bush and Kerry, and Obama and McCain, and looked at word clouds from these debates of terms relating to the environment.  We also discussed data and analyses of public opinion related to the environment and presidential candidates.

My thesis was that while environmental issues have never been the most important issue in a presidential campaign, 1) they have influenced some voter preferences and 2) they have been key components of campaign strategy in all of the presidential elections.  This is primarily due to their latent importance to the American electorate.  We had a lively and interesting discussion of these ideas – it was great to connect and talk about American politics and the environment with members of the broader Davidson community, and look forward to doing it again in the future.