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/
In June, I attended the Annual Meeting of the Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences (AESS) at Santa Clara University, which is right outside San Jose, CA. I presented a paper on “Environmental Evaluations of Companies and Products: The Role of Academia,” which built on data from an online survey of over 400 individuals I conducted as part of my dissertation research. Among those surveyed, academic institutions were the most preferred source of information about the product and corporate environmental performance — more preferred than government, non-profit, media, and company sources. And yet my coding of over 245 eco-label and rating initiatives indicate academic institutions are the least likely to be directly involved in the implementation and design of these programs. I analyzed several examples of initiatives that are run by or closely associated with academic institutions, as a means to demonstrate the range of ways academics can be involved in these efforts.
We then discussed why academic researchers have had such limited involvement, whether they should be more involved (without losing their credibility and independence), and ways that might facilitate academics to becoming more engaged with these programs in the future. While there are important pitfalls to avoid in doings, the strong preferences survey participants have for academic involvement suggest that they can very much improve the perceived quality and credibility of existing eco-labels and ratings.
The conference overall was fantastic, and I learned a lot from the diverse sessions that I attended. Strongly recommended conference for people who research environmental issues, and especially those who teach in interdisciplinary environmental studies and sciences programs.