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Communicating Sustainability

In recent years, a variety of disciplines in the sciences have made achieving sustainability one of their foundational values. Scholars within these disciplines have devoted their expertise to developing programs and campaigns for achieving a more sustainable world. But these campaigns need broad public support to succeed, and academic scholarship isn’t always written with a public audience in mind. How can scholars present their ideas so as to make them widely accessible and thus, more successful? This tool will introduce you to important concepts in science communication, and guide you through an analysis of real-world examples of sustainability-related science communication. It also includes wrap-up questions, additional resources, and suggestions for collaborative learning opportunities.

Living Infrastructure: The Atlanta BeltLine

This tool uses stakeholder mapping to explore the various entities that influence and benefit from infrastructure projects. Through a short presentation and reading, students will learn about one specific infrastructure project: the Atlanta BeltLine. The BeltLine, originally conceived as a network of light rail lines connecting the city of Atlanta, is a massive project in both vision and implementation. Since its inception, the vision for the BeltLine has expanded to include objectives for parks, multi-use trails, affordable housing, historic preservation, and economic development. Different groups have influenced these priorities over time.

SLS Case Study: Proctor Creek

Proctor Creek runs through northwest Atlanta, extending from I-20 in southwest Atlanta to the Chattahoochee River. An important piece of Atlanta’s natural environment, it also has a long history of neglect and pollution, which has negatively affected its surrounding communities. In this case study, read about this history, as well as new and ongoing development projects in West Atlanta that demand close attention to the Proctor Creek Watershed. Additionally, concepts like Environmental Justice and Citizen Science will provide a lens for thinking about issues related to the creek and how to protect its surrounding communities. 

SLS Case Study: The 1995 Chicago Heat Wave

Are heat waves simply natural disasters over which we have no control? With heat waves set to increase over the coming decades, how can we fight this invisible killer? In this case study, head back to 1995 Chicago, when one of the deadliest heat waves in US history struck the city, killing hundreds. Learn about the demographics that were particularly vulnerable to the heat wave, and how those vulnerabilities made this heat wave (and others like it) not just a natural disaster, but a social one. After reading this case study and an interview transcript with one of the experts on the 1995 Chicago heat wave, turn to the Discussion Questions to think about how social networks and the built environment can protect us during heat waves now and in the future.

London Olympic Park Stadium

Multi-Criteria Decision Matrix Exercise

In preparation for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) faced an unprecedented design challenge: create an 80,000 capacity stadium with the flexibility to be converted to a 25,000 capacity venue after the Games, and do this while achieving the ODA’s sustainability objectives. In the case study below, you’ll discover how they achieved the brief through innovative design and engineering. Furthermore, you’ll use this tool to learn more about how you, too, can make difficult design choices without compromising sustainability. To that end, this tool introduces you to the Multi-Criteria Decision Matrix, or, Values-based Decision Making.

Environmental Justice 101

Environmental Justice (EJ) is concerned with making sure that (a) no community takes on an unfair share of environmental burdens and (b) environmental benefits are shared in an equitable way regardless of race, class, gender, or orientation. The Environmental Justice Movement challenges environmental injustices, with a special focus on racial and class disparities, in the U.S. and around the globe. The purpose of this tool is to help students begin to understand:

  1. What EJ is – and what environmental injustices are; 
  2. How the EJ movement works to address EJ issues (especially in the U.S. South, where the movement was born) with close attention to injustices related to race and class;
  3. The different types of roles that scientists and engineers in particular can play in this work.

This tool was contributed by Jennifer Hirsch. We also want to thank Fatemeh Shafiei from Spelman College for contributing to this tool.

SLS Case Study: Maker Culture and Sustainable Transportation (GT Mechanical Engineering)

While recycling is a time-honored tradition of the environmentally-conscious, an equally powerful way to build sustainable communities is by learning to reuse and repair damaged materials. Maker culture, a version of DIY culture that delights in creation and repair, offers a model for sustainability. In this case study, follow the adventures of GT student Buzz as he sets out to repair his bike using two Georgia Tech Maker Spaces: The Starter Bikes bike repair cooperative, and the Invention Studio. By learning how to restore his bike, Buzz empowers himself to live a sustainable life in another important way: as a bike commuter. Read on to consider the intersections of maker culture and sustainable transportation.

This tool was contributed by Arkadeep Kumar, Bob Myers, and Bethany Jacobs.

The Smart, Sustainable Neighborhood: A Case Study (GT Business)

In this case study, gas and electric utility holding company Southern Company has embarked on an ambitious experiment to learn more about energy usage at a household level, as well as community-scale microgrids. Every minute, sixty-two homes in Reynolds Landing upload appliance level data to Southern Company. How can Southern Company use this vast amount of data to promote energy efficiency? Are microgrids a key to creating a more sustainable and resilient energy future? How can microgrids impact or change traditional power generation business models like those used by Southern Company? Read on to learn more and consider what kinds of experiments you would run if this was your project.

This tool was developed by Bob Myers. 

SLS Case Study: The Flint Water Crisis

The Flint Water Crisis is one of the most significant instances of environmental injustice in the 21st century.  In this case study, read about the impact of the crisis on the natural world, as well as the residents of Flint, Michigan, and learn about how we can use technology to create a safe, sustainable water system. Serve-Learn-Sustain interprets sustainable communities as integrated systems, wherein nature, technology and society all inform each other. As you read this case study, consider these terms as discrete factors, but also as connected.

This tool was contributed by Bethany Jacobs. 

ReGenesis Case Study: Creating a Sustainable Community through Collaborative Problem-Solving

This tool uses the ReGenesis case study from Spartanburg, South Carolina, to explore what it means to “create sustainable communities” through broad stakeholder engagement. Spartanburg was found to be experiencing higher levels of health issues due to chemical plants and other polluting factors in the area. ReGenesis, a community-based organization led by community member Harold Mitchell – now a member of the South Carolina legislature – worked with the EPA to use their Collaborative Problem Solving methodology to expose the inequity and turn the community around.

This tool was contributed by Kari Watkins and Delaney Rickles. The affiliated case study, "ReGenesis—A Practical Application of the CPS Model," was written by the EPA. 

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