To many at Portland State, sustainability means using a PSU Recycles! mug, monitoring water use or switching to low-energy light bulbs. However, sustainability means more than being energy-conscious or reducing your carbon footprint–it also means helping others. Sustainable community outreach, or social sustainability, is a component of the subject that has only been given serious consideration within the last few years. Due to its widely varying nature, a concise definition can be hard to nail down, even for those who practice it.
To many at Portland State, sustainability means using a PSU Recycles! mug, monitoring water use or switching to low-energy light bulbs. However, sustainability means more than being energy-conscious or reducing your carbon footprint–it also means helping others.
Sustainable community outreach, or social sustainability, is a component of the subject that has only been given serious consideration within the last few years. Due to its widely varying nature, a concise definition can be hard to nail down, even for those who practice it.
“We have a working definition with two components,” said Mary King, a professor and the department chair in the PSU’s economics department. “Part of it is social health, and attaining a high level of social health.”
According to King, social sustainability is not merely the processes of attaining social health and well-being, but also the social groups and processes that enable environmental and economic sustainability–the other two legs of the sustainability trifecta–for the present as well as future generations.
“Those things won’t happen unless people are organized and focusing on the social side of things,” King said.
PSU professors Veronica Dujon and Jesse Dillard teamed up with King to co-edit Understanding the Social Dimension of Sustainability, an anthology of essays on social sustainability, several of which were written by PSU graduate students and professors.
Dujon, an associate professor of sociology at Portland State, said it was not until her arrival at the university that her research agenda in the field of social sustainability was able to really take shape.
“Not many places do work on social sustainability,” Dujon said. “But I did find other colleagues here, and I was very fortunate.”
King said that pinning down solutions for social sustainability is a multi-disciplinary effort, and a read-through of the anthology’s table of contents illustrates clearly the broad range of viewpoints converging upon the subject.
“There are chapters in it from people in business, public health, sociology, economics, a couple of graduate students working in public administration have written chapters,” King said. “There are a whole range of perspectives.”
Chapter subjects in the anthology focus on topics as close to home as local Portland businesses exploring sustainable practices to as far away as Bolivia, where child manual labor still occurs.
The multi-faceted aspect of social sustainability allows students from a wide variety of fields the chance to actively engage themselves with the community outside of the classroom.
Professor Rosalyn McKeown, program leader for the Portland International Initiative for Leadership in Ecology, Culture, and Learning (LECL), said the program seeks to find the overlap between sustainability and education.
“Students, depending on their career goals or interest in exploration while at PSU, choose activities to be involved in,” McKeown said, referring to the different ways students can involve themselves in sustainable practices on campus.
For example, McKeown said several students put in volunteer hours with the Northwest Earth Institute, a Portland-based organization that holds discussion workshops promoting sustainability.
Elsewhere at PSU, some students work to engage the community in other ways, such as at the Learning Gardens Laboratory, a garden education program run by both graduate and undergraduate students, as well as faculty and members of the Portland community, that engages students in hands-on agricultural education with a focus on sustainability.
King and Dujon both agreed that PSU and Portland are at the forefront of social sustainability, but as a whole, there is still a lot of research and work to be done.
“In the sustainability movement,” King said, “scholars working in that area have made much more progress in environmental and economic sustainability.”
As PSU’s focus on sustainability as a whole gains more momentum, and more students from many fields of study converge upon the topic of social sustainability, Portland State’s favorite buzz-word may find itself in yet another spotlight on the national level.
“People care, people are thinking about it here,” King said. “We’re at the forefront of the nation.”
Get InvolvedFurther resources to get involved with social sustainability.
Food for Thought CafeThe student-run restaurant in the basement of SMSU lists among its goals increasing student involvement in sustainable food issues and enhancing the sustainability performance of all PSU food services. Contact: [email protected] site: www.fftcafe.pdx.edu/about/news/
Students for UnityStudents for Unity seeks to engage students in working toward, “racial, social, environmental and economic justice” at PSU and beyond. The group seeks to educate students on issues of social sustainability, such as globalization, militarization and basic human rights.Contact: 503-725-8777; [email protected] site: www.myspace.com/pdxunity
Community Environmental Services (CES)CES employs and engages students in the surrounding communities to develop leadership and job skills with a focus on sustainability. Currently CES is involved in partnership projects with the city of Portland, the Port of Portland and the city of Troutdale.Contact: 503-725-8448Web site: www.pdx.edu/ces
Leadership in Ecology, Culture and LearningMore information about the LECL program, including course descriptions, class schedules and faculty bios, can be found at www.pdx.edu/elp/lecl.html.