Sustainability: Practice, shared knowledge & conversation

by Dr. Pamela Kaval

When I was just eight years old, I remember my brother catching a fish in the Passaic River of New Jersey with three eyes and another with two tails. Even though I was only a child, I knew that meant that something was wrong with the river. It wasn’t until I was older that I learned that chemical companies (during the industrial revolution) had pipes going from their factories to the river, and that they used those pipes to dump toxic chemicals directly into the river. It was no wonder that I never heard any frogs growing up and that the fish had nearly all disappeared.

As a result of my experiences, I became an ecological economist. I focus my work on sustainability, biodiversity and ecosystem services. At Marylhurst, I am an adjunct and teach courses in sustainability and natural resource economics.

Due to my interest in sustainability and the environment (and that I have been with Marylhurst for three years and had never been to the Marylhurst campus before), I applied for a grant from the Marylhurst Innovation Fund to conduct a sustainability workshop on campus. I am happy to say that I received the grant and was able to hold my workshop; it took place in August.

The goal of my workshop was to provide a place for sustainability instructors and practitioners to discuss their knowledge and experience. More generally, I could discuss my sustainability-related projects in other areas of the world and find out what is being done in Oregon. In line with the vision of sustainability, there was a diverse group of participants. Attendants included in-house faculty, adjunct faculty and non-Marylhurst sustainability educators and practitioners.

Sustainability in Teaching

I began the sustainability workshop with a presentation about sustainability in teaching and practice in New Zealand and the United States. I recommended that the basics of sustainability be included in sustainability courses, especially undergraduate courses. This includes stressing to students the importance of a transdisciplinary view, in terms of involving all stakeholders, including people from a variety of disciplines, in sustainability projects. I also recommended including projects about the student’s local area in sustainability coursework, as these projects appear to have the largest impact on students.

New Zealand

I then discussed an important New Zealand North Island sustainability project: the Maungatautari Ecological Island (recently renamed Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari) project (

When I first became involved in the project, Maungatautari Ecological Island was only a vision. This vision was to create a 3,400 hectare forested area with the purpose of removing introduced mammalian pests and predators and restoring a healthy diversity of indigenous plants and animals to the forest. My involvement resulted in the regional government contributing approximately $3 million to the project. Consequently, the Maungatautari project of today is considered a success. It is now the largest ecological ‘island’ on the mainland of the North Island in New Zealand. It is a haven for native wildlife and plants including kiwi, weta, kaka and kakapo. It also provides walking tracks and educational facilities.

Portland, Oregon

My presentation was followed by a very insightful roundtable discussion, where all participants actively contributed. During the conversation, I learned a lot about what is going on in sustainability in Oregon. Discussions focused on sustainability in stormwater management, marketing, design and community gardens.

In terms of sustainable stormwater management, the city of Portland is using green streets, trees, eco-roofs and other green infrastructure to reduce the amount of pollutants entering the rivers and streams and reduce the incidence of erosion and flooding. One of Portland’s sustainable stormwater management goals is to establish approximately 900 green streets. One of these green streets is located on Clay Street from Southeast 12th Avenue to the Willamette River. The aim of this particular green street is to improve stormwater management and, at the same time, improve human health, via pedestrian and bicycle access, and watershed health.

Marketing was discussed as an important aspect of sustainability because, without marketing, people will not be aware of sustainability and/or sustainability projects. Design is also an important concept in sustainability, as it enables the designer to take into account the impact and the life cycle of an entire project. This can involve considering products in designs that are energy efficient, non-toxic, sustainably-produced and designed for reuse and recycling.

Another discussion topic was community gardens. Community gardens and sustainability go hand-in-hand. Community gardens can empower people by teaching them to grow food. This, in turn, inspires them to form communities that are knowledgeable and more dedicated to environmental sustainability, which, consequently, can increase the health of the community. There are approximately 50 community gardens in the Portland area.

The sustainability workshop was a platform for an exchange of sustainability knowledge. The diversity of the participants helped make this workshop a wealthy exchange of knowledge.

Dr. Pamela Kaval teaches for the The Department of Science & Mathematics at Marylhurst University. She would like to thank all of the participants at the Sustainability Workshop. She would also like to thank the Marylhurst Faculty Innovation and Excellence Fund Grant, as well as the Marylhurst School of Business, for partially funding the workshop.


Photo: RLHyde via Flickr, Creative Commons license