Chicago Family Business Council: Tell us a little bit about your organization?
Jim Montgomery & Scott Kelley: We are the co-chairs of the SITF (Sustainability Initiatives Task Force). We started in 2009 as an ad hoc group of faculty and staff. We brought this group together to figure out what was happening at DePaul with regard to sustainability. DePaul had just received a poor ranking from the Sierra Club Cool Schools survey, and we felt this was inaccurate and unfair. At our first meeting, we had a turnout of about 40 faculty and staff members. We quickly realized that as an ad hoc group we could only do so much, and go so far. We decided we wanted to be a University Committee so that we could do more.
Father Holtschneider agreed to give us a charge for 2 years. The charge was limited in scope, tasking us to audit our current sustainability activity and make new recommendations. We borrowed the acronym CORE (Curriculum Operations Research and Engagement) from the campus sustainability efforts done at the University of New Hampshire. The sustainability audit instruments at this time focused primarily on operations and did not measure curriculum or community involvement.
Around 2009/2010, we joined a group called AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education). This is a national association of colleges and universities that took the sustainability challenge to heart, and wanted to figure out how to improve sustainability practices in the higher education community. It was created by the universities themselves, and not an outside entity. They came up with their own audit system, STARS (Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System). Keeping the framework of CORE, we put together different working groups and asked people to complete the STARS audit as well as make recommendations. After a year, we came out of the audit with a silver rating. This affirmed that we have been doing sustainability for a long time at DePaul, but we just weren’t experts at telling our story. The results also proved that sustainability at DePaul looks different than it does at other universities, and the comparison does not always help.
We began to see the different focal points in our sustainability efforts, which were captured in the University’s first ever Institutional Sustainability Plan (ISP). We were fortunate enough to be selected as a Vision 2018 expert team. Vision 2018 contains some elements of the ISP.
When the reporting and recommending task of SITF had been completed, we asked for a 1 year extension, which we are currently in the middle of, to create the DSN (DePaul Sustainability Network). Because so much of this was broad based, and from the ground up, we wanted to maintain a network of interested people as an opportunity for people to continue to collaborate on multiple fronts of sustainability. We are currently figuring out how this can live on institutionally. It is definitely an ongoing process. What we have seen from other universities, there can be a top down approach where they start with a center, office, or officer, but those can be limited to one aspect of university life.
Our scope is more broad based, again centered around the acronym CORE. The DePaul Urban Garden is a great example of how a sustainability network can succeed. The university had space on the corner of Belden and Bissel avenues s in Lincoln Park. Three homes on this site were razed, and rather than letting it sit empty and unused, a a combination of students, faculty, and staff lobbied to use the space for an urban garden. A student organization, the Urban Farming Organization, was formed with the support of faculty and staff, the space was converted to raised beds, and it is now managed by an MBA student who is currently studying ways to expand urban farming. The garden donates 50% of the food grown to the food pantry at the Vincent de Paul parish. The DSN is a space that makes these kinds of connections possible.
CFBC: What was your first impression of DePaul?
JM & SK: DePaul is definitely diverse and large. We respected that a lot of the students were not only taking classes but also working part to full time. That really helped us structure the way we were teaching. We could focus our lessons on what was really relevant to the students at this point in their lives.
CFBC: What has been the most rewarding aspect of your work with DePaul, and why?
JM & SK: There are two components to this. One is meeting people from across the university, and seeing the university from many perspectives. In our experience people develop a habit trail. You know who you know, you do what you do, and you see what you see. At DePaul we have been fortunate enough to see the University from different perspectives, and it’s unbelievable the amount of work that is being done and how it is mission related.
Second, in the context of sustainability, there are so many people who are passionate about the tough social challenges in the 21st century. The work that has been done on global poverty alone is amazing! There are so many people committed and it’s inspiring.
CFBC: What has been your greatest lesson you’ve learned through your work at DePaul?
JM & SK: DePaul is a dynamic place that fosters an entrepreneurial culture, and that is reinforced constantly. 3 graduate sustainability programs have been created since the creation of the SITF. We’ve heard that for other Universities trying to establish programs, it takes much longer. Because of the entrepreneurial spirit, it can be hard to wrap your head around what the University does as a whole.
CFBC: What do you wish CFBC members knew about your organization, and why?
JM & SK: One thing is that for-profit initiatives can be a fundamental driver of sustainability. I think many people are very disappointed in the current state of political discourse. There is a diminishing hope for effective government structure to focus on these large sustainability problems. In the for-profit landscape, when leaders have the opportunity to use some moral imagination, they can be real drivers of systemic change.
CFBC: Tell me about someone who has influenced your decision to do the work you do?
JM & SK: We come to sustainability from different backgrounds and perspectives, perhaps with different inspirations. From a Vincentian mission perspective, there are a number of inspiring people at DePaul who are working on systemic change at local, regional, national, and international levels. A lot of people share our concerns about the current patterns of resource consumption. That needs to change.
CFBC: What do you do when you aren’t working?
SK: That is a tough question because I am pretty much always working. I have two jobs, my work with the university and then being a husband and father to two small children. When I’m not working for the university, I am focusing on my family.
JM: Like Scott, I spend most of my time working. However, my children are mostly grown. I have a daughter who is a biology major at DePaul, another daughter who is majoring in human nutrition at St. Louis University, and a son who is a junior at Lincoln Park High School. My home and work obligations pretty much swallow up my time!
CFBC: What one book would you recommend to our members?
SK: I would recommend, Winner Take All: China’s Race for Resources and What It Means for the Rest of the World by Dambisa Moyo.
JM: Is Sustainability Still Possible? State of the World 2013; The Worldwatch Institute
CFBC: What are your plans for the future?
SK: To institutionalize the DePaul Sustainable Network.
JM: I echo Scott’s sentiments to institutionalize the DSN. I hope to apply for promotion to Full Professor in a few years. Personally, my goals have always been faith-family-friends and work.