New center trains leaders for global sustainability

Accelerating urbanization, interdependency, resource scarcity, climate stress, and the rise of new powers in the developing world pose significant challenges for future generations. In response, Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment has established the Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability to house its international education, research, and outreach programs based in the National Capital Region.

“The challenges and opportunities of sustainable development are enormous — too complex to be solved by any single profession, discipline, business, government agency, or nation state,” said Professor Bruce Hull, a Senior Fellow at the center. “Sustainable development requires boundary-spanning leadership.”

   

The center’s international programs provide opportunities for graduate students and professionals to work on consulting projects in rapidly developing places and regions around the world, such as this trip to China. The center’s international programs provide opportunities for graduate students and professionals to work on consulting projects in rapidly developing places and regions around the world, such as this trip to China.

“While sustainability is in everyone’s interest, our college is stepping forward with innovative programming to contribute to the foundations of sustainability — our natural world, the environment, and people’s interaction with natural resources,” said Dean Paul Winistorfer. “Without natural resources, we are unsustainable. Leadership will be needed by our academic and business communities to bring the sustainability conversation into greater focus. We will make a difference.”

The center provides opportunities to gain international perspective from organizations of all scales working on sustainable development issues in some of the world’s most rapidly developing nations, including China, Brazil, Russia, India, and South Africa.

For example, the inaugural cohort in the center’s Executive Master of Natural Resources program traveled to China in March 2012, where students designed a sustainability strategy for a top hotel in the rural Upper Mekong River watershed. The Linden Centre, a Chinese historic landmark owned and meticulously restored by an American couple, serves as a boutique hotel for guests to immerse themselves in traditional culture and as an anchor point for heritage tourism.

   

Students visit the Great Wall of China during their March 2012 trip. Students visit the Great Wall of China during their March 2012 trip.

“Life-changing” is how Joe Tannery of Midlothian, Va., Executive Master of Natural Resources student and project leader, described his experience while working with the hotel’s owners and staff.

Although the Linden Centre composts, donates food scraps to local farmers as animal feed, and transports guests’ luggage through town on horse-drawn carts, the owners sought assistance in becoming even more sustainable.

“Our chance to collaborate with this cohort of professionals gave us a holistic look at the values of various sustainable practices and practical steps to execution,” said Michael Keefrider, Linden Centre marketing and business development director. “Their recommendations have given us a strategic road map for implementation over the next several years. We now have more information and confidence in putting a sustainability plan into action.”

The College of Natural Resources and Environment began focusing on urbanization, policy and institutions, and international issues about four years ago, said Center Director Michael Mortimer. “The Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability is a natural outgrowth of that strategy and will allow us to move more aggressively and effectively into the future while providing the educational and professional services we believe are in demand,” he said.

Current and in-development offerings include a series of graduate, certificate, and professional programs, clinics and workshops, and international partnerships. Degree programs include the Master of Natural Resources, the Executive Master of Natural Resources, and a forthcoming Global Master of Natural Resources. In its more than 30 graduate courses offered annually by 30 adjunct faculty members, the center brings faculty members and students together with partners from business, government, non-governmental organizations, and other educational institutions.

    Students, faculty, and alumni of the center’s graduate and professional development programs evaluated green infrastructure projects in the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay watersheds.

“The students have diverse undergraduate degrees and professional expertise in engineering, architecture, environmental science, urban planning, and related fields,” said David Robertson, the center’s associate director and a Senior Fellow. “As a result, we are able to do some really interesting things in the classroom. We leverage this diversity of skills and have students work in interdisciplinary teams on real projects for clients.”

The center’s mission is to empower individuals and their respective organizations for leading change to meet the challenges the world of 2050 will present.

“It’s an exciting time that stands to close the poverty gap, improve quality of life, and provide opportunities never imaginable a century ago,” Robertson said.

  • For more information on this topic, contact Lynn Davis or 540-231-6157.

About the center

    The Virginia Tech Research Center — Arlington.

The Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability is based in the National Capital Region’s Virginia Tech Research Center — Arlington, a U.S. Green Building Council LEED-certified building near the headquarters of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, and the National Science Foundation.

International projects under the center’s Global Sustainability Initiative focus on building capacity in individuals and organizations to help lead toward a more sustainable future.

Lessons in sustainability

    Red knots gather in large numbers on Virginia’s barrier islands during their 9,000-mile migration to the Arctic.

The spring 2011 newsletter from the College of Natural Resources and Environment focused on sustainability.

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