Public History and Environmental Sustainability: A Role for NCPH
NCPH Task Force White Paper DRAFT, January 2014

 Executive Summary

In the twenty-first century, climate change, a growing world population, and the need to live and work with finite natural and financial resources, compel public historians to tackle the complicated and politically charged notion of sustainability. The world’s broadly accepted definition of sustainability is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs. ”  That sentiment strongly resonates with public historians’ efforts to preserve historical resources and interpret history for present publics and future generations.[1] The appropriateness of political advocacy for professional associations, particularly those in academia, is still up for debate, but this paper argues that issues associated with climate change require action by an organization like the National Council on Public History.[2] In short, encouraging environmental sustainability falls squarely in line with the NCPH mission, structure, and Long Range Plan and many of the organization’s members have been advocating some sort of action, personal and professional, for several years.

By building upon current principles and practices, NCPH can take a larger and more formal leadership role in the historical profession to address problems related to the environment. The organization can play a coordinating role for environmental research and programs sponsored by government agencies and professional associations; conceive and share best practices in training, interpretation, and resource management through our digital clearinghouse; and serve as a model for other professional organizations by reducing its own carbon footprint, particularly at annual meetings. NCPH can also help frame historians’ response in language accessible to other disciplines working in the field of sustainability.  We recommend NCPH establish a permanent standing committee on Environmental Sustainability with 3-5 members tasked with working within NCPH and directly with partner organizations to coordinate programs and provide leadership on this issue. 

Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. Public History and Environmental History: An NCPH Review

III. Surveying Public Historians on Sustainability

IV. Organizational and Institutional Models for Sustainable Action for NCPH

  1. Professional Association: American Society for Environmental History (ASEH)
  2. Advocacy Group: The National Trust for Historic Preservation
  3. Academic Centers: Public Lands History Center
  4. International Heritage Organizations
  5. Recommendations for the Role of NCPH

VI. Conclusion

I. Introduction

Sustainability.  The word is everywhere, and so is its meaning.  This task force defines sustainability as caring for the planet that whirls us through space day in, day out, and, specifically, caring for the places that represent and protect the history and diverse heritage of the peoples of North America and the world. The need for action is clear: climate change driven by unrelenting economic and demographic growth threatens to increase global temperature to levels that cannot be offset by technological improvements.  While it may be impossible to predict precisely the long-term effects on ecological systems, all the possible scenarios are distressing. The goal of environmental sustainability is nothing less than maintaining global life-support systems indefinitely.  It is a goal that simply overwhelms our imagination.  So, where to begin?

We start by asking questions about our own accountability and responsibility not only as individuals, but also as historians and as an organization.  What can NCPH, as an organization, do to reduce its own carbon footprint?  What can NCPH do to facilitate public conversation about sustaining an environment that supports the cultural and natural resources that provide our society’s foundation?  What can NCPH do to foster concerted action among its constituents to take shared responsibility for implementing the best practices of environmental stewardship at the places under their care?

Environmental sustainability and economic and social sustainability certainly overlap.[3]  Climate change involves a bundle of complex issues that reach beyond the science and technology communities and the government, but cultural values also are deeply implicated in these issues.  For this reason, public historians must take an active role in developing best practices for the conservation of both tangible and intangible cultural heritage. Because public historians often function as bridges between the academy and places of shared heritage, public historians are in unique position to introduce the discourses of environmental sustainability to the general public.  We also possess skills that can help the public understand the social and cultural dimensions of environmental problems and engage the public in finding solutions for living within environmental limits and for confronting the long-term as well as the short-term effects of climate change.

Public historians, however, are inadequately prepared to address these issues. We have not identified best practices for environmental sustainability at cultural institutions and historic sites. Few public history training programs explicitly address environmental sustainability in their curricula.  NCPH itself needs to reevaluate its own role as a professional organization by reducing activities that waste scarce natural resources. Scientific and cultural professionals rarely work together on the issue of sustainability. Some international organizations, such as the Green Lines Institute have begun to consider the intersection of sustainability and heritage, publishing a journal and holding conferences. And some American cultural organizations, such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation, work on small pieces of the puzzle in various landscape-level initiatives. The National Park Service offers some of the best examples of natural and cultural resource professionals working together, but national parks cannot be islands of action. Moreover, the NPS response to climate change focuses on adaptation with only secondary emphasis on mitigation or education. Plummeting federal budgets have forced the agency to rely more on friends, advocates, and partners each passing year.[4]

II. Public History and Environmental History: An NCPH Review

Sustainability issues lie at the intersection of environmental history and public history, two fields within the historical profession that have grown enormously since the 1970s.   Public historians focus on the local, the “what happened here.” This perspective corresponds directly to questions that environmental historians ask about landscape change over time.  Public historians studying popular historical consciousness discover that powerful memories shape environmental perception, and emerge from attachments to the physical environment.  Like public history, environmental history often has an activist orientation as it seeks to influence public policy.  It is no wonder that many public historians based in the academy teach environmental history as their secondary field, and many environmental historians work in public agencies responsible for natural and cultural resource management.

Individuals have been exploring the intersections of public history with environmental issues for some time, but conversations have stalled in discussion. Over twenty years ago now, NCPH President, Martin Melosi called for greater collaboration between environmental and public historians.  A decade later, in 2004, Melosi and Philip Scarpino published their groundbreaking anthology Public History and the Environment. Although they did not directly address the topics of climate change, one contributor, Hugh Gorman, offered that public historians might influence policy of sustainable environmental development.[5] Since that time, there has been a growing interest among both environmental and public historians to figure out the role that history and historians might play concerning these issues.  At the NCPH meeting in Louisville in 2008, Cathy Stanton and Martha Norkunas led a session entitled, “What Does My Work as a Public Historian Have to do with Climate Change?”  At the 2009 conference in Providence, Rebecca Conard and Michelle Berenfeld organized an interdisciplinary roundtable, “Science and Social Science: Addressing Climate Change and Cultural Heritage in Academia and the Public Sphere.” Both panels were lightly attended.  However since then, as global temperatures and sea levels have risen, so too has concern and interest.

In 2010, Leah Glaser and Henry Kunowski organized a working group at the joint NCPH/ ASEH meeting in Portland, Oregon, to explore how historians could better promote sustainability issues or benefit from the sustainability movement around historic preservation.  Conversation included the National Trust’s efforts to reframe historic preservation, the U.S. Building Council’s LEED standards in preservation, and NPS’ creative adaptive re-use of historic structures at the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park by placing interpretive elements in canal quarters that park visitors can rent for in-park lodging. Kunowski raised the question of LEED standards as often being at odds with historic preservation despite the seemingly obvious benefit of reusing a building and saving “embodied energy.”  Kathryn Merlino raised the potential conflicts between advancing building re-use and maintaining the standards of “historic significance.” The group also raised questions about education and training, emphasizing the need for outreach and interdisciplinary coursework.

At the 2011 ASEH conference in Phoenix, where the theme was “Sustainability,” a panel featured ways public historians have incorporated themes of environmental stewardship in local history by exploring local antecedents of the movement, such as victory gardens, that can also teach us historical precedents of conservation and urban agriculture that are relevant today.  Saguaro Ranch, for example, is a heavily irrigated, lush, turn-of-the-century farm in Phoenix, Arizona, with citrus groves, date palms, irrigation infrastructure, ditches, and grass. Site director John Akers recognized that such juxtaposition allows an entry point to discuss sustainability by exploring historically sustainable practices on a landscape that did not have the mechanization or energy to survive without these methods. Akers convincingly argued that, “Present-day sustainable farming practices, including organic farming methods, represent a revival of historic farming practices.”  Likewise, a community history led Carol Palmer to discover that public historians could help guide the integration of a community’s local history into sustainability initiatives and educational programs. Her local history of Surprise, Arizona, revealed that for the Depression-era migrant farm workers who founded the town, recycling and conservation was part of the town’s heritage and identity.  Leah Glaser and Former NCPH President Jannelle Warren-Findley raised pedagogical opportunities, arguing that “sustainability” should become a standard theme in the public history curriculum, even in introductory courses.

At the joint OAH/NCPH meeting in Milwaukee in 2012, historians raised these questions in a session explicitly devoted to “Historians and Climate Change.” Panelists discussed specific ways historians can think about and contribute to solutions about climate change. Chair Phillip Scarpino (IUPUI) argued that cultural values are at the heart of climate change, and that persuading the public to accept climate change is a cultural problem involving cultural diversity and nature and faith. Writing can have an impact on values and this is where the historian comes in. Next, Mark Carey (University of Oregon) discussed his review of the work of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and concluded that historians’ collaboration with scientists would be of value. The scientific community enjoys hegemony and authority on this issue, but historians can find cause/effect, assess impact and change, identify the role of race, gender, class, power, authority, colonialism, and post-colonialism in illuminating the context of climate change.  The natural sciences operate in a cultural and historical context, and climate change is as much a story of cultural values as science. Historians can provide a framework for defining lines of authority and for communicating the implications of global warming to the public.

In the same panel, Rebecca Conard provided an overview of past policies in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom regarding the effects of global warming on cultural resources. Parks Canada had no official strategy at that time.  The American response, articulated through NPS policies, was focused more on natural than cultural resources, the product of federal agencies addressing climate change within their existing structures, though NPS has appointed a steering committee advocating 1) collaboration with science; 2) the pursuit of measures that incorporate local knowledge and traditional practices; 3) mitigation by reducing the carbon footprint in NPS units; and finally 4) education including new initiatives and youth opportunities. [6] In the UK, English Heritage, a 17-person commission, had assessed buildings at risk and expanded its list to landscape and archeology sites. Conard suggested that it was time to grant local, not just national authorities power over monitoring resources at the local level to identify what is happening to resources and why things are changing.

David Glassberg asked the audience and his fellow panelists to consider the role of history and historians in an era of climate change.   Since historians are accustomed to contingency in their work, they are well positioned to help societies come to terms with the experience of present and future climates different from those of the past.  Public historians in particular understand the connections between popular memory and sense of place, and how individuals and groups adjust to unfamiliar environments. Historians can elicit memories of what is lost in the unraveling of complex relationships of humans to their environment.  Finally, Nancy Langston echoed that some histories can encourage a future of resiliency.

At the same conference, a Working Group on “Public History and Sustainability” produced papers ranging from university-based digital projects, organizational responses and sustainability issues, and consideration of the role of public history in interpreting and identifying past “unsustainable” practices regarding social and environmental injustice as in the area of public housing. William Ippen and Devin Hunter offered an urban industrial reuse project that combined preservation with interpretation and revealed tensions between preservation and adaptive reuse imperatives. Melinda Jetté discussed the interconnections between public history and sustainability in the urban context, proposing that public historians ought to ground their work in an ethic of social inclusion and social equity and be mindful of historical social and environmental injustice. Maren Bzdek presented an environmental history website project to document a local watershed, demonstrating that public historians can complement sustainable initiatives through collaboration with scientists and community stakeholders. Priya Chhaya outlined the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s engagement with sustainability imperatives through initiatives such as audience analysis and its Preservation Green Lab and suggested that the “greening” of public history can be obtained through linkages with non-traditional partners and a more careful consideration and active engagement with its audience. (Both models are described more briefly below). The working group produced a point paper, which prompted the NCPH Board to create this task force to advise on ways NCPH could incorporate environmental sustainability into its agenda and programs.

Meanwhile, discussions continued. Inspired by an essay in The George Wright Forum(2012) where philosopher and environmental ethicist Philip Cafaro issued a clarion call for action on climate change in the National Park Service (NPS), a working group at the NCPH annual meeting in Ottawa (2013) responded by focusing on historic site interpretation.[7] Chuck Arning, Angela Sirna and Mauro Agnoletti facilitated “The Challenge of Interpreting Climate Change at Historic Sites with a Conflicted Audience,” which included discussants from agencies and institutions in the United States, Canada, and Europe. The case statements highlighted key concerns for historic site interpretation and climate change. Some of these included an emphasis on knowledge of the long-term environmental history of historic sites, an attention to the evidence for climate change in the historic record (both quantitative and qualitative), and differing approaches to natural resource management and cultural resource management. Other factors that influence the interpretation of climate change at historic sites involve institutional history, culture, and past practice; contemporary economic needs and policy decisions at the local, national, and global levels; and historic preservation efforts to mitigate the damage and loss of sites due to climate change. As the case statements made clear—and as Philip Cafaro emphasized in his essay—climate change is a present reality at national parks and historic sites throughout the United States and across the globe. In this sense, the challenge of historic site interpretation, which involves many disciplines, is both a practical consideration and an ethical imperative. In sum, soft-pedaling the dangers posed by climate change only adds to institutional drift when immediate action is needed at the local level as well as the global level. The working group emphasized the need for marshaling evidence to support site interpretation that addresses current issues and needs and brings scientists, historians, and others to work together rather than on parallel tracks, unaware of each other’s efforts, or at cross-purposes.

III. Public Historians on Sustainability: A Survey

In an online survey of public historians conducted in September of 2013 by the task force, via the Public History Commons website and blog, an overwhelming number of respondents reported concern about environmental sustainability in their practice, but are unsure about what his means or how to address it.  Most respondents noted a marked lack of institutional and educational integration. This finding reveals an unmet need for which NCPH can provide leadership—a role, which respondents endorsed. Specifically, the task force survey assessed the level of interest in environmental sustainability among public historians across specialties, the level of interest in environmental sustainability in the greater public history community as perceived by respondents, the level to which environmental sustainability concerns were integrated into public history institutions and training programs, and respondents’ views on whether environmental sustainability should be integrated into public history education and the core values of the NCPH. Eighty-nine respondents comprised a diverse cross section of the public history community. In terms of employment, 38.4 percent worked for museums, historical societies, or public history organizations; 20.9 percent for colleges or universities; 15.1 percent for government agencies; 15.1 percent are students; 8.1 percent were independent consultants; and 2.3 percent worked for public history consulting firms. Virtually all responses came from IP addresses in the United States, with two originating in Canada and one in Belgium. Most respondents (70.5 percent) were current NCPH members at the time of the survey, while 12.5 percent were past members and 17 percent had never been members.

Public historians identified the sustainability issue most with regard to the impact of climate change on historic resources, the need for energy-efficient climate control in archives, and communicating sustainable values to the public.  Interestingly, public historians perceived a lower level of concern about environmental sustainability in public history practice among their colleagues than they hold as individuals. In a multi-year study done by Climate Education Partners, San Diego on attitudes about climate change. Nearly 80 percent of randomly selected respondents were concerned“a great deal” or “a moderate amount”, but they thought that only 14 percent of their neighbors and 24 percent of people in the city overall were a great deal or moderately concerned.[8]

Most of the public historians surveyed engage environmental sustainability at least occasionally in their work. Only 15 percent reported that their work never addressed the issue. However, well over half have never received training of any kind to address these issues.  Over 90 percent surveyed at least somewhat agree that, “issues of environmental sustainability should be integrated in public history curricula at the undergraduate and graduate level;” 85.2 percent at least somewhat agree that, “environmental sustainability should be a core value of the NCPH” and integrated into public history practice.

These results reinforce several ideas that indicate why NCPH’s leadership is so important for moving on this issue.  In addition to helping to define how sustainability connects in general to the goals and responsibilities of the historical profession, NCPH can provide specific directions to historians in the form of guidelines, standards, and education modules. A new study of the link between perception and behavior, reported in the November 21, 2013, issue of Psychological Science, suggests that public historians, by interpreting the nation’s past, can encourage long-term thinking and consequently pro-environmental behavior. In 2012, Hal E. Hershfield (Stern School of Business, NYU), H. Min Bang (Fuqua School of Business, Duke), and Elke U. Weber (Dept. of Psychology, Columbia), devised two studies to test the hypothesis that the perceived duration of a country’s existence (“political age”) would be positively related to that country’s environmental performance and also be positively related to pro-environmental behavior among individuals.  Although the article, “National Differences in Environmental Concern and Performance are Predicted by Country Age,” raises the usual number of questions about research design and methods, the researchers’ findings have intriguing implications.   The second study is particularly interesting.  Hershfield et al. found that participants who perceived that the United States had a long past were more likely to act in pro-environmental ways if they also felt connected to future generations.  The researchers are quick to conclude that “promot[ing] the country’s historic past…may effectively change long-term environmental behavior” and suggest that given “the urgency for greater environmental action in the face of anthropogenic climate change, interventions that highlight the shadow of the past may actually help illuminate the path to the future.”[9] Historians can expand the public’s horizons across space as well as time. When even affluent nations like the United States do not curb the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that they spew into the atmosphere, the risk of violent storms devastating poorer nations like the Philippines increases. Public historians can raise such issues with their audiences using the dialogic practices that we have developed.  In order to do this effectively, we also need to begin training students in environmental history early in their academic careers in the hopes of both raising environmental awareness and understanding of how history can engage with the public and political arenas.  Although STEM professionals presently dominate environmental conversation, historians have a unique contribution to make and clearly need to produce more literature for the general public.

IV. Organizational and Institutional Models for Sustainable Action for NCPH

The task force looked at several examples upon which to base our recommendations.  The following describes the policies and activities of different types of Public History organizations, and Appendix II includes a fifth example of actions NCPH could take.

A. Professional Association: American Society for Environmental History (ASEH)

Not surprisingly, the American Society for Environmental History has had an eight-member Sustainability Committee since 2009/10. The Committee seeks to do more to encourage research and curriculum changes.  At the same time, the ASEH Executive Committee approved sustainability/ green practice guidelines. Despite the obvious environmental impact of national conferences in travel and local resources, the American Society for Environmental History plans to continue holding annual conferences for the foreseeable future.  However, ASEH has “committed to minimizing the effects of travel and our consumption of energy, paper, and water.”

In addition, ASEH offers information on carbon offsets on its website, including the opportunity to contribute on the registration form, and encourages the Site Selection Committee to consider the impact of travel when choosing a location for the annual conference. Sites near major airport hubs or in places with high member concentrations to reduce fuel consumption as well as help international members who travel long distances to meetings. And of course, ASEH encourages conference attendees to use public transportation in the cities where they meet.  They also try to choose conference sites and services that support a sustainable food system and pay living wages. When possible, ASEH contracts with hotels having easy access to public transportation, green certification which includes the monitoring of energy and water consumption and recycling policies.  If the hotel does not recycle, members transport their waste to a local recycling center.

To reduce paper and other materials, ASEH publishes its newsletter and conference program electronically. When possible, ASEH and its exhibitors use recycled paper in their conference materials. ASEH began recycling conference badges in 2008 and avoids the use of vinyl.  ASEH requests that field trips recycle the generated waste and take advantage of locally grown food.

In 2011, the ASEH Sustainability Committee, which meets annually at the ASEH conference, initiated a sustainability audit for their annual meetings. ASEH used the company, Clear Sky Climate Solutions to audit both the 2012 and 2013 annual conferences and posted results on their website.[10]

Lastly, and of great interest for public historians, ASEH created an Advisory Board for Professional Development and Public Engagement. So far, the Board has accomplished the following tasks: 1) it has created two new awards for public history projects oriented toward environmental issues; 2) it has created an umbrella under which ASEH members can receive federal contracts, including those from the National Park Service, for environmental history research projects; and 3) The Advisory Board will organize public engagement themes roundtables for its annual conference in the following areas:  environmental history employment opportunities outside the academy, environmental history for the public (projects and partnerships), and digital environmental history (platforms and best practices).

For an example of efforts by a professional organization not directly associated with environmental concerns, see the accomplishments of the American Academy of Religion’s Task Force on Sustainability, Appendix II.

B. Advocacy Group: The National Trust for Historic Preservation

The intersection of preservation and sustainability at the National Trust for Historic Preservation is best encapsulated by the official tagline: Save the Past, Enrich the Future. Every day, the National Trust works to protect and preserve America’s historic places for the future by fully integrating cultural, environmental, and economic sustainability across all aspects of the organization. This effort is led by the Preservation Green Lab and implemented by sustainability champions within the National Trust and across its networks of preservation and Main Street partners.

Launched in March of 2009, the Seattle based Preservation Green Lab (PGL) helps to reinforce the cultural and physical fabric of transitioning neighborhoods—both enhancing older communities that are facing new development pressures, and implementing preservation-based solutions for communities seeking to initiate revitalization efforts. PGL accomplishes this by identifying obstacles that bar communities from realizing the full potential of existing buildings, and guiding cities to capitalize on the immediate cost savings, carbon savings and local jobs creation that result from investments in these irreplaceable assets.  In January of 2012, PGL released its first major report, “The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Value of Building Reuse.” The study includes a Life Cycle Analysis of building reuse versus new construction, and finds that “building reuse almost always offers environmental savings over demolition and new construction.”

PGL followed on the success of The Greenest Building with other data-rich, evidence-based research onwindow re-use and theenergy efficiency of small buildings. PGL recently embarked on a partnership with the Urban Land Institute to bring the Greenest Building research to policy makers in cities across the country, starting with L.A. Through the expertise and work of the Preservation Green Lab, the National Trust provides preservation leaders with innovative tools that emphasize the relationship between the built environment and social and economic success.

Nearly three years ago, the National Trust began engaging with a group of individuals who take direct action for preservation—some without even recognizing that they are preservationists.  Referred to as “local preservationists,” they can be grouped roughly into five interest-based categories: Young Activist, Community-Conscious Parent, Green Go-Getter, History Buff, and Architecture Lover. The Green Go-Getter is an individual who “enjoys natural landscapes” and “tries to be sustainable in all aspects of life—from living within walking distance of the office, to serving on the board of his/her local farmers market.” Such a person recognizes the importance of heritage conservation as a part of his/her larger worldview.

The National Trust wants to engage these individuals to help find even more like-minded individuals and draw them into the preservation world at the local, state, and national level. In terms of sustainability, here is where preservationists—self-identified or not—can influence public policy. It is about changing the way that we preservationists attract passionate people who are living our cause. It is not merely “if we build it they will come;” it’s raising awareness by going to the local preservationists directly.

The third area in which the National Trust is committed to sustainability is through its own operations and activities. This includes the design of its office space, the environmental and economic effectiveness of the operations of its sites, the diversity of the communities in which its works. It also involves the ecological outcomes ofNational Treasures, endangered places of national significance, and/or places where on-the-ground success by the National Trust can have positive implications for preservation nationwide.

As the leading voice for preservation in the United States, the National Trust for Historic Preservation is the umbrella group for people interested in saving places.  Through research and advocacy work the National Trust aims to preserve and protect historic sites not only as a way of remembering the past, but also by contributing to the protection of these spaces in the years to come.

C. Academic Centers: Public Lands History Center

Degree programs at our nation’s academic institutions should be on the front line of preparing tomorrow’s public and academic historians to bring the methodology and theory of our discipline into service with communities facing pressing environmental problems, yet the constraints and structure of higher education are often limiting in this regard. Individual faculty members can make up for this with innovative coursework, mentorship, and research opportunities for students, but joining together with like-minded colleagues to form a center can amplify the positive effects of these efforts and ensure that they endure. Funding and institutional resources are central issues for developing programs that focus on sustainability. Academic centers can be a way to create institutional support for sustainability while also training students and scholars to become skilled in the issues, versed in the vocabulary, and savvy in obtaining needed funds.

At Colorado State University, a cohort of environmental historians, architectural historians, and public historians established the Public Lands History Center (PLHC) in 2007 to provide a flexible administrative home for the development of research projects, programs, and activities that the university’s B.A. and M.A. degree programs could not adequately undertake. Students working for the PLHC receive funded research opportunities, faculty members establish long-term relationships with NPS and other agency partners, and the Center staff creates stability for the projects that allow students and professors to balance coursework with applied work.

In six years, the PLHC has established a bridge between academia and public land agencies in the Rocky Mountain Region, with a primary focus on using history to improve long-term, sustainable resource stewardship. Led by historians, the Center continues to attract the interest and cooperation of scientists and resource managers from other departments and colleges within the University. The PLHC has completed more than thirty successful research projects involving undergraduate and graduate students. As a relatively unencumbered unit within the traditional university structure, a center can create pedagogical opportunities that a department cannot readily provide, where participating students and recent graduates are brought face-to-face with thorny environmental and preservation problems that they have an opportunity to help solve. These place-based projects bring students and faculty into egalitarian, team-based, interdisciplinary environments often unfamiliar to historians. Participants learn to create historically informed writing products that are accessible and useful for decision-making by scientists and managers, at a moment when these colleagues seem particularly open to partnerships and collaboration with historians.

Participating faculty are also challenged to address the gap between classroom pedagogy and their roles as principal investigators. In an era of dwindling state budgets, the PLHC has diversified its funding sources by creating partnerships and finding sponsors, including corporate sponsors, for its work. Faculty, staff, and students work together to consider questions about ethics, transparency, and accountability that these fundraising activities present.  In this respect, they learn together that sustainability-related programs also require engagement with simple fiscal questions. If we begin endeavors to address questions and problems that will require decades of effort to resolve, how can we ensure that we, and our successors will have a place to continue this important work?

To that end, centers are well suited for long-term, place-based studies. As semi-permanent activities of a Center that can receive funding and provide collaborative space for historians and others working in groups, these projects will be part of the legacy of all who contribute to them.  One program is “Parks as Portals to Learning,” a partnership with natural and cultural resource managers at Rocky Mountain National Park, its closest NPS neighbor. In this program, students and faculty from multiple disciplines use environmental history as a common framework for studying Moraine Park, a well-loved and frequently visited area in Rocky that experienced a major fire in 2012 and severe flooding in 2013. The participants engage in field-based pedagogy, research, and writing exercises that force them to confront how agency staff members are required to make quick decisions—using limited data and information—that may have long-term environmental consequences. Just as important, NPS agency staff experience the value of environmental history and preservation as tools for understanding places, and consider questions rarely that scientists, foresters, and fire managers rarely consider.

In a second example, the PLHC is developing a local environmental history website, funded by the USDA through the Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station, to help surrounding communities understand how the transformation of Northern Colorado from an agricultural to an urban landscape can be understood through the changing built environment, and the ecological consequences of those decisions. With a focus on water use and the relationship of the Poudre River to the irrigated landscape, participating students use the power of digital presentation to create a product that will allow future students to continue to add to the story as the effects of climate change become more apparent.

D. International Heritage Organizations

In Cultural Heritage and the Challenge of Sustainability (2013), Diane Barthel-Bouchier identifies three options for organizations that undertake a new mission such as sustainability: 1) articulate the new mission by replacing the organization’s original focus and core work; 2) add the new mission as a “noncore set of responsibilities” to the original mission; or 3) explain how the main focus of the original mission encompasses the current issue, “to say, in essence, ‘this is what we have been doing all along.’”[11] According to Barthel-Bouchier, most organizations that take up issues of sustainability choose either the second or third option. Either approach could be an option for the NCPH.

Beginning in the 1990s, environmental sustainability and climate change entered international conversations about heritage conservation and historic preservation. In 2007 UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, administrator of the World Heritage Sites program, published a collection of case studies that was intended to raise awareness of environmental threats to various heritage sites around the world.[12] Two other international organizations based in the U.S., the World Monument Fund (WMF) and the Global Heritage Fund (GHF), have initiated projects to identify, document, and publicize the impact of environmental and climate change on global heritage sites and created forums for sharing information about how to address these threats. These projects have also identified human actions that contribute to the deterioration of heritage areas worldwide, including poor management and lack of funding, over-development, tourism, war, looting, and other conflicts.[13]

In North America and Europe, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and research centers have launched initiatives to address climate change and environmental sustainability at both natural and cultural heritage sites. Parks Canada and the Heritage Canada Foundation, the Getty Conservation Institute, the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP), and the National Park Service spearhead the major initiatives in North America. These agencies and organizations sponsor conferences, forums, publications, research, and technical assistance, with the NTPH also heavily involved in the Green Building and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards related to the rehabilitation and reuse of historic buildings.[14]

In Europe, the European Union underwrites projects, seminars, and conferences on sustainability, most notably the Noah’s Ark project, which studies and forecasts the impact of climate change on cultural sites in Europe. The project produces climatic risk maps, a Vulnerability Atlas that assist site managers in assessing environmental threats, and Adaptation Strategy Guidelines that can help policy makes, owners, and various stakeholders respond to the effects of major climate changes. Two British agencies, English Heritage and the British National Trust, are recognized as major leaders on issues of sustainability, climate change, and energy production and consumption. In their role as crown agencies, English Heritage and the British National Trust have published studies and developed guidelines that have effectively pushed non-governmental organizations to follow suit in finding ways to increase energy conservation and efficiency and produce action plans to mitigate flooding and erosion problems now affecting historic sites throughout Great Britain.[15]

In the conclusion to her study of heritage and sustainability, Diane Barthel-Bouchier cautions against an exclusive reliance on high levels of government funding and on high-status professional insiders. While she admits that government leadership and funding and professional expertise and vision cannot be jettisoned in the efforts to make sustainability a central focus in the management of the world’s cultural heritage, she also emphasizes the absolute necessity of local activism and leadership, and of collaboration between experts, professionals, and those who hold positions of local power and influence. Ultimately, the goal should be to communicate a vision for sustainability and heritage that fosters support from and service to the general public. From this perspective, public historians have a unique opportunity to contribute to the common good in this era of climate change and unsustainable environmental practices.

V. Recommendations for the Role of NCPH

Considering these examples of action by other professional organizations in our field, the Task Force argues that additional attention to environmental sustainability falls in line with the NCPH Mission, Long Range Plan, and Structure in several areas:

1. Section 1.02. Mission. The Corporation has a two-fold mission. First, it aspires to make the public aware of the value, uses, and pleasures of history. Second, it seeks to serve the historical community by: (1) advising historians about their public responsibilities; (2) helping students prepare for careers in public history; and (3) providing a forum for historians engaged in historical activities in the public realm.

NCPH can be an advocate for environmental sustainability by promoting best practices in interpretation, organizational management, and resource management. For example, NCPH could provide guidance for incorporating environmental sustainability into Public History curricula and urge students to gain experience in related disciplines (Environmental Studies, Geography, Biology, Anthropology, etc.) as part of their training.  The annual conference can also include more sessions engaging disciplines outside of History.

2. The Long Range plan allows several places for the organization to address sustainability issues:

  • Goal II of the Long Range Plan states that NCPH will “Engage and sustain members at different stages of their careers.”  Specifically, “D. Provide workshops and other forms of continuing education, and E. Other benefits and resources targeted to various constituencies.” The task force requests that Public History Program chairs and NCPH staff organize regular workshops, webinars, and sessions on sustainability.
  • Goal III is to “Encourage collective conversations about the shape and directions of public history.”  Again, NCPH meetings can lead by example. NCPH can sustain conversation through Public History News, work with The Public Historian, and its digital conversations in the Public History Commons.  However, the organization can also work to foster conversations with organizations outside academia through the appointment of an Environmental Sustainability Sub-committee (details ahead).
  • Goal IV advocates that NCPH “Be a strong voice for the interests of public history practitioners and an advocate for applying and connecting history to contemporary issues.” Sustainability and climate change are pressing contemporary issues affecting people across North America and the world. NCPH and public historians should be at the forefront of efforts to use public history to address these issues.
  • Goal V charges NCPH to increase the organization’s financial capacity to pursue its goals.  Funding streams for initiatives on environmental sustainability as noted above in Goal II E, might include federal agencies such as USGS, cooperative agreements, and CESUs (Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Units).  We also recommend the Board investigate divesting endowment funds from investment portfolios that include fossil fuels.

It is thus within NCPH’s purview to develop policies and practices that institutionalize environmental sustainability within the organization and “serve the historical community by advising historians about their public responsibilities.” NCPH could provide leadership through a coordinating role in gathering and disseminating information and best practices with a wide range of professional organizations with interests in this issue through its existing outlets, including the emerging digital platform, the Public History Commons.

3.  Fitting into NCPH Structure.  All of the following recommendations can be incorporated into the existing NCPH structure.  Currently, NCPH’s central office includes an Executive Director, Program Director and an intern.  In order to address long-term, complex issues regarding environmental sustainability, and to move discussion into lasting, productive action, the Task Force recommends the establishment of a standing committee. By adding a standing committee on Environmental Sustainability consisting of liaisons who will work with existing committee and administrative structures in the organization, NCPH can address and coordinate this issue in an efficient manner. A standing committee of 3-5 persons will also liaise with other NCPH committees and professional organizations.  Duties might include recruiting panels, workshops, and speakers, for annual meetings, and working with other committees and sub-committees in and outside of NCPH to integrate sustainability values and expertise into the profession as articulated below.

A. Meeting Planning. Establish sustainability policies and practices for NCPH operations regarding the location and planning of Annual Meetings. In addition to considering the environmental sustainability of the organization’s present conference experience, NCPH should consider long-term environmental stewardship/green practices when planning in future meetings, while at the same time recognizing the value of meeting in person.  Using the ASEH guidelines as a model, NCPH could:

1. Continue to plan joint meetings with other organizations, particularly ASEH, on a regular basis—at least every 3 years. For those joint meetings, we need to integrate members more closely not only through sessions on environmental sustainability, but also through planning discussions. For example, ASEH’s Sustainability Committee and Advisory Board for Professional Development and Public Engagement could meet with one or more NCPH committees, ideally our own standing committee. NCPH could encourage the Program Committee, ideally in consultation with the proposed committee and ASEH’s advisory board, to regularly schedule at least 1-2 sessions at annual meetings to sustain the environmental conversation.

2. Add sustainability considerations to guidelines for meeting location. Encourage meetings in airline “hubs” to reduce connections and travel distances.  The conference site selection committee should raise sustainability practices when doing the site visits, beginning with informing hotels that this is important to conference organizers.  When possible, make contracts with hotels located near public transportation systems, hotels with green certification (which presumably means the hotel is committed to the reduction of energy and water consumption and provides appropriate receptacles for recycling), and hotels that exhibit fair employment practices in terms of wages, hours, safety, and benefits. If the hotel does not recycle, our members will transport the waste to a local recycling center. We will post this information on the NCPH website and in the NCPH conference program.

3. Low carbon-footprint field trips. Our field trips should include, as much as possible, use public transportation, serve meals from locally grown food, and recycle the waste generated.

4. Paper and Other Materials.  Programs could be available only in digital form before the conference as the current practice and the organization could use recycled paper when possible. We will actively encourage participants to recycle, including badges. [Note: since the use of electronic communications increases energy production and consumption, there is a corresponding need for energy efficiency and the use of energy generated by green sources (non-fossil fuels).]

5. Promote Awareness through Carbon/ Sustainability Audits. We recognize the value of face-to-face meeting.  However, education and awareness starts with individuals and educating conference goers on ways to reduce the meeting’s carbon footprint.  Member of the sustainability committee could work with the Program Committee and Local Arrangements Committee to conduct meeting audits or hire an affordable vendor who can do so.

B. Tasking and directing committees. NCPH Board decisions and operations should incorporate sustainability into directives to various committees.  Members of the Environmental Sustainability Committee will work with other committees to facilitate the following:

1.  Curriculum Committee. Develop bibliographies and best practices in conjunction with the Curriculum and Training Committee.  Board will task the Curriculum and Training Committee to incorporate sustainability into best practices and post those practices on the website and/or Public History Commons.

a. Encourage syllabi and training programs to be interdisciplinary; students should be competent in the science and public policy issues related to climate change and sustainability. The central issue here is funding and institutional resources. Academic centers can be a way to create institutional support for sustainability while also training students and scholars to become skilled in obtaining needed funds.

b. Promote the use in public history courses of gray literature from agencies and historic sites as case studies of environmental issues, an area where academic published materials are lacking.

2. Consultants Committee. Encourage consultants to share interdisciplinary work or projects by posting on the History@Work Commons or other forum accessible by NCPH members.

3. Long-term Planning Committee could consider and articulate environmental stewardship in its duties.

4. New Awards Committee. NCPH could consider encouraging projects by developing an award for best public history project or book that encourages the public to think more critically about issues of environmental sustainability.

C. Promotion of Sustainability-related Work Through a Digital Web-based Clearinghouse

NCPH could provide leadership and resources for the collection, publication and communication about work being done in the profession.  A Public History Commons/History@ Work blog could serve as a clearinghouse for information and resources, such as reading lists, course syllabi, and best practices.   As an emerging digital gathering-place for public historians around the globe, NCPH’s Public History Commons offers a flexible and supportive platform on which to conduct conversations and gather materials relating to sustainability issues in public history.  This is also a relatively “green” space, which can perhaps help in a small way to counter the heavy carbon footprint of conference and meeting travel.  The Commons could become a center for resources and discussion relating to sustainability. A Sustainability Committee member could work with the Digital Media group.  This might be organized on a regional/subregional basis in partnership with graduate programs in public history so as to address regional and sub-regional ecosystems. Materials gathered there could be disseminated across the full print/digital continuum of NCPH’s publications.

Although new digital projects and functions may develop over time, the clearinghouse role of the Commons could be fulfilled in the short term in two ways:

1. The History@Work blog, housed in the Commons, has a sub-section for “Social and Environmental Issues.”  Sustainability Task Force members and others should submit proposals for full-length posts (500-1000 wds) and/or descriptions of sustainability-related public history projects (250 wds).  Blog posts could serve as entry-points to longer documents posted in the Library (below).  We have already begun this process by posting our survey referenced previously.  The Commons will also host the digital side of a special issue of The Public Historian on the theme of Environmental Sustainability and Public History. This arrangement serves as a pilot collaboration between the two publishing platforms that is intended to explore and sustain this and other conversations.

2. The Commons’ “Library” is intended to house various discrete collections of materials.  This should include a collection on sustainability issues.  The nucleus of this collection can be the Sustainability Working Group case statements from NCPH conferences.  Other resources might include reading lists, critical reviews, curricula, and best practices documents.  An all-digital or print/digital publication drawn from the current collection will be produced to coincide with the 2014 conference in Monterey.

Members of the Environmental Sustainability Committee and members of the Digital Media Group could actively recruit materials for both the blog and the Library collection.  A brief survey of existing projects and practices would gather examples and help develop potential contributions.  As the collection and possible partnerships grow, NCPH staff, Task Force members, and editors across the range of print and digital publications and communications could continue to explore new ways of disseminating them.

E.  Broadening Audience, Coordination and Partnerships. NCPH should emphasize, establish, and solidify strategic national, regional, and local partnerships within and across disciplines and serve as clearinghouse for history’s role in promoting environmental sustainability.

  1. The Sustainability Standing Committee duties will maintain a list under the resources section of its website to encourage NCPH members and public history programs to collaborate with partner organizations for sustained programming, finite projects, and initiatives. NCPH could continue to pursue joint meetings as well as sponsor sessions at outside meetings. NCPH will recommend that members attend at least one of these conferences and report back within the Public History Commons with a “Sustainability” tag.  Activities could include communicating and possibly coordinating initiatives and projects with ASEH’s Advisory Board on Public Outreach.
  2. NCPH/ASEH Speaker’s Bureau. NCPH could collaborate with ASEH to jointly develop a list of speakers available to historic sites and agencies when they want to schedule programs on the topic of climate change as it relates to conservation, preservation, and related matters.
  3. Sustainability Liaison. The Environmental Sustainability Standing Committee could appoint an Environmental Sustainability Liaison (preferably from within the committee) to facilitate coordination and partnerships between the NCPH and other organizations working on environmental sustainability, specifically the American Society of Environmental Historians (ASEH), but occasionally with others identified in the appendix. The Task Force recommends that the liaison serve for a term of at least two years.

As a representative of the NCPH, the liaison(s) will commit to attending the annual meetings of the NCPH and at least one other partner organization, such as the ASEH (see list of partner organizations in Appendix 1). The liaison will keep both the NCPH Board and membership appraised of developments in the field on the topic of environmental sustainability and facilitate communications between the NCPH and partner organizations through blog entries on the Public History Commons.* The liaison would help facilitate the organization of NCPH-sponsored conference panels, identify relevant papers, and other content for the Public History Commons on issues of environmental sustainability.

The Task Force recommends that the liaison receive NCPH membership for each year of his or her two-year term and, if possible, some funding to offset the costs of attending the NCPH annual meeting and one other conference of a relevant partner per year.

VI. Conclusion

The members of the NCPH Public History and Environmental Sustainability Task Force believe that environmental issues and advocacy of environmental stewardship are within the purview of NCPH’s mission and goals.  We recommend various ways that NCPH can promote the long-term relevance and involvement of historians in this issue, some of which we have already initiated.  In order to sustain this activity in accordance with the current NCPH structure and long-range plans, we conclude that a standing committee on Environmental Sustainability, whose members will serve as liaisons to other committees and in at least one case, outside organizations, can best accomplish these recommendations.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve the National Council on Public History.

The NCPH Public History and Environmental Sustainability Task Force

  • Leah S. Glaser, Central Connecticut State University, Chair
  • Maren Bzdek, Public Land History Center, Colorado State University
  • Priya Chhaya, National Trust for Historic Preservation
  • Rebecca Conard, Middle Tennessee State University
  • David Glassberg, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • William Ippen, Loyola University, Chicago
  • Melinda Marie Jetté, Franklin Pierce University
  • Angela Sirna, Middle Tennessee State University

*Special thanks to Cathy Stanton, Tufts University, who served as an essential advisor for this paper and contributed the piece on the parameters for the Digital Clearinghouse, and Cody Ferguson, Arizona State University, who has generously volunteered to pilot the recommended role of liaison to the American Society of Environmental Historians.

Appendix I:

Possible Partner Organizations or Agencies of Relevance to Environmental Sustainability

  • 1000 Friends Organizations (Smart Growth)
  • American Alliance of Museums (AAM)
  • American Association for State and Local History (AASLH)
  • American Historical Association
  • American Society for Environmental History (ASEH)
  • Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences (AESS)
  • Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE)
  • Australian Centre for Public History
  • Building Material Reuse Association (BMRA)
  • Bureau of Land Management
  • Center for Culture, History, Environment, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Civic Tourism
  • Cultural Heritage Tourism Alliance (CHTA)
  • Environmental Humanities Laboratory, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden
  • George Wright Society
  • Green Building Councils (local/ state/national)
  • International Federation for Public History/Fédération Internationale pour l’Histoire Publique
  • National Association for Interpretation
  • National Council for Preservation Education (NCPE)
  • National Forest Service
  • National Park Service (NPS)
  • National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP)
  • Openlands
  • Organization of American Historians
  • Parks Canada/Parks Canada
  • Professional Historians’ Association of New Zealand/Aotearoa (PHANZA)
  • Public History Resource Center
  • Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, Ludwig Maximilians University, Munich, Germany
  • Sierra Club
  • Society for American Archaeology (SAA)
  • State Preservation Offices

Appendix II


In its five-year lifespan, the AAR’s Sustainability Task Force accomplished a great deal in educating the AAR membership about sustainability issues and “greening” the AAR Annual Meeting. This report expounds upon a few of the Task Force’s major initiatives.


As part of its efforts to produce a “greener meeting,” since 2009 the AAR has offered the option to offset the carbon emissions for travel to the Annual Meeting. By checking the box on the registration form, the AAR collects $15 from each registration to purchase carbon offsets from NativeEnergy. The AAR’s Sustainability Task Force selected NativeEnergy because of its commitment to reducing greenhouse gases while supporting its sustainability projects. NativeEnergy is one of the top carbon offset companies in the world.

As a result of purchasing these carbon offsets the AAR has prevented a total of 1811.7 metric tons of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere.

2009 – 341.87 metric tons of CO2

2010 – 362.6 metric tons of CO2

2011 – 584.87 metric tons of CO2

2012 – 522.36 metric tons of CO2

This is equivalent to :

Annual greenhouse gas emissions from 377 passenger vehicles

CO2 emissions from 203,039 gallons of gasoline consumed

CO2 emissions from 4,212 barrels of oil consumed

CO2 emissions from 23.9 tanker trucks’ worth of gasoline

CO2 emissions from the electricity use of 271 homes for one year

CO2 emissions from the energy use of 93.2 homes for one year

Carbon sequestered by 46,439 tree seedlings grown for 10 years

Carbon sequestered annually by 1,485 acres of U.S. forests

Carbon sequestered annually by 14 acres of U.S. forest preserved from conversion to cropland

CO2 emissions from 75,463 propane cylinders used for home barbeques

CO2 emissions from burning 7.8 railcars’ worth of coal

Greenhouse gas emissions avoided by recycling 678 tons of waste instead of sending it to the landfill


The selection of host cities for the Annual Meetings of 2014 and beyond were based on the criteria of walkability between hotels and Convention Centers, eliminating the need for costly and environmentally unfriendly shuttles in cities such as San Diego, Atlanta, San Antonio, Boston, and Denver. Also considered was the availability of public transportation in these downtown areas, making it easy for attendees to travel between the convention district and airports, train station, restaurants, and attractions. In Boston, we have negotiated 2500 free 7-day MBTA passes for attendees staying outside of the Back Bay area.


In 2008, AAR and SBL’s event services contractor, Freeman, received Trade Show Executive magazine’s Innovation Award for its significant impact in waste reduction at its events. It reduced the production of printed paper service manuals by half during the past three years, eliminating an estimated 24 million sheets of paper, and has recycled 44 million square feet of aisle carpet since 2006.


The bins in which attendees pick up their name badge holders are converted to recyclable receptacles. We ask attendees to disassemble their name badges after use and place the plastic and lanyards in corresponding bins. Recycling these badges could save 34.25 gallons of oil, 4.9 million BTUs of energy, and over 1 cubic meter of landfill space.


Paper used in the Program Book and At-A-Glance is certified by the globally-recognized Sustainable Forest Initiative, which ensures that wood and paper products are from well-managed forests and is backed by a rigorous third-party certification audit. Use of recycled paper equates to a 40 percent reduction in energy versus paper made with unrecycled pulp. Recycling all Program Books would prevent over 15.8 cubic meters of landfill space; it would also save over 80 mature trees, nearly 36,667 gallons of water, 10.38 barrels of oil, and 21,297 kilowatt-hours of electricity — enough energy to power the average American home for almost two years.

Also, abstracts are available online. Printing the abstracts would have used 3.3 million sheets of paper (equal to 198 trees) and added 2,970 tons of CO2 to the atmosphere. Finally, AAR and SBL have eliminated the printing of the Program Planner and Session Guide, eliminating the use of 25 million sheets of paper (equal to 1500 trees) and added 22,500 tons of CO2 to the atmosphere.


In 2010, the Sustainability Task Force presented a motion to the Board of Directors:

“Wherever feasible, the American Academy of Religion in planning its meetings will purchase and serve Fair Trade, local, organic, and humanely raised products.” It was taken under advisement, but never formally acted upon.


The Sustainability Task Force charges the Director of Meetings to work in conjunction with hotel chains, individual properties, convention centers, and Convention and Visitors Bureaus to “green” the Annual Meeting. This has been aided by industry-wide moves such as the APEX/ASTM Environmentally Sustainable Meeting Standards ( and the sustainability initiatives of the major hotel chains:

A great example of a property that has made great strides recently in sustainability is the venue for this year’s meeting, the Baltimore Convention Center, which is committed to building and implementing an innovative environmental management system that sustains the needs of daily operations and serves to educate and benefit their staff, industry partners and clientele on the importance of the reduction of its carbon footprint. They have categorized their efforts into 4 basic areas of concentration:

1)    Energy Efficiency

The use of energy management systems such as lighting and motion sensors, allows the Center to better manage operating costs.  The energy performance contract with Constellation Energy is designed to reduce the overall energy usage by 21%.

2)    Environmental Design

August of 2010 marked the completion of the 27,000 square foot green roof, a unique outdoor space designed with functional sustainable principles in mind. Inside the facility, the green design aesthetic is seen in the construction of t lobbies with floor to ceiling glass windows, that not only provide beautiful views of our surrounding area, but also permit the use of natural light to illuminate the common areas of the building. New projects include a complete restroom renovation that will incorporate water reduction fixtures, reducing water consumption by 25%.  Other future projects include solar panel placement and a re-design of the entire lighting system that will reduce the amount of  carbon, sulfur, nitrogen dioxide and mercury released into the atmosphere.

Green Roof

In August of 2010 the Center’s Outdoor Terrace officially became the Green Roof.  15,000 of the total 27,000 square foot space is available as function space.  More than half of the roof is made up of drought resistant vegetative roofing. As a function space, the new outdoor terrace/green roof offers a unique atmosphere for receptions, corporate events, luncheons and more in a garden setting with cityscape views.  Enjoy the sight of monarch butterflies, golden finches and other wildlife attracted by the variety of drought resistant flowers, herbs, grasses and trees.  The herbal garden, planted according to the chef’s requirements helps service our state-of-the-art kitchen facilities, offers clients local freshness at its best.

Common Areas

The Lobbies and other common areas throughout the building are designed with floor to ceiling exterior glass windows and skylights.  The design allows natural light to play a huge role in the illumination of the building, reducing the need for artificial lighting.

The lobbies are also equipped with photo sensors that make use of artificial lighting only when needed, thus reducing electrical costs and usage.

3)    Waste Management

The Baltimore Convention Center takes its waste management system one step further than Single Stream Recycling by being the first and only convention center in the country to employ SOMAT, a self-contained, self-cleaning pulper that turns solid food and cardboard waste materials into a heated soil amendment (compost material).

Since August of 2010, 30,000 lbs of food and paper waste has been reduced to 10,000 lbs of useable compost material. This material converted into a soil product is then used to fertilize our green roof gardens and surrounding landscape.

4)    Eco-Friendly Products and Services

Currently 80% of the cleaning products used at the Center are Green Seal or Designed for the Environment certified environmentally friendly products, including paper products used in the restrooms. Taking the reduction of toxin free products one step further, the Center utilizes Active Ion Pro which operates using an electrical charge, creating an oxygen-rich mixture of positive and negative nano-bubbles along with Activated Water.  This cleaning solution is 100% chemical free.


Finally, the Sustainability Task Force has sponsored a tremendous amount of programming for the Annual Meeting to educate the AAR’s members about the values and practices of sustainability. Since its creation in 2008 through its dissolution in 2012, the Task Force sponsored or co-sponsored five pre-conference workshops, four Special Topics Forums, three tours, two films, and a reception. The Religion and Ecology Group has committed to maintaining the work of the Task Force in this sort of programming and is sponsoring a preconference workshop and a tour in 2013. In addition, since 2008, the Program Book has featured sessions that focus on sustainability by placing a leaf icon next to them, making it easy for AAR members interested in these topics to quickly find and note these sessions.


A3-200 Special Topics Forum

1:00 pm-3:30 pm

Sponsored by the Sustainability Task Force

Kyle Cole, American Academy of Religion, Presiding

Theme: Thinking about Religion and Sustainability: Gottlieb’s A Greener Faith (Oxford University Press, 2006) and Beyond

Taking Roger Gottlieb’s book on religious environmentalism as a jumping off point, panel members will discuss and contextualize current movements in religion and sustainability. In particular, the panel will address what the Academy’s role is in relationship to sustainability concerns and how scholars of religion can bring broader attention to these issues in meaningful ways.


  •  Laurel D. Kearns, Drew University
  • Sarah McFarland Taylor, Northwestern University
  • Isabel Mukonyora, Western Kentucky University
  • John J. O’Keefe, Creighton University
  • Barbara A.B. Patterson, Emory University


Roger S. Gottlieb, Worcester Polytechnic Institute


Sustainability Workshop

Religious Studies in an Age of Global Warming: Transforming Ourselves, Our Students, and Our Universities

Friday, November 6, 1:30 pm–5:00 pm

Roger Gottlieb, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and Stephanie Kaza, University of Vermont, Presiding

Teaching the environmental crisis poses unique challenges and opportunities for higher education. The scope and extent of the threat demands that faculty inform themselves about a host of practical, theological, moral, historical, and political concerns that probably were not part of their original scholarly field. This workshop will give participants the chance to examine their own responses to the environmental crisis, the time to engage with faculty concerning teaching resources, sample syllabi and course modules, and the ways to connect with others in the campus sustainability movement. Material will be provided to support the development of “Religion and Environment” courses, and integration of environmental themes into courses such as “Introduction to Religious Studies,” “Social Ethics,” “Religion and Politics,” or studies of particular religions. We will take up relevant theological issues, moral problems, the role of religious environmentalism in relation to other social movements, and engaged teaching techniques designed to connect students to these crucial moral issues and their meaning for life on earth.

A7-202  Special Topics Forum

1:00 pm–3:30 pm


Laurel D. Kearns, Drew University, Presiding

Theme: To Sustain and Renew: AAR, NativeEnergy, and Building Supportive Partnerships between Academia and First Nations/First Peoples

Sponsored by the Sustainability Task Force

This year, the Sustainability Task Force inaugurates the AAR’s newest innovative environmental initiative. Beginning with the Montréal meeting, AAR has linked its online registration process with NativeEnergy to encourage all those attending to offset their production of carbon dioxide emissions generated by travel to the Annual Meeting. Through its third-party verified and certified Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) and offsets,

NativeEnergy helps to build Native American, farmer-owned, community-based renewable energy projects that create social, economic, and environmental benefits. This Special Topics Forum is essentially a working session to discuss ways that the AAR, similar scholarly organizations, and the broader realm of academia can take a greater role in supporting environmental sustainability efforts, while helping to support and sustain native cultures in the process.


Verney Marilyn Notah, University of California, Santa Barbara

Timothy Leduc, York University

Patrick Spears, Native Wind


A29-100 Religion and Ecology Workshop

Dealing with Ecological Despair: Religion, Ecology, and Hope in the Classroom

Friday, 9:00 am–12:00 pm

Hyatt Regency, Hanover D

Margaret Swedish, Center for New Creation, Presiding

Sponsored by the Religion and Ecology Group, the Forum on Religion and Ecology, and the Sustainability Task Force

This workshop, led by activist and author Margaret Swedish, is intended for those who teach in the area of religion and ecology/religion and nature. Many who teach in this field face the problem of ecological despair in both their own research and teaching, and in the students that are learning about global environmental issues. In this workshop, participants will discuss experiences of ecological despair and share techniques for dealing with it in the classroom.

There will be a lecture, question and answer session, and group discussion.

A29-202 Sustainability Workshop

Teaching about Food, Justice, and Sustainability

Friday, 1:30 pm–5:00 pm

Hyatt Regency, Hanover F

A. Whitney Sanford, University of Florida, David Aftandilian, Texas Christian University, and Barbara A. B. Patterson, Emory University, Presiding

Sponsored by the Religion and Ecology Group, the Forum on Religion and Ecology, the AAR Task Force on Sustainability, and the Animals and Religion Consultation

This interdisciplinary and participatory workshop will explore pedagogical issues and strategies around food, justice, and sustainability. Food is an increasingly popular way to engage critical thinking and personal choice, as well as to explore economic, environmental, health, and social justice issues in our global food system. Local and sustainable food alternatives, both urban and rural, provide connections to campus action, ethical reflection, and spiritual life. This workshop on food, justice, and sustainability will present an overview of issues and challenges that can be incorporated into existing and new religion courses, examples of useful topics for in-depth treatment, and teaching strategies for graduate and undergraduate levels. Attendees will have opportunities to discuss particular issues of interest with a panel of experienced teachers and will receive a bibliography.

Peggy Barlett, Emory University

Overview of Key Issues in Sustainable Food for Religion and Theology Courses

Sandra Robertson, Victory Church

Connecting to Place: Addressing Food Deserts in Atlanta

Carol Newsom, Emory University

The Bible and the Earth

Laurel D. Kearns, Drew University

Religious Communities and Food: The Green Seminary Initiative

A30-406 Film: Dirt!

Saturday, 8:00 pm–10:00 pm

Hyatt Regency, Hanover AB

Roger S. Gottlieb, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Presiding

Sponsored by the Religion and Ecology Group, the Forum on Religion and Ecology, and the Sustainability Task Force

2009, directed by Bill Benenson, Gene Rosow, and Eleonore Dailly. 86 minutes.

You are invited to watch the topical movie Dirt!, narrated by Jamie Lee Curtis. This movie brings to life the environmental, economic, social, and political impact that the soil has. Come, watch, and take part in a conversation about the Earth’s most valuable and underappreciated source of fertility — from its miraculous beginning to its crippling degradation. The opening scenes of the film dive into the wonderment of the soil. Made from the same elements as the stars, plants, animals, and us, “dirt is very much alive.” The real change lies in our notion of what dirt is. The movie teaches us: “When humans arrived two million years ago, everything changed for dirt. And from that moment on, the fate of dirt and humans has been intimately linked.” Dirt is more than a discussion of what is happening to Earth. It is a call to action.

A1-137 Tour

Food, Justice, and Sustainability: Atlanta’s Urban Agriculture

Monday, 9:00 am–12:00 pm

Buses pick up at Hyatt Regency-Baker Street Exit

A. Whitney Sanford, University of Florida, and Laurel D. Kearns, Drew University, Presiding

Sponsored by the Religion and Ecology Group, the Forum on Religion and Ecology, and the AAR Task Force on Sustainability

This bus tour will take us to places in urban Atlanta where residents are working to address food, justice, and sustainability concerns in their communities. Tour guide Erin Croom of Georgia Organics ( will lead us through several sites to show how local organizations have been addressing hunger and nutrition by developing new forms of urban agriculture and garden-based education. The tour will include sites such as the Edgewood Community Garden (, Oakleaf Mennonite Farm (, and Truly Living Well Natural Urban Farms ( The Edgewood Garden works with local schools, religious organizations, and senior centers. The Oakleaf Mennonite Farm is a diverse vegetable and small-animal farm founded by the Berea Mennonite Church in East Atlanta with the belief that local, fresh, responsible eating is part of the Christian call to stewardship and creation care. Truly Living Well is an African American owned and operated urban farm that provides food and educational services for local communities.  A portion of the tour fee will be donated to these organizations.


A18-204 Sustainability Workshop

Friday, 1:45 pm–5:30 pm


David Aftandilian, Texas Christian University, Presiding

Theme: Teaching About Religion and Sustainability: The Animal Question

Sponsored by the Sustainability Task Force and the Animals and Religion Group

What roles do and can animals play in the religion classroom? How can thinking about animals and religion help our students better understand both religion and their own relationships with animals? In this teaching workshop, experienced scholar-teachers will help attendees work through these and related questions. One panel will introduce key issues concerning animals, religion, and sustainability through the specific themes of urban wildlife, companion animals, and animals as food. Another panel will focus specifically on teaching about animals in three different kinds of religion courses: introduction to religion, comparative religion, and seminary courses (e.g., Biblical Studies, Christian Ethics, etc.). Participants will also discuss how to teach about animals and religion through service- or community-based learning. Guided small-table discussions following the panels will give attendees the chance to further discuss issues raised by the presentations and to share pedagogical techniques with each other. We will also have a comprehensive bibliography for all participants.


  • David Clough, University of Chester
  • Aaron Gross, University of San Diego
  • Christine Gutleben, Humane Society of the United States
  • Laura Hobgood-Oster, Southwestern University
  • Laurel D. Kearns, Drew University
  • Jay McDaniel, Hendrix College
  • Sara Tlili, University of Florida
  • Paul Waldau, Canisius College

A18-302 Sustainability Reception in Honor of Rosemary Radford Ruether

Friday, 5:30 pm–7:30 pm

MM-Nob Hill C

Sponsored by the Sustainability Task Force and the Religion and Ecology Group

Please join us for a reception in honor of Rosemary Radford Ruether’s seventy-fifth birthday. The reception will be sustainably catered, following the day-long workshop of the Sustainability Task Force.

This reception will also mark the publication of Voices of Feminist Liberation: Writings in Honor of Rosemary Radford Ruether (Equinox, 2012). The reception is made possible by a generous donation to the Religion and Ecology Group.

A18-401 Film: Journey of the Universe

Friday, 8:00 pm–10:00 pm

MM-Golden Gate A

Mary Evelyn Tucker, Yale University, Presiding

Sponsored by the Sustainability Task Force, the Religion and Ecology Group, and the Forum on Religion and Ecology

Acclaimed author and evolutionary philosopher Brian Thomas Swimme shares his infectious curiosity about life’s biggest questions in the epic Journey of the Universe. This documentary film project, companion book, and 20-part educational series is a collaboration of Swimme and historian of religions Mary Evelyn Tucker. They weave a tapestry that draws together scientific discoveries in astronomy, geology, biology, ecology, and biodiversity with humanistic insights concerning the nature of the universe. Using his skills as a masterful storyteller, Swimme connects such big picture issues as the birth of the cosmos — to the invisible frontiers of the human genome — as well as to our current impact on Earth’s evolutionary dynamics. From the Big Bang–to the epic impact humans have on the planet today — this film is designed to inspire a new and closer relationship with Earth in a period of growing environmental and social crisis.


  • Brian Swimme, California Institute of Integral Studies
  • Barbara Holmes, Memphis Theological Seminary
  • Heather Eaton, St. Paul University

A19-3 Muir Woods Tour

Saturday, 8:00 am–11:00 am

Offsite-Meet at CC-Howard Street Exit

Sponsored by the Sustainability Task Force

After a short ride from San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge, you will be awed by one of the most magnificent Redwood forests in the world — Muir Woods. Early winter is one of the best times to visit Muir Woods — the weather is cool and rainy; and Redwood Creek is full and melodious. You will travel by bus and have an opportunity to walk through the forest and explore this magnificent National Monument. Bring rain gear!

A19-102 Special Topics Forum


Michael Christensen, Drew University, Presiding

Theme: Delicious Peace: Fair Trade, Religions, and the Academy

Sponsored by the Sustainability Task Force

As part of the AAR Sustainability Task Force’s focus on educating about sustainable food practices, and in recognition that San Francisco is a Fair Trade city, this session focuses on issues related to Fair Trade best practices. The international Fair Trade movement has involved over a million growers and countless consumers with its focus on ethical and environmentally-responsible economics. Religious groups have played an important role, both among the producers and in promoting Fair Trade products. This panel will present and discuss the award-winning film Delicious Peace (Mirembe Kawomera) Grows in a Ugandan Coffee Bean, which chronicles the Peace Kawomera cooperative with over 1,000 Jewish, Christian, and Muslim farmers/members. Panelists will also discuss Fair Trade and religious practice, the Fair Trade university movement, challenges that the Fair Trade movement faces, and the possible connections between the AAR and Fair Trade. This Special Topics Forum welcomes discussion on all the ways that the AAR can take a greater role in incorporating environmental sustainability efforts.


  • Laurel D. Kearns, Drew University
  • Paul Katzeff, Thanksgiving Coffee Company
  • David Barnhill, University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh

A21-136 Edible Cityscapes — Religion, Justice, and Sustainable Food Culture Tour

Monday, 9:00 am–1:00 pm

Offsite–Meet at CC–Howard Street Exit

Sponsored by the Sustainability Task Force

This bus tour features leaders and community organizations working to bring fresh food to urban food deserts, to address global hunger and ecological degradation, and to educate children about gardening, cooking, and health. During site visits in Oakland and Berkeley, we will learn how committed community activists nourish a progressive, sustainable food culture in the East Bay Area, as well as contribute to international NGOs dealing with food security. The tour will include talks from and visits with local religious and secular leaders within these movements, who will share the specific religious and/or spiritual values and ethics that drive their sustainable food and policy activism.


9:00 am–9:25 am

Drive from San Francisco to Oakland. Presentation from Renna Khuner-Haber, Bay Area Programs Associate of Hazon

9:30 am–10:15 am

Meet with Marilyn Borchardt, Development Director of Food First

10:30 am–11:15 am

Meet with Nikki Henderson, Executive Director of People’s Grocery

11:30 am–12:30 pm

Meet with HuNia Bradley, Program Manager for Farm Fresh Choice, a program of the Ecology Center, and Wendy Johnson, Zen Buddhist teacher and master gardener involved with the College of Marin, Green Gulch Farm, and the Edible Schoolyard

12:30 pm–1:00 pm

Return to San Francisco to be dropped off at the Moscone Center or at the San Francisco Ferry Building for a sustainable lunch

*Participants who elect to have lunch will be responsible for their own transportation after lunch.


A16-203 Sustainability Workshop

Theme: Global Perspectives on (In)equality and Ethics in Ecological Issues

Friday, 1:45 PM–5:00 PM

HC-Williford B

Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, Seattle University Presiding

Sponsored by the Sustainability Task Force and the Transformative Scholarship and Pedagogy Group

Religion and theology increasingly are called upon to contribute their resources to the task of reversing humankind’s current path toward ecological disaster. Ecological degradation is linked insidiously with various forms of social injustice based on race/ethnicity, class, gender, nationality, and caste. Those links often are ignored in the mainstream environmental discourse. A religiously grounded commitment to dismantle oppression, however, calls for holding social justice and ecological well being as inseparable in the quest for sustainable Earth-human relations. The pedagogical challenges arising from this commitment are profound. This workshop will explore the pedagogical problems and possibilities arising from a commitment — within theology and religious studies — to confront the issues of privilege, power, and difference inherent in ecological issues.

The intent is to provide a supportive and stimulating context for practical and visionary collaborative reflection on such questions as: How do we teach about climate imperialism, ecological debt, or environmental racism in ways that foster a sense of hope and moral agency rather than despair or powerlessness? What are epistemological keys to understanding the exploitation of Earth as the exploitation of people on the margins of privilege and power? What forms of teaching unlock power for confronting systemic domination? How do we prepare students to construct worlds that we have not yet imagined? One panel will uncover and explore key issues concerning the nexus of equity and ecology on local and global scales, highlighting both problems and constructive proposals. A second panel will identify key pedagogical questions and offer pedagogical tools and approaches. Guided discussion will enable participants to delve more deeply into the issues raised, share pedagogical resources, and build collegial networks of support.


  • Prairie Rose Seminole, Fargo, ND
  • Isabel Mukonyora, Western Kentucky University
  • Tyson-Lord Gray, Vanderbilt University
  • Kwok Pui Lan, Episcopal Divinity School
  • Kurt Kuhwald, Starr King School for the Ministry
  • Ivone Gebara, Tabatinga, Brazil

A18-303 Special Topics Forum

Theme: Nurturing Sustainability in Higher Education

John O’Keefe, Creighton University, Presiding

Sunday – 5:00 PM-6:30 PM

McCormick Place North-130

The past decade has witnessed a dramatic rise in universities embracing sustainability and the establishment of a national organization, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). Much of the focus in universities has been on greening campus operations, such as water conservation and the use of renewable energy. Sustainability in the curriculum has been more of a challenge. The panelists will discuss strategies of infusing sustainability into the curriculum, including faculty workshops on sustainability in course design, the development of teaching materials, outdoor activities that cultivate a sense of place, and community-based exercises. Also discussed will be initiatives to make sustainability a required part of general education, as well as the role of social justice and spirituality in sustainability pedagogy. There will be extensive time for discussion with the audience.


Bobbi Patterson, Emory University

David Barnhill, University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh


[1] World Commission on Environment and Development (aka Bruntland Commission), “Our Common Future,” Acronyms and Note on Terminology, 1987.

[2] Beth McMurtie, “Taking Political Stands Does Not Sit Well with All Groups,” The Chronicle of Higher Education (February 17, 2014).

[3] Robert Goodland, “The Concept of Environmental Sustainability,” Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 26 (1995): 1-24,, accessed May 17, 2013.

[4] See Philip Cafaro, “What Should NPS Tell Visitors (and Congress) about Climate Change?,” George Wright Forum, vol. 29, no. 3 (2013): 287-298.

[5] Hugh Gorman, “Urban Areas, Environmental Decision Making, and Use of History to Inform Public Choices,” in Scarpino and Melosi, eds. Public History and the Environment (Malabar, FL: Krieger Publishing Company, 2004) p. 207.

[6] Since 2012, NPS cultural resource specialists have become more involved in collaborative planning to produce a climate change response strategy.  NPS is currently convening a series of three webinars followed by a two-day work session on “Preserving Coastal Heritage” to be held in New York City on April 3-4, 2014.  The National Trust for Historic Preservation, George Wright Society, and National Endowment for the Arts are providing support for the two-day work session.

[7] Philip Cafaro, “What Should the NPS Tell Visitors (and Congress) about Climate Change?” The George Wright Forum 29:3 (2012): 287-298.

[8] Will Ippen, “How Much to Public Historians Care about issues of Environmental Sustainability?” History@Work: A Public History Commons from the National Council on Public History (, December 9, 2013.

[9] Hal E. Hershfield, H. Min Bang, and Elke U. Weber, “National Differences in Environmental Concern and Performance Are Predicted by County Age,” Psychological Science vol. 20, no. 10 (2013): 1-9.

[10] This information was extracted from the ASEH website and from interviews with the ASEH Sustainability Committee.

[11] Diane Barthel-Bouchier, Cultural Heritage and the Challenge of Sustainability (Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2013), 55.

[12] Augustin Collette, et al., Case Studies on Climate Change and World Heritage (Paris: UNESCO World Heritage Centre, 2007).

[13] Barthel-Bouchier, 62-65.

[14] Barthel-Bouchier, 69-71.

[15] Barthel-Bouchier,65-69.




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