AT THE UNIVERSITY of New Hampshire, sustainability is a creed that not only informs its strategic priorities as an organization, but interactions with the community and academic programs.
“We provide opportunities for hands-on, experiential learning opportunities,” said Faina Bukher, who leads student education and engagement programs at the UNH Sustainability Institute. “We engage community members in effective solutions to challenging and often systemic social, economic and environmental issues in support of social progress.”
B Impact Clinic
One example of such an opportunity is UNH’s B Impact Clinic, which was launched three years ago in partnership with New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility. The B Impact Clinic advises teams of undergraduate students from various majors and disciplines to serve as consultants for regional companies that are working to complete their B Impact Assessment (BIA).
“The BIA is an open-access, rigorous assessment tool, which is widely regarded as a comprehensive way to assess a company’s impact,” she explained. “Students help company leaders who want to address their social and environmental impact and are matched with companies to help them complete the BIA, become B Corp certified, re-certified, or to simply understand how they perform.”
Organizations with whom they have worked include Koya Leadership Partners, Timberland, Orvis, Jack’s Pizza, Stonyfield, Luke’s Lobster, Coffee by Design, L.L. Bean, Grandy Oats, Prime Buchholz, Kikori, and Good Start Packaging.
Last academic year, Bukher said UNH had 28 students contribute more than 1,568 hours and create $42,650 of value for the community.
“We know this impact will continue to scale,” she said.
Summer Sustainability Fellowships
UNH also offers Summer Sustainability Fellowships, which pair “exceptional” undergraduate and graduate students from UNH and universities across the country with municipal, educational, corporate, and non-profit partners in New England. The objective is for them to work on transformative sustainability initiatives.
“Each summer, Fellows undertake challenging sustainability projects that are designed to create an immediate impact, offer an extraordinary learning experience, and foster meaningful collaboration,” said Bukher.
The current portfolio of Fellowships covers a broad range of sustainability topics, such as renewable energy, carbon emissions, climate resilience, social justice, food systems, and responsible investing. Projects involve various types of work, which include everything from community engagement and data analysis to science, policy, research, and implementation.
“Last year, one of our students was paired with the town of Durham to conduct an inventory of the town’s municipal carbon and nitrogen emissions,” Bukher said.
Lonza Biologics in Portsmouth is one example of more than 20 projects scheduled for summer of 2021.
“We will have a student work on their Corporate Citizenship Program to drive sustainability through volunteering, sponsorship, and educational outreach,” she noted.
Sustainability Dual Major
UNH also offers a sustainability dual major, which allows students to take a deep dive into their disciplinary-based major while also learning how their discipline relates to broader societal challenges.
“It provides a unique opportunity for students to combine their major with a set of classes and experiences to broaden their perspectives on global challenges,” said Dr. Cameron Wake, faculty chair, sustainability dual major.
These challenges include poverty, inequity, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, peace, and justice as embodied in UN Sustainable Development Goals.
“There is growing interest in finding solutions that simultaneously ensure social, economic, and environmental wellbeing at local to global scales, now and for generations to come,” he said.
The key, said Wake, is to encourage students to “think in systems,” which he said is critical to address the complex global challenges we now collectively face.
“We want students to develop an ability to analyze and synthesize the interconnections among environmental, social, and economic aspects of complex systems,” he said. “We also want them to understand how problems manifest at different scales — local to global — and make connections between past, present, and future.”
According to Wake, the broad-based goal behind the dual major is to help students develop and apply their understanding in personal and professional settings and in collaboration with others.
“Comprehending grand challenges, thinking in systems, and advocating for values represent our central sustainability educational goals” he said. “We expect our students to apply this knowledge to a lifetime of action.”
To learn more about sustainability at UNH, visit unh.edu/sustainability.