There’s a new term in vogue in the sustainability field: regeneration. It’s no longer enough to merely do no further damage; the focus now is on fixing what was broken previously.
Leona Rousseau, then, would be the perfect person to champion causes focused on this new philosophy. As program chair for Lethbridge College’s Interior Design program, she’s done the research and walked the walk of sustainability, weaving it into her curriculum in hopes of instilling environmental consciousness in her students.
Now, she has a larger stage on which to perform, at least until her term ends later this year as chair of the Communities of Practice initiative of the Alberta Association of Colleges and Technical Institutes. That’s a long title, but it boils down quite easily: AACTI is an umbrella organization for 17 colleges in the province; the Communities of Practice committee allows member colleges to share experiences, explore opportunities of mutual interest and support expansion of applied research and innovation.
During her term, she’ll be looking at all 17 campuses to compile a database on what each is doing in sustainability in three areas: research, curriculum and operations, positioning them as visible centres and leaders in the advancement of sustainable community development. Her work will culminate with an environmental/sustainability summit in 2010 – she hopes to hold it at Lethbridge College – which will hopefully bring together stakeholders and representatives from all 17 colleges.
Main issues of concern raised at the Summit may be used at AACTI round-table discussion sessions at municipal and/or other sustainability conferences or events.
“Campuses are eager to develop research in new technology, encourage partnerships and innovation,” says Rousseau, whose students researched and recommended materials for the interior of the Living Home Project. “We want to bridge the gap between colleges and industry; we hope corporations will see colleges as places for research. That hasn’t traditionally been our mandate; research was always reserved for universities. But we are involved in applied research and that puts us in a unique position: we are involved in hands on learning, we have the lab space and we have students and faculty involved in research. We can be a facilitator and create true partnerships with industry.”
Rousseau is joined at AACTI by Lethbridge College President Tracy Edwards, who is serving as president of the organization’s council of presidents.
Edwards agrees applied research is a key consideration for the association’s sustainability initiatives. “Applied research means working with business and industry to help them solve the challenges they are facing in being sustainable,” says Edwards. “It can help them understand how they can implement sustainable practices.”
And, there’s a huge benefit that accrues to students involved in applied research. “It teaches critical thinking,” says Edwards. “They learn to learn by solving practical problems in the community,” says
Rousseau agrees and notes colleges are involved in research in real-life settings with companies eager for the knowledge to be mined.
“If these companies did the research on their own, it would cost more,” she says. “When they come to colleges to do the research, they win financially, college faculty win, students win and the community benefits. Look at the Living Home: it gave the community ‘look, touch and feel’ results.
The benefits to communities from applied research are more direct and immediate than longer-term research.”
AACTI can provide funding for faculty-mentored student involvement, a huge advantage to their learning and post-grad opportunities.
“Students are an integral part of the process, not sitting on the sidelines or merely assisting,” says Rousseau. “They take away valuable experience, and, in two years, can be applying their ideas in the community, contributing to something much bigger.”
Rousseau earned the first professional bachelor in interior design from the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Architecture, and followed it with masters in designing education. She is working on her doctorate in educational technology through the University of Calgary. All through her learning and teaching, she’s kept sustainability in her focus.
“Sustainability research and ecology played into the courses I teach,” she says. “I am concerned, professionally and personally, with environmental and health issues.” She’s also involved her Interior Design program students in community projects, a value-added process that makes them more rounded and experienced when they graduate.
“It’s a natural transition, using strengths and skills for the community, using powers for good,” says Rousseau. “Most students realize the importance of giving back; they might not enter the program that way, but it can be cultivated. Interior design is more than making things look great. Yes, it involves aesthetics and function, but the designs it promotes must be healthy and sustainable. The relationship between the two is more intense than ever; design has an impact on all aspects of life. Interior designers have to be responsible to their clients, but must also have a social, ethical, economic and ecological responsibility.
Leona Rousseau’s tips to green up your home or office:
- Bring the outdoors in.
Add plants like the hardy Peace Lily, Spider plant or Dracaena to your interior spaces to help combat poor indoor air quality. Plants provide oxygen and are especially effective in cleaning the air of toxic chemicals like benzene and formaldehyde that can off-gas from materials and furnishings.
- Don’t light up your life.
Maximize use of natural lighting from windows. Adjust blinds throughout the day to accommodate changing light quantity and quality. Whenever possible, move activities such as meetings and reading to areas with natural light.
- Buy biodegradable.
There are more biodegradable and compostable products on store shelves than ever, including disposable plates, cutlery, planters and garbage bags. These are typically made of materials such as starches that are engineered to break down. Look for certified products.
- Tone down that toner.
Purchase toner cartridges for copiers and laser printers that have low levels of particulate pollution and buy brands that include postage-free recycling programs. Then be sure to use that program to recycle all of your spent cartridges so they don’t pollute the landfill.
- Clean up those cleaners.
Cleaning products can be toxic to humans, pets and the greater environment. Buy ones that are free of phosphates, ammonia, chlorine, formaldehyde, naphthalene and other harmful chemicals.