Sustainability workshop to foster collaboration
A workshop at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's West Central Research and Extension Center in North Platte was part of a "long-term conversation to discover what sustainability means for Nebraskans."
The Joslyn Institute for Sustainable Communities has sponsored Nebraska Sustainability Leadership Workshops in 16 communities throughout Nebraska, said Mary Ferdig, president, Sustainability Leadership Institute. In North Platte, Ferdig and Tim Hemsath, chairman, Flatwater Chapter, U.S. Green Building Association and assistant UNL professor of architecture, facilitated the workshop. Ferdig said that workshop organizers initiate discussion with concepts that help expand understanding of sustainability for themselves, as well as workshop participants.
"We're also learning about issues from region to region," Ferdig said. "Those who come to the workshop, they are the experts about what's going on in their region."
NSLW also brings experts about particular issues, such as sustainable food systems, sustainable and efficient use of energy and water quality and quantity.
"If water is gold, Nebraska is Fort Knox," said Jim Goeke, UNL hydrogeologist in North Platte. "We are lucky to live in Nebraska, lucky to live above the world's second biggest aquifer. However, that abundant supply of water is going to go away with overuse and competing interests.
"We already have towns that have no water," he said. "How do we engage people in community planning and development with the priority of sustaining our resources--our water, our land, energy, materials, food, people? Sometimes it's a 'gun to the head' syndrome."
"We try to focus on experts that capitalize on rich Nebraska resources," said Hemsath. "We provide experts to show people the complexity of those issues and the resources to meet them."
W. Cecil Steward, Joslyn Institute founder, developed the concept of "Five Domains of Sustainability." Those domains include economic needs, socio-cultural factors, environmental requirements, public policy and technology. Through those domains, organizers attempt to discover resources that are "rich" in Nebraska and talk about how to plan and grow or sustain a way of life that's valuable to people in the community.
NSLW introduces the EcoSTEP Model, a metric tool for measuring sustainability, based on the five domains. This tool asks participants what to measure. What are the indicators of a more sustainable community from the perspective of the Five Domains? Discovering those indicators becomes the forerunner of strategies and actions to attain sustainability.
"The stated outcome becomes a tool for brainstorming, for collaboration and for communicating the big picture," Ferdig said.
"I find it most valuable for workshop participants to know they're not alone in dealing with the issues they face," Hemsath said. The workshops are "kind of a grassroots effort to connect everybody."
Not only do people find resources right in their own communities, they can also access resources from other workshops, from the experts we bring and from follow-up documentation, Ferdig said.
The day-and-a-half workshop participants include civic leaders, business leaders, educators, elected officials and people in communities throughout the state. Workshops have been held in Culbertson, Beatrice, Kearney, Columbus, Grand Island, Mead, Blair, Norfolk, O'Neill, Alliance, Lincoln, Omaha, Valentine, Broken Bow, Chadron and Nebraska City. More workshops will take place in 2010.
For more information and to become a sustainability leader, go to the Nebraska Sustainability Leadership Workshop home page at http://nslw.org. To learn more about the institute, go to: http://joslyninstitute.org/.