Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Sustainability

NYU Professors Lisa DiCaprio and Mary Leou were awarded a Green Grant from the NYU Office of Sustainability in spring 2013, to launch an initiative to help faculty integrate sustainability in their curriculum. This initiative was a response to the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) that has been signed by 671 college university presidents including NYU President John Sexton.

The grant supported a series of faculty workshops. The first, entitled "Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Sustainability: Transforming Curriculum in Higher Education" was attended by over 40 NYU faculty from 5 NYU Schools, graduate students and guests. The workshop included a panel discussion from three NYU faculty members, who presented sustainability concepts from their discipline areas: Jennifer Berg, NYU Nutrition and Food Studies, Rae Zimmerman, NYU, Urban Planning, Constantine Kontokosta, Center for Urban Science and Progress. 

The workshop enabled attendees to discuss future projects and consider ways in which they might integrate sustainbility concepts into their work. Workshop materials included a list of sustainability concepts and websites which might be useful in integrating sustainability into courses and projects. Links to sustainability concepts are listed below.

The second workshop featuring Ecological Footprints was held in spring of 2014.  Presenters included: Ozgem Ornektekin, NYU Office of Sustainability, Betty Cremmins, Carbon Disclosure Project, and Jennifer Berg, NYU Dept of Nutrition and Food Studies.

Sustainability Concepts and Terms 

Anthropocene Age

The proposed current geological age, in which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the natural environment.

Biodiversity

The variety of life in an ecosystem. This can include flora and fauna.

Biomimicry

Sustainable, artificial creations made to mimic natural patterns and strategies.

Biophilia

The instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems.

Clean/green economy

A sector of the economy that produces goods and services with a positive environmental impact and low carbon emissions.

Climate change

A phenomenon where there are major climate fluctuations in a small period of time caused both naturally and unnaturally.

Climate change adaptation

Steps taken to lessen the lessen the impacts of climate change that has already taken place.

  • Global Climate Change I NASA
  • Climate Change Adaptation I UNDP
Cradle to cradle/closed loop design

A continuous cycle where products are created, broken down, and then recycled again to create new products.

Ecological footprints: carbon, water, forest.

The required amount of forest, water, and carbon a person, community needs to sustain their lifestyle.

Energy efficiency and conservation

Using less energy to provide the same level of energy services.

Environmental Education

An organized effort to teach how environmental ecosystems function, and how humans interconnect and interact with nature.

Environmental justice

The fair treatment of all people, even those that are underrepresented, in the process of creating and implementing environmental laws.

  • The Environmental Justice Movement I NRDC
  • Environmental Justice I EPA
Fossil fuels

A natural fuel such as coal, oil or natural gas, formed in the geological past from the remains of living organisms.

Green buildings

A structure designed to mitigate negative environmental impacts through the entirety of the building’s cycle: from design to maintenance.

  • Green Building I EPA
  • What is green building? I USGBC
Green consumption

Practicing purchasing habits with a minimal negative environmental impact.

  • Shopping Green I FTC
Green products

Items with either a positive environmental impact, or a minimal negative impact. This takes into account the entirety of the product’s lifecycle: from raw materials to packaging.

  • Sustainable Marketplace: Greener Products and Services Share I EPA
  • Energy Star Products Energy Star
Green spaces

Areas set aside for the sole purpose of providing natural landscapes. These are most often found in cities, which lack more natural spaces.

  • What is Open Space/Green Space? I EPA
Greenhouse gas emissions

Gas in the atmosphere that is capable of absorbing infrared radiation, which traps and holds heat. The most commonly discussed greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide and methane.

  • Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions I EPA
  • Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions I EPA
  •  What are Greenhouse Gases I NOAA
Life cycle assessments and supply chain analysis

A technique used to assess the environmental impact of a product’s lifecycle.

  • Life Cycle Assessment I UNEP
  • Life Cycle Assessments of Energy Technologies I NREL
Limits of growth/planetary boundaries

The idea that Earth can only support so many living organisms, in this case, human beings.

Natural capital

Natural resources, including soil, air, water, etc.

Renewable energy

Energy that is collected from sources that are naturally replenished, such as sunlight, wind, and waves.

Resiliency sustainable agriculture

Agriculture designed to not only be environmentally sustainable, but also resilient to climate change.

  • What is sustainable agriculture? I UC Davis
  • Climate Resilient Sustainable Agriculture: A Real Alternative to False Solutions I ActionAid
Sustainability literacy

The knowledge and deep understanding of building towards a more sustainable future.

Sustainable urbanism

Designing and planning cities that are economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable.

Intelligent transportation systems

The application of advanced sensor, computer, electronics, and communication technologies and management strategies—in an integrated manner—to improve the safety and efficiency of the surface transportation system.

  • History of Intelligent Transportation Systems I USDOT
  • Urban Informatics I NYU CUSP
Urban Planning

The practice of development for cities, towns, and suburban areas.

 

Articles

Initiatives to Reduce Plastic Pollution by Lisa DiCaprio, August 29, 2018

High-rise Passive House in NYC by Lisa DiCaprio, December 18, 2017

Educating for Sustainability: An Emerging Purpose of Education by Charles Hopkins, July 30, 2013

Greening Universities Toolkit by United Nations Environment Program, 2013

Additional Helpful Links

American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment

National Council for Science and the Environment

New York Academy of Sciences

NYU Center for Urban Science and Progress

NYU Department of Nutrition and Food Studies

NYU Environmental Studies Program

NYU Marron Institute on Cities and the Urban Environment

NYU Metropolitan Studies

NYU Sustainability Office

NYU Wagner Institute for Civil Infrastructure Systems (ICIS)

NYU Wagner Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management

Stockholm Resilience Centre