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Sowing the seeds

Sowing the seeds

The Institute of Environmental Sustainability is working toward practical solutions to modern environmental challenges

The new Institute for Environmental Sustainability (IES) facility is more than just a building. In some ways, it mimics the environment those within it seek to preserve. The geothermal heating and cooling system operates on the same principle as the process that keeps a duck's foot warm in cold water. The aquaponics facilities act as scaled-down wetlands. Even the building itself is something like a tree, with deep roots that get energy from the ground and a roof that harvests rain water.

This idea—that by understanding our how our environment works, we can be better stewards of it, which will benefit us in return—is at the heart of the Institute for Environmental Sustainability. The building, and the programs under the umbrella of the institute, demonstrate that sustainability is a part of all facets of life, at Loyola and in the world beyond.

“Sustaining the health of our environment is the critical issue of the next generation,” says Nancy Tuchman, PhD, founding director of the institute. “It’s a Jesuit way of thinking, and it’s an issue of responsibility. We see environmental issues as social justice issues.”

The institute is a cooperative endeavor that spans campuses and disciplines, addressing environmental issues from the molecular level to entire ecosystems, and from personal responsibility to environmental policy. Research taking place within the institute ranges from the compilation of data about the damaged Chicago area waterway system to field ornithology courses to soil evaluation. The Retreat and Ecology Campus, including its student-run farm, is a vital arm of the institute.

The new building, which opened on September 6, will be a center of sustainability at the Lake Shore Campus. Featuring classrooms, labs, academic departments, and student housing under one roof, as well as two student gardens, two aquaponics facilities, a green café, and other innovative components, it is designed to integrate sustainable thinking and sustainable living.

“Our Institute of Environmental Sustainability gives us an opportunity to drill down and dig deeply into knowledge of the science behind environmental problems, but it also offers the hopefulness of solutions that we can provide,” says Tuchman.

The institute offers a BA in environmental studies and a BS in environmental science, as well as five-year BA/ or BS/MBA programs designed to help students understand the implications of business and consumer products and practices. All students, regardless of their majors, take a Core course in environmental issues.

“We want to help channel students into careers in environmental sustainability, whether it’s business or policy, public health, or environmental science,” Tuchman says. “And we want all of our graduates to have literacy about environmental issues—to connect them to the sense of urgency that we ought to all have.”

Tuchman hopes to see the program enrollment double over the next few years and eventually grow into a fully-fledged school. At Loyola, the culture of sustainable responsibility—and the resources to find solutions—are growing.