By Elisabeth Wall
Dr. Lee Ball, the interim director of sustainability for Appalachian State University, has all the credentials: a doctorate in Sustainability Education, a master’s in Environmental Education, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Natural Science. He has taught sustainability-related content for 14 years. His primary research is focused on sustainability literacy, the valuation of green building, biophilic/ecophilic design and change agency related to community engagement.
Dr. Ball also walks the walk.
He serves on the boards of a number of institutions with sustainability priorities. He is a habitual volunteer. He is helping to establish a sustainability council at his alma mater, Lees-McRae College. He rides his bike to work. He once lived with bears. He closely mentors 15 or more interns and untold numbers of students. He gardens, he’s a vegan; he runs and he loves his family.
Oh, and then there’s his day job.
Ball assumed his position in the Office of Sustainability in May and has been on fire since. In a podcast recorded in September, he shared his thoughts about the meaning of sustainability, what it means at Appalachian and what he wants to accomplish.
Sustainability is a process. The definition is something a lot of people struggle with. We spend a lot of our time trying to help people figure out how they’re going to connect to it. Because it is so beautiful here, it is natural for us to rally for the environment. A subset of that is a thriving, strong and flourishing economy that supports the society. When everything is somewhat in balance, then the environment and the people are happy.
We have so many [faculty] experts here… national and international leaders. We’re already doing academic integration. Now we need to leverage it. We need to tell the stories.
We have a team of outreach interns... who are on campus frequently so that the students, faculty and staff can understand what we do... we’re out there talking about equity and we’re talking about the environment and zero waste and triple bottom line economics and art and all of the different ways that you can connect with sustainability.
The university is in our second year of a new strategic plan called The Appalachian Experience: Envisioning a Just and Sustainable Future. The idea of the sustainability literacy project is to assess the knowledge, behaviors and attitudes of our campus community. We have a series of surveys for incoming students, both transfers and freshmen, faculty and staff... [as well as] qualitative interviews and focus groups. We will survey them again toward the end of the strategic plan to see if we’ve moved the needle.
When we’re throwing something away, we need to know what ‘away’ is and we need to know the right receptacle to put it in.
...The largest part of zero waste is the upstream part of it. So we’re working on not buying certain things or we’re buying things that are recyclable or that can be used again. It’s not an afterthought.
...We’re starting a green office certification program with standards and criteria for things an office can do to make its environment more sustainable.
We are really lucky that we have integrated sustainability at very deep and high and broad levels here at Appalachian. It’s really an exciting time to be here. The issues related to sustainability are serious, and we can’t be complacent and sit here as bystanders. We all have to participate and so we’re trying to get people engaged and involved.
“Our campus’ work in sustainability grew out of years of grassroots efforts by students, faculty and staff.”
– Sheri N. Everts, Chancellor