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This week’s interview is with Terry Link, recently hired as the Executive Director of the Greater Lansing Food Bank (GLFB). Terry began his position at GLFB in February 2009 after founding and working as the Director of Campus Sustainability at Michigan State University. Terry’s work at MSU is well known and his impact on sustainability advancements both within MSU and beyond has been large.

In a parting email address, Terry reflected, “For the past ten years I have been attempting to build new relationships across former boundaries within MSU using “sustainability” as a magnet that could attract us toward a more holistic consideration of our present and future lives in community. While that work has a considerable way to go, I am pleased that there is a growing chorus of voices from across campus that have stepped up to help our community make significant strides toward a more sustainable enterprise that addresses the needs of our human family and the natural world.”

Terry’s work on campus sustainability will be missed but in his new job to eliminate the causes of hunger through the Greater Lansing Food Bank, we know his positive impact will continue.  Continue reading to learn more about Terry’s work as Director of Sustainability at MSU.

How did you get started in campus sustainability?
I helped to start the campus movement.  My work began in the early 1990’s working with sustainable investments and the Talloires Declaration. I later led the successful creation of the University committee on sustainability and ultimately the Office of Sustainability at Michigan State University.

What campus sustainability success are you most proud of?
Broadly, the deep and enduring relationships built across campus both internally and externally in the community. Also, I’m proud of helping to cultivate a culture of collaboration as a norm in our work.

What advice would you give to others in your position who are just getting started?
You need persistence, patience, the ability to speak truth to power, respectfulness, humility, inclusion, transparency…. and fun!

In what area(s) do you see the biggest room for growth in the campus sustainability field?

I would say investments, pay equity and income gaps between the well paid and the lowest paid are the biggest areas of potential growth.

One area pretty much under the radar is the use of university endowments and pension funds to push sustainability forward. The driving agenda has been simply on returning as much financial capital back to the institution as a growing income stream, without nary a consideration if whether  that approach had downsides. With the unraveling of the mortgage and real estate markets and  the stock market, the whole underbelly of the economic system should be up for reconsideration. What you are hearing from most of the mass media and pundits is a tweaking of the system as opposed to a fundamental reconsideration of what myths it is built on.

Luckily this isn’t entirely true. Economic scholars like Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, David Korten and others have suggested different ways to shift the economic system to serve humanity and preserve and restore the environment. Higher education investors are primarily stuck in the old game. The UNEPFI “Principles for Responsible Investing” (PDF) provides some guidance for ways forward. A 2007 study from UNEPFI showed a number of large Institutional Investors moving towards these principles and pushing the economic system to more transparency and more consideration for ESG – Economic, Social and Governance – criteria in making investments. I would add the need to put a little more of campus endowments and pension funds in local (or at least state or region based) community investing vehicles that build stronger local communities from which to do more trade between communities.

Students and faculty should push for alternative fund opportunities that explicitly do that. A few colleges (Hampshire College, Williams, etc.) are making motions in that direction, but a pittance given the huge sums of many schools.
We’re captive of the economic system myths and they need to be challenged. A great place to start is David Korten’s freshly printed Agenda for a New Economy.
 
How are you incorporating the social dimensions of sustainability into your work?
Through engaging with diverse staff and students, partnering with groups involved with social issues, and by giving social issues more visibility.

How are you tracking your progress toward sustainability?
We have utilized occasional trends analysis through our Campus Sustainability Report, although striving for better data collection is always a goal. We also have a green certification process, environmental stewards program, and the Be Spartan Green communication efforts.

Is there a particular insight (learning experience or “ah-ha” moment) you have had working on campus sustainability?
I have had the realization that in our work one does not need to always control for a certain predetermined outcome. That the process is as, if not more important than, the specific outcomes as the purity of the process in terms of openness, inclusiveness, and democratic will ensure “enduring “ relationships on which to move forward. Shortcuts are rarely enduring. Giving up the control dogma unleashes lot of creative energy and lots of unnecessary and counter-productive stress.

In what ways are students involved in your work?
In many of the traditional ways, independent projects, student organizations, classes, and committee work.

How were you involved in efforts to advance sustainability in the curriculum at Michigan State?
I worked to initiate discussions that have led to an undergraduate minor, hopefully to be launched in the Fall  of 2009. It has been almost three years in the making.

What are you most looking forward to in 2009?
Working on food and hunger issues for the larger Lansing community and involving MSU more in the solutions

Any additional
parting thoughts?
The network of higher education sustainability folks is a family I will miss. I have been greatly enriched by many over the years and without them would not have made it as far as we have. This is not solo work, and AASHE has been a support group as have ULSF, NWF, and Second Nature and HENSE before. Get involved. Share your ideas and enthusiasm.