Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Road Ahead

In February of 2008, I sat at a conference table with Amanda Putnam, Mike Bryson, Brad Hunt, Gary Wolfe, and Julian Kerbis Peterhans, discussing how Roosevelt University’s Evelyn T. Stone College of Professional Studies might have a more formal curriculum devoted to the urban environment. CPS has long encouraged innovative programs and interdisciplinary collaboration (the six of us at that table included scholars with diverse accomplishments in the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences), and this conversation promised to apply Roosevelt University’s mission of social justice to environmental education in a way that would break new ground in the Chicago area.

I was fortunate enough to be brought into the College of Professional Studies shortly thereafter. January of 2009 saw Mike Bryson and I (at the behest of then-Dean John Cicero) team-teach a course focusing on sustainability in general and approaches to sustainability in the Chicago metropolitan area in particular. That course delved into multiple disciplines as well as a hybrid of face-to-face, online, and field teaching experiences. It inspired an article Mike and I wrote for Metropolitan Universities (click this link to open a PDF of the article) and set the stage for Mike, Brad, and I to develop a program in Sustainability Studies.  The support of our colleagues, Dean Cicero, and the university allowed us to win approval of a ten-course major in December of 2009.

In January of 2010, I began teaching the introductory seminar SUST 210 The Sustainable Future (which I’ve taught several times since), and from there we offered more courses (and enrolled more students) in each and every semester. These Sustainability Studies courses incorporated quite a few taught by Mike, me, Brad, and Julian, as well as fellow College of Professional Studies faculty such as current Dean Greg Buckley (who taught a fascinating special topics course on the national parks that took students to Theodore Roosevelt National Park), and veteran teachers such as Maris Cooke, who developed the extremely popular course SUST 230 Food. We also brought several accomplished instructors into Roosevelt community of teachers, including lawyer Michele Hoffman-Trotter, planning professionals Dudley Onderdonk and David Morley, environmental regulator Carolyn Persoon, and oceanographer Carla Jones. Students in the Sustainability Studies program have engaged with a broad set of interdisciplinary concerns, debates, and fieldwork in the short time since the program began.

This year, Roosevelt University’s Sustainability Studies program is mature enough to graduate its first cohort (on the heels of our pioneering alumna Heather Diedrich, who graduated last December). On May 4, several graduates will walk across the Auditorium Theatre’s stage and exit, degrees in hand.  I am proud that they chose to come to Roosevelt, proud of their work in our classrooms, and excited to see how they will apply their education in the world.

Like them, I am heading to new territory.  In the fall, I will begin teaching as Associate Professor of Sustainability Studies at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.  The Pratt Institute is one of the leading architecture and design schools in the country.  Its mission is “to educate artists and creative professionals to be responsible contributors to society. Pratt seeks to instill in all graduates aesthetic judgment, professional knowledge, collaborative skills, and technical expertise.

“With a firm grounding in the liberal arts and sciences, a Pratt education blends theory with creative application in preparing graduates to become leaders in their professions. Pratt enrolls a diverse group of highly talented and dedicated students, challenging them to achieve their full potential.”

Pratt is an exciting, unique place, and this position is an exciting, unique chance to contribute to its many efforts in sustainability. The opportunity to influence the artists and designers of goods, services, and structures (and, I hope, make the future composition of the waste stream less hazardous to vulnerable peoples around the world) is too important to pass up. And so I am acting on that opportunity.

Roosevelt’s Sustainability Studies program will continue to thrive under Mike Bryson’s accomplished leadership, and updates on its exciting developments may be found in the coming weeks in the program’s homepage, Facebook page, and blog.  In the near future, I will say more about the exciting developments at Pratt.  For now, I would like to thank everyone I have worked with as colleague, teacher, and student, and express how excited I am to face the challenges ahead.

Event: Schaumburg Corporate Center Recycling Fair, Thursday 11:30-1:30

This Thursday, April 26 from 11:30am-1:30pm, the Schaumburg Corporate Center (1501 East Woodfield Road, Schaumburg, IL) is holding its recycling fair, featuring vendors, drop-off sites for discarded computers, shoes, paper, metals, and other recyclables, and me.  No, I won’t be recycled, but I will talk about my book Cash for Your Trash: Scrap Recycling in America and answer questions on the history of recycling over the past two centuries.  Stop by during your lunch hour with your recyclables if you are in the area.

The Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage

This is a blatant plug.  Since 2010, I have been working on editing a two-volume interdisciplinary encyclopedia about how we classify, create, and manage our wastes through consumption. The last bits were edited just before New Year’s 2012 and now The Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage has been released by SAGE Publications.  This is what SAGE says about the book.

Why does the average American household send 470 pounds of uneaten food to the garbage each year? How do societies around the world cope with their refuse? How does trash give insight into attitudes about gender, class, religion, and art? Academic studies of garbage allow us to better understand the complexities of our consumption and waste.

SAGE Reference has just published the authoritative Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage, which explores the topic of trash across multiple disciplines within the social sciences. Extending further to also include business, consumerism, environmentalism, and marketing, the two-volume set was written by scholars from around the world, including anthropologists, archaeologists, historians, philosophers, policy analysts, and sociologists, who understand the intricate dynamics of consumption and waste. The 400 A-to-Z, up-to-date entries are helpfully organized in a Reader’s Guide within the following key topics:

  • Archaeology of Garbage
  • Consumption and Waste, Industrial/Commercial
  • Consumption and Waste, Personal
  • Geography, Culture, and Waste
  • History of Consumption and Waste
  • Issues and Solutions
  • Municipal/Local Waste
  • People
  • Sociology of Waste
  • U.S. States: Consumption, Waste Collection, and Disposal
  • World’s Largest Cities: Consumption, Waste Collection, and Disposal

Our trash is our testament; what we throw away says much about our values, habits, and lives. SAGE’s Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste is an outstanding resource for academic and public libraries serving those interested in municipal waste management systems, policy history, industrial research, environmentalism, marketing, design, and even psychology.

General Editor Carl A. Zimring is assistant professor of Social Science and Sustainability Studies at Roosevelt University. Consulting Editor William L. Rathje is the founder and director of the Garbage Project, which conducts archaeological studies of modern refuse.

The variety of viewpoints by the more than 80 different authors made this an exciting project to edit, and I think the result will be a valuable reference work on consumption and waste for years to come.  For more information about the encyclopedia and how your library might order a paper or electronic copy, see SAGE’s site for the book.

Recently, I appeared on WCPT’s Mike Nowak Show to discuss the encyclopedia, and you can hear this episode as a podcast (click the link to listen or download). The Mike Nowak Show can be heard Sundays 9:00 – 11:00am, CST on 820 AM and 92.7 (north), 92.5 9 (west), & 99.9FM (south). It also streams over the internet at

“Living Downstream” Documentary Screening and Discussion Tonight at Congress Lounge

In anticipation of Earth Day, Roosevelt University will host a screening tonight at 6pm of the acclaimed environmental documentary feature film, Living Downstream, which features the life and work of writer, ecologist, and environmental activist Sandra Steingraber. As explained on the film’s website:

This poetic film follows Sandra during one pivotal year as she travels across North America, working to break the silence about cancer and its environmental links. After a routine cancer screening, Sandra receives some worrying results and is thrust into a period of medical uncertainty. Thus, we begin two journeys with Sandra: her private struggles with cancer and her public quest to bring attention to the urgent human rights issue of cancer prevention.

But Sandra is not the only one who is on a journey—the chemicals against which she is fighting are also on the move. We follow these invisible toxins as they migrate to some of the most beautiful places in North America. We see how these chemicals enter our bodies and how, once inside, scientists believe they may be working to cause cancer.

Several experts in the fields of toxicology and cancer research make important cameo appearances in the film, highlighting their own findings on two pervasive chemicals: atrazine, one of the most widely used herbicides in the world, and the industrial compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Their work further illuminates the significant connection between a healthy environment and human health.

At once Sandra’s personal journey and her scientific exploration, Living Downstream is a powerful reminder of the intimate connection between the health of our bodies and the health of our air, land, and water.

Date:  Friday, April 20th, 2012
Time:  6:00-8:30pm
Place:  Roosevelt University, Chicago Campus, Auditorium Building (430 S. Michigan Ave)
Room:  Congress Lounge (2nd floor)

This event is free and open to the public.  Please reserve your spot by RSVPing to Prof. Mike Bryson ( or 312.281.3148). A discussion with RU faculty (including me) will follow the screening, and light refreshments will be available. Sponsored by the Sustainability Studies Program in the College of Professional Studies at Roosevelt University.

Presenting the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Loop Value: The How Much Does It Cost? Shop

One aspect of sustainability is assessing the real costs of consumption, be it of gasoline, computers, food, or any number of consumer products. With that in mind, the Chicago Architecture Foundation is currently running an exhibition about the real costs of our goods and services.

Your next hairdryer will cost you $291. Each time you drive, you pay an extra $2.28 per gallon of gas. Your bottled water costs 2,000 times the price of tap water. Do we understand the value of the things we buy and how profoundly our purchases shape the future of our cities?

The Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) [has in] its downtown storefront gallery a unique exhibition, Loop Value: The How Much Does It Cost? Shop, exposing how our buying decisions determine the vitality of the environments we inhabit. The exhibition is designed as a pop-up store and takes visitors on a shopping trip through more than a dozen departments. In each, “shoppers” will discover the hidden cost of everyday products while learning how personal values determine the health of our communities. This exhibition is free and located in the ArcelorMittal CitySpace Gallery in the historic Santa Fe Building.

“This one-of-a-kind exhibition provides visitors with a unique sensory experience as it encourages them to consider if future generations will be able to enjoy Chicago as much as we do,” said Ingrid Haftel, associate curator for How Much Does It Cost?

Whether high or low, price tags hide more than they reveal. How Much Does It Cost? contrasts sticker price with the environmental, social and economic costs that individuals and communities really pay. The exhibition revolves around how individuals and communities use energy, water, land, transportation and how they construct the meanings of livability and sustainability.

“While shopping in departments ranging from Home Improvement to Pets, visitors will discover amazing facts and stories and find that each of us can make a difference,” said Gregory Dreicer, vice president of exhibitions at CAF. “How Much Does It Cost? encourages people to ask themselves: ‘what am I willing to pay for livable communities. . . for myself, my family and my kids?’”

In “departments” Gardening, Electronics and Shoes, How Much Does It Cost? visitors will reflect on their core values as well as the contents of their wallets. They’ll find they pay more than they thought. Browse Electronics and discover that a $21 hair dryer really costs $291 over 10 years to operate. Shop for Chicago souvenirs and consider how changing priorities determine the value of the city’s buildings—to the tune of millions of dollars.

The How Much Does It Cost? Shop reveals hidden value, too. Visitors discover how one degree on their thermostat reduces pollution and puts cash in their pocket. They’ll find out how their garden can help save money while protecting drinking water. In Movies, they’ll note shocking conditions that almost no one wants to confront.

Loop Value: The How Much Does It Cost? Shop [is open] in the ArcelorMittal CitySpace Gallery at CAF’s main office in the Santa Fe building at 224 South Michigan Ave. It is made possible through the generous support of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) Illinois Sustainable Education Project (I-StEP), the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation and Illinois American Water.

For more information visit See interviews and videos pertaining to this exhibition on CAF’s Roosevelt University Sustainability Studies Professor Mike Bryson and I served on the exhibition’s advisory board, and we taped (respectively) videos on the Chicago River and cellphones to go alongside several other videos available at the CAF’s site.  WLS-TV Channel 7’s Hosea Sanders visited the exhibit and you can see his report here.