Faces of Sustainability: Ingrid Leman Stefanovic

Friday, November 8, 2013 11:30:00 AM

Philosophy Professor Ingrid Leman Stefanovic is former Director of the Centre for Environment, predecessor of the School of the Environment.  She is featured here in the U of T Office of Sustainability’s Faces of Sustainability, a monthly series that highlights individuals who contribute to environmental progress at the University of Toronto.

The interview, courtesy of the U of T Office of Sustainability, follows here:

How do you define sustainability?
I adhere to the definition advanced originally by the Brundtland Report, Our Common Future, which defines sustainability as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Having said that, my book entitled Safeguarding Our Common Future: Rethinking Sustainable Development, suggests that sustainability must be understood as encompassing more than merely quantitative, calculative ways of thinking.

How did you get started in environmental work, and how long have you been interested in it?
Even while I was completing a PhD in Philosophy in the mid-1970s, I worked in an interdisciplinary urban and environmental planning firm as a Director of Research. My interests have always been interdisciplinary and applied. Raised in a family of architects and planners, it was impossible not to be immersed in questions of both natural and built environments.

What have been your greatest environmental successes? Challenges?
I suspect that my greatest personal rewards, environmental successes and challenges have emerged from the time (2005-2010) when I worked at the Centre for Environment (now called the School of the Environment). Working with students to develop academic programs, as well as other environmental initiatives such as the Eco-link website, was particularly gratifying. Others, from wonderful staff to faculty members – and even renowned international figures, such as Robert Kennedy Jr., Al Gore, Stephen Lewis and Dr. Jane Goodall – all helped to advance our university’s academic mission in an important way.
     I am particularly pleased to have helped to facilitate the move of the Canadian headquarters of the Jane Goodall Institute to the U of T. I am proud also to have worked with Beth Savan and others to help to create and support the work of the Sustainability Office itself. At the same time, now that I am exclusively back in the classroom, I hope that my work with students continues to translate into an environmental success, given that my teaching focuses exclusively on issues of environment.

What exciting environmental opportunities lie ahead for you in your studies, work and/or life?
I am thrilled to have recently received two major research grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). The topic of one grant is “Interpretating Interdisciplinarity: The Case of Environmental Studies.” I will be traveling across Canada to meet with university leaders and explore how paradigms of interdisciplinarity are best translated into curriculum and planning scenarios. The second grant relates to “Water Ethics and Environmental Policy.” This research will offer an opportunity to open a conversation between ethicists and policy makers on topics of the “new oil,” water.

What could the U of T do to become the most sustainable campus in the world?
In my view, I agree with a former U of T Provost who suggested that every student graduating from this university should have some basic familiarity with issues of environmental sustainability. That certainly does not mean mandating a single course for every student, but it does mean that academic and administrative leaders should be championing sustainability issues across the board, certainly in a diversity of ways.

What’s the biggest challenge facing U of T students, staff and faculty that keeps our campus from becoming more sustainable?
Inertia and habit: even if one recognizes what one “ought” to do to encourage sustainability, it is sometimes challenging to translate the normative demands into practice. The answer, in my view, can consist of various kinds of prompts but it also includes informed teaching strategies and educational reform, as well as academic and administrative leadership.

Who are your eco-heroes?
Unequivocally: my students!

Learn more about Ingrid's work here:

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