Resilience Leads to Sustainability

Greetings from Washington DC, I am attending the National Council for Science and the Environment’s annual meeting titled Disasters and Environment: Science, Preparedness, and Resilience.

So why in the heck is Shaeffer attending this meeting? After all, we know I’m not an environmental scientist. Our office was approached by JMU’s Office of Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability to work with them because they knew we would look at the content a bit differently than others.  When we look at content our office immediately begins to think about programming; what types of programming can we develop around the content to meet our various missions of engagement with the community, enhancing workforce and economic development, and extending the resources of our campus.

In my conversations with the Office of Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability, and as I think about the content from this conference, I do see our involvement in this area as a leadership opportunity.  Our office works across campus in the same way that the concepts of resilience and sustainability cut across academic disciplines. We also have the power to convene not only our campus community but the greater community. Our mission requires us to have partners on and off campus, and we can provide the bridge between these partners.

The concept of sustainability — the capacity of human society to meet its current needs while assuring the well-being of future generations — has been widely adopted around the world.  The scientific concept of resilience has emerged more recently; resilience can be defined as the “capacity for a system to survive, adapt, and flourish in the face of turbulent change and uncertainty.”  (From Jan 14 Symposium on Resilience and Sustainability–US. Environmental Protection Agency, National Science Foundation, National Council for Science and Environment and Dow Chemical.)

What are my take-aways from this conference?  I will put them into two categories: the first is a list of concepts that capture for me content areas on which to build programming; and the second category includes specific program ideas I will suggest to the Office of Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability. This is really stream of consciousness, so if they sound like half-baked ideas, they just might be.

Key take-aways: concepts

  • To build resilience, each must take more responsibility for their own risk
  • Risk considerations are best made at the local level
  • With this in mind, we need to provide local decision makers with “the tools” for making good decisions about managing risk
  • Building community resilience (ability to respond to risks) leads to greater sustainability
  • We need to move from governance to “anticipatory” governance
  • We need to raise the public’s awareness of risk and I believe we are responsible for finding ways to have these conversations
  • We need to communicate, communicate, and communicate, and one of the most effective tools for communicating is telling stories
  • We must gather stories about what we are calling survivors and those who succeed

Key take-aways: programming

A common theme throughout the conference was the importance of acting locally with preparedness and resilience.  One of the speakers said it well: preparing for risk increases our resilience in responding to a disaster.  Some program items to consider related to this:

  • Taking a lead in managing risk associated with growth, population, JMU, and industry
  • Providing the “tools” for our local officials to understand risk while developing and moving forward with community plans
  • Helping individual citizens in taking more responsibility for their own risk management
  • Assisting with establishing of environmental baselines that will assist with measuring the impact of growth
  • With warming temperatures, drought conditions are an increasing problem. We could take the lead to “plan” for a drought as compared to “responding” to a drought
  • Use the power of convening to bring specific constituents, farmer to farmer, to share best practices

I am convinced that our offices have a pivotal role to play in educating and assisting with making our communities more resilient and better positioned to be sustainable.




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