Episode 3, Part 2: Krista Hiser, University of Hawaii - Teaching Sustainability Concepts

Dr. Krista Hiser

Dr. Krista Hiser

Guest:  Dr. Krista Hiser, Kapiʻolani Community College, University of Hawai`i System
Host: Dave Karlsgodt, Principal, Fovea, LLC

Part 2 of a two-part series based on a conversation with Dr. Krista Hiser, the interim sustainability curriculum coordinator for the ten campuses of the University of Hawaii system and a professor of Composition and Rhetoric at Kapiʻolani Community College.

Part 1 focuses on Krista’s work to create the S-Designation or Sustainability Designation for college courses in the University of Hawai’i system.

Part 2 picks up where we left off with a deeper dive into how we can teach sustainability concepts without devolving into green rhetoric and without falling victim to green fatigue. 

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Episode Transcript:

The following is an automated transcription of this episode which will include errors and omissions. You can listen and follow along with the text here:

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Dave Karlsgodt 0:00

Welcome to the campus energy and sustainability podcast. And each episode we will talk with leading campus professionals thought leaders, engineers and innovators addressing the unique challenges and opportunities facing higher ed corporate campuses. Our discussions will range from energy conservation and efficiency to planning and finance, from building science to social science, from energy systems to food systems. We hope you are ready to learn, share and ultimately accelerate your institution towards solutions. I'm your host Dave Karlsgodt. I'm a principal at Fovea, an energy, carbon and business planning firm. This episode is the second part of a two part series based on a conversation with Dr. Krista Hiser from Kapi'olani Community College, which is part of the University of Hawaii system. If this is your first time listening to the podcast, I'd recommend going back to the previous episode to hear Krista's full introduction and the broader context for this discussion. This episode picks up where we left off with a deeper dive into how we can teach sustainability concepts with devolving into green rhetoric and without falling victim to green fatigue. I hope you enjoy the second half of my February 2017 conversation with Dr. Krista Hiser, Krista, you've been talking about how to teach students about sustainability. But somewhere along the way, you've also taught professors how they should teach sustainability. And I'm assuming that's a good analogy for the work I'm doing where I have to teach professionals on the operational side. Can you tell me more about that?

Krista Hiser 1:26

I can tell you about the framework that he uses. Peggy Bartlett and Jeff Chase, started doing a training, they have actually developed similar leadership training modules separately. And then they kind of found each other and realized that that they were teaching this sustainability leadership for curriculum. And the same way, I engaged in the in that training. And there were two things that really struck me in the way they were teaching teachers to teach sustainability. Because teachers, we have to do a little bit of unlearning. First, we have to maintain currency in our discipline, which means we have to kind of unlearn some of our own training, graduate school did not prepare me for sustainability. So in a sense, our current faculty, me and you and the people that you work with, you know, we were all educated in one paradigm. And now we're looking at how is this education serving us when we try to solve these problems? And what do we want to change about the way we're educating the next generations? So anyway, what Katie and Jeff did, in their model, two things that were interesting to me. One is that they would use that sense of place, and finding some compassion telling problem issue, right on your campus, or in a very nearby community, it could be an environmental issue, I think the problem that I use, there was saltwater intrusion, some expert from the area presents this problem. And then faculty engage with that problem through their disciplinary lens. So let's say the problem was saltwater intrusion into an aquifer or something like that. If I was an art teacher, or an artist, how would I engage with that? If I'm a communications professor, what is my role in that problem? If I'm a geologist, if I'm a doctor or nurse, if I'm teaching math, what's the math of that? You know, so really engaging faculty, not from their personal values, like I was talking about before, but engaging them from their disciplinary brain, engaging them as experts in their training in their disciplines, and then they start talking about it. And then they start to unlock the problem, and they start to learn from each other, they start having an interdisciplinary conversation, that is, for the most part, impossible to have, on most college campuses.

Dave Karlsgodt 4:29

Interesting. So basically, you're using the professors in their area of expertise to go solve some other problems as a way of teaching them about sustainability.

Krista Hiser 4:38

Yes, yes. Exactly. Exactly.

Dave Karlsgodt 4:42

Yeah, cuz, well, my experience, a lot of times when I interact with faculty, and our work is they're the people that come in and poke holes. And we're talking about, you know, it's it's not necessarily I guess, that's the critical thinking, as opposed to the systems thinking, creative thinking. But if you can invite them in, I suppose that might be a totally different experience, where they're solving the problem, rather than telling you why you did it wrong.

Krista Hiser 5:03

Yes, invite them in and engage them from their discipline. Interesting. The other thing that Peggy and Jeff did in this AASHE training, that was really different from most other trainings that I've been to, it's going to sound like a little thing. But it has really stuck with me the way they did this. And that is that as part of this training, is a two three day Institute. And every day, you would have to go out, and the instructions were to go sit by a tree, not to have your laptop, not to start lesson planning, but to just sit by a tree and just sit there. And it sounds, it sounds silly, but it's not something as professionals that we ever do, and just creating that little bit of space, in this professional development experience. It has kind of a magical impact.

Dave Karlsgodt 6:11

Do then professors end up using the same concept in their courses? How does that play out? Or is it just a matter of that's the way they need to learn?

Krista Hiser 6:19

They can, I'm involved with something called the leap program, it's they're working on sustainability mindset. And the components of sustainability mindset in this work include systems intelligence, and environmental literacy, emotional intelligence, and what they call a spiritual intelligence, which could be just that, you know, contemplative moment contemplative moment, there's something kind of missing in our educational system, when we don't include that reflective, quiet moment of stillness, it,

Dave Karlsgodt 7:08

so you've just given me an interesting visual, and the next meeting with the facilities, folks I'm going to have, I'm going to make everybody go sit by a tree and see. But I could imagine it could actually be powerful, I need to think about how to pull that off. But anyway

Krista Hiser 7:25

I encourage you actually to think about that, it creates a different tone for the types of meetings that I engage in, you know, we like to come into a conference room with our agenda. And, you know, we just start running through the topics. And you know, I dare you to start that meeting, with just a moment of silence, or 30 seconds of silence, you know, three deep breaths.

Dave Karlsgodt 7:57

Yeah, that's good. I, I accept the challenge, have to find the right opportunity for it. And I'll tell you how it goes. All right, I wanted to bring up the work of least sharp out of Harvard, who I know our mutual friend, Matt has done some work with her. And he's the one that introduced me to you are new to me. And she talks about the concept of the dual operating system of you, you're familiar with that?

Krista Hiser 8:20

Yeah, the dual operating system is just an awesome articulation of what a college campus is like, because a college campus is, is extremely hierarchical. And everybody knows exactly where they are on the org chart and within the hierarchy. And what leads sharp is saying is that rather than being frustrated with that hierarchy, which she calls the command control system, rather than being frustrated, that we learn how to leverage its power, the power of command control, so is that a decision can be made, a policy can be written, purchasing, procedures can be crafted, and decided, you know, at the top of the hierarchy, and then they create change. So it's a very powerful being the command control system. And then the other piece, the new piece, the piece where where I get engaged and get excited, is the dual operating system. And if you see her diagram is like the dual operating system is, is like pulling out a little cluster of people. So let's say you want to change energy behavior on campus, you want people to turn off the lights, the dual operating system knows how to pull out the right people for that task, right. So you get, obviously your energy man manager, and your engineer, and maybe your janitor, and maybe a communications professor and a graphic designer who's going to make signs, you know, you know who the people are in your organization, and you know, how to activate them to complete this task. You know, they come together, they work on this thing, then they go back to what they normally do, right?

Dave Karlsgodt 10:30

Yeah, when I was introduced to the concept, a lot of light bulbs went off for me, because I had been experiencing the frustration of, you know, trying to get the large hierarchy system to work. But working in, in the work we're doing, we're, a lot of times it's climate action planning, or an energy master planning or something like that, where you're trying to say, How can we change the future trajectory of what's going on. And by its nature, it's change. And so I really liked her model of how the describing it and why it was heart and how, you know, like you were talking about earlier, have these giant leaps that if you can get the right person to make the right decision at the right time, and give them an idea that's been, I think she uses the term de risked, which I like a lot that you can, all of a sudden make a breakthrough were before you weren't able to. The other concept that I really liked from her was the concept of the calls that the squiggle, which is, you know, we tell these linear stories about how things get done. And, you know, you'll read about them in the alumni magazine, but you don't necessarily see all of the pain and agony that went into getting to that point. So I really appreciate it that

Krista Hiser 11:42

the school,

Dave Karlsgodt 11:43

the squiggle, yeah,

Krista Hiser 11:44

Peggy and Jeff, wrote a book called sustainability on campus. And was interesting about that the first book was all narratives of campus change, telling the story of those squiggles, really, then they wrote a second volume, and asked if I want to contribute something. And at the time, the most innovative program that I could think of, on our campus at a couple any community college was a professional development program that we had designed around communities of practice theory, and around adult learning theory, which is called Andrew God, gee, if adult wants to learn something, you want to get better at something, adults will seek out other people who either want to learn the same thing or maybe know a little bit more about it, and say, Oh, hey, can you help me get better at this thing. And a pair or trio or small group will form and they'll work together, they'll teach each other they form a community of practice, until they accomplish a specific task, or until they reach their mutual goal for sharing learning. This is how adults learn, they learn together they learn in community, and so that communities of practice theory, I think, is another aspect of the dual operating system, you know, a community of practice can come together around campus sustainability issues, and address them and work together to to help them move. And then they dissolve. You know, it's not the same as being on a committee or a task force, or another like assignment that can just go on and on forever. It's not your job forever. It's about energizing a particular node on the organism, organizational network in order to do something very specific.

Dave Karlsgodt 13:49

Interesting. So it's like a bunch of jazz musicians getting together for a jam session, but they're not necessarily going on tour together.

Krista Hiser 13:55

Exactly. That's great. That's a great metaphor.

Dave Karlsgodt 13:58

Excellent. Well, after my deep breath, or my moment of silence, and my next meeting, we're going to break out into trios and quartets. And All right, well, I've heard to that you have even new term in Hawaiian. Now, I remember seeing this in one of your earlier webinars. Can you explain that? I thought that was a great story, huh?

Krista Hiser 14:21

Yes, in we are really seeking to learn about indigenous wisdom. There's a lot of talk about the role of indigenous wisdom, especially. Especially now. A lot of people are following like, Standing Rock and talking about indigenous wisdom and this meeting of wisdoms. So our university president actually brought together several groups from across our whole university system. And it was our STEM faculty are some of our Hawaiian studies faculty, the sustainability people, and the Polynesian Voyaging Society. And he kind of brought us together, he said, he said, You're all talking kind of about the same theme, you know, can you can you get on the same page? And that was really a pivotal conversation for me in really thinking about how are we on the same page. So it was that this meeting, that this new word in the Hawaiian lexicon was presented. So Hawaiian is a living language. And occasionally, I understand it's rather rare, but occasionally, they create or coin a new word in the lexicon. So in Hawaiian culture, that was no word for sustainability. Because sustainability was integrated into the culture, as Matt Lynch was sometimes put it in ancient Hawaii, you were sustainable, or you were dead, because you were on an island. And no Costco and no food was coming. So. So there was no word for this, the social structures around environmental management were deeply embedded in Hawaiian culture embedded in their the spiritual culture. So there was no need for a word like sustainability, but the Hawaiian lexicon committee, now they say, it is very important that we distinguish what is sustainable and what is not. And so the word that they presented at this meeting, the word is Mo, mobile, and mobile is created by combining two words. One is, well being, and all is the perpetuation. So the word model translates into the perpetuation of our well being.

Dave Karlsgodt 17:12

Yeah, I thought that was interesting, because its sustainability really has a connotation of being not quite dead. You're barely alive, like you're sustaining yourself, but you're not really thriving. So the situation is that I like of well being I like that.

Krista Hiser 17:27

It really changes the the tenor of the conversations that you have. Sustainability can be an uncomfortable conversation, but who doesn't want to perpetuate our well being. And so it's a wonderful word. I haven't heard it a lot in common parlance in Hawaii. But we definitely use it in the UH Office of Sustainability, and find out a really inspiring word that that gives us a really important kind of common common goal and mission model.

Dave Karlsgodt 18:07

know, it's interesting how much language does influence the way we think about things. When I first started working in this area, it was about mitigating carbon. Somewhere along the way, I learned the term decarbonisation, which I don't think used to be used, but like that a lot better. And then I was taking some courses through Columbia continuing courses with Jeffrey Sachs and he uses the term deep decarbonisation, when you kind of really goes for it, you know, it's like a full transformation. But it's more of a process as opposed to just mitigation, which is like getting rid of this bestest from your building or something like that. So it's cool that you have a committee that can create new language, you know, new words, it's like an anti Orwellian committee or something like that, instead of alternative facts you get.

Krista Hiser 18:52

Awesome. I like that term, decarbonisation have also seen a lot more use of the term resilience or system inability and resilience. And with resilience, you have adaptive resilience, you know, not just how do we bounce back from a storm event or something like that. But how do we prepare for it in a way that we adapt and do things differently? And maybe even do things better?

Dave Karlsgodt 19:20

Right, yeah, some more of the Dutch version of dealing with flooding rather than the giant sea wall version of dealing with flooding?

Krista Hiser 19:28

Yeah, exactly. Good.

Dave Karlsgodt 19:31

So Krista, where are you going next with this work? I mean, what's your next big project?

Krista Hiser 19:36

Well, we're going to continue talking with faculty and formalizing these s designation courses, we identified as our baseline measure 206 courses across the University of Hawaii system. That means that there are 206 more that we just haven't engaged with. And that whole process is starting to really have its own life and its own energy, because its faculty talking to each other about how they're teaching and what they're teaching. So I'm going to, you know, continue engaging and and managing that process. And then in my personal work, I'm really excited about replicating the focus group study that I did with students. And I learned so much from just sitting down with groups of students, and getting them to talk about environmental issues and their future, and what they were learning and what they knew about it, and how they felt about it, and how it affected and impacted their future. So we're going to go out and do another round of focus group study, with students across the system. The original study that I did was in 2012. The students what I was talking to them about is like, what do they think about sustainability? how engaged are they with sustainability? And then what are their actual personal practices? This again, that cognitive dissonance came out again, sort of one category of students would say that they were interested in sustainability, oh, yeah, I really care about the environment. But when it came down to it, they really weren't interested in changing their transportation or the way they eat or the way they fly. They would say one thing, but not really do it. And that's another kind of manifestation of that cognitive dissonance we've been talking about. Another category of student, we called the students with the sustainability habitus. These are the students that define their identity around sustainability. They're the president of the ecology club, they wear clothing made out of bamboo, they carry chopstick kit, or refillable mug, water bottle, you know, activists kind of students who different find their identity around sustainability. Unfortunately, there's actually in in the study that I did, there were fewer, maybe fewer of the students than we think they're just very visible those students with the sustainability habitus, by far, the most common category of students, when they were talking about they, they said, these comments that really, really got my attention. And I called this category, karmic retribution. And what these students was, were saying, they would say things like, Well, you know, nature's going to do what nature's going to do? Well, I suppose we've got it coming, you know, this kind of really defeatist feeling, and this sense that somehow we would deserve it, because of what we had done as humans, because of what we had wrought upon the environment, that that there would be this karmic retribution from nature. And she's coming to get us,

Dave Karlsgodt 23:09

it's almost like a medieval reaction to the plague or something that's interesting.

Krista Hiser 23:12

It was a very profound sense that I got from multiple focus groups of students. So I'm very interested to see if, if that sense of karmic retribution is still out there. So if you think about a generation of leaders coming up with the sense of karmic retribution, and almost this self loathing, that's very concerning, and a little bit scary. Honestly, I see that even with my own daughter, she's 10. And her school does a lot of sustainability education. She knows about climate change. She's very savvy, and she's very engaged. But she'll say things like, you know, she's, she's, she'll even start to cry, just a mom, all the people are so bad, we have to shut down the factories, we have to save the plants and all this and she'll get, she'll get very upset, and she doesn't, she's not making the connection, that that we are part of those factories, that we are driving a car, that the food we're eating is created by the system that is causing the environmental impacts that she's lamenting,

Dave Karlsgodt 24:30

it's almost like the guilt without their responsibility.

Krista Hiser 24:33

I'm kind of this is this is what Timothy Martin calls dark ecology, the complexity of the fact that like, if I go out and I start my car, I'm contributing to climate change. But not at that moment, that that ignition, my trip to the grocery store did not cause climate change. And yet, as a member of my broader species, I am causing climate change. So we are causing it but not directly causing it. Timothy Martin calls that dark ecology. So it's a similar effect. And I'm just really interested in in where that goes. And if that exists, just dark ecology or sense of karmic retribution. How does that inform what what we do next?

Dave Karlsgodt 25:27

Yeah. Do you have any ideas on how to address that, because that seems like that does seem very dangerous. I know, my daughter went to a, it was like a tree planting organization. And she went, and they basically half of it was planting trees, and half of it was learning about how to talk about climate change. But the learning to talk about climate change was all about telling the story from a kid's perspective about how Florida is going to be underwater, and that the polar bears are tied, it was really bleak. And she was really young. And by the end of the day, I mean, come domination over just being really tired. After living through a day of just this really Doomsday kind of scenario. I mean, she she totally broke down, we just had to go home. And I didn't feel good to me, either. I didn't like kind of the approach they were taking. I think they had their heart in the right place. But it you know, it kind of went off the rails. Yeah. What do you do about that?

Krista Hiser 26:19

Well, well, coming back to like my own classroom and teaching communication, and particularly climate change, communication and rhetoric. There's some really interesting work around that right now. I actually tell my students not to use pictures of children, like do not use the pesos of like, Oh, do it for the children. You know, pathos is a term from rhetoric. For when you you call upon the audience's needs or concerns or fears, you know, you engage them in through pathos. I tell them no children, no polar bears. And I said, no green rhetoric, can we cannot engage in this green rhetoric, we have to talk about facts. You know, you have to use real facts, even just talking about climate change impacts is too, there's too much room, especially right now, there's too much room inside of that, rather than talking about climate change impacts. Talk about something very specific, like four feet of sea level rise, you know, you need to find out the facts, and what are we really talking about? What are the facts? The other kind of interesting work around climate change? communication is how, how can you talk about climate change without talking about climate change? Right, that's where it's really at. So for example, I have my students do this activity, where I said, Okay, what's the change you'd like to see on campus. And when one student had had a great idea, I said, he said, You know, people sit out in the parking lot with their, with their engines idling, and I wonder how much carbon they're producing. By doing that for 20 minutes sitting in their car running the air conditioning. So well, that'd be a great thing to change. So then I asked my students to imagine going out into the parking lot with signs that say, No, idling your car, save the planet, stop idling your car, you are causing climate change, you know, I asked them to imagine the look of horror on their faces. They're like, Oh, my God, Dr. Hiser, you're not going to make us do that. Like they thought that I was right,

Dave Karlsgodt 28:38

already sweaty from taking out the recycle.

Krista Hiser 28:41

That was 20 years ago. So then we work backwards on this on this idea. There's how to use about how to do this how to talk about climate change, without talking about climate change, using specific facts, using a identical Bible sort of spokesperson telling a story, and not using climate change, as in, in what you're talking about. So we went through this whole exercise and revise the statement. And so then instead of, you know, marching with signs, stop idling your car, we came up with this article, with the student Congress president saying, you know, hi, when I first moved here, can you believe I didn't know anybody, and I used to sit in my car, waiting for my class to begin, then I realized that I could study at the Study Center, and my grades went up, and I made friends and got elected student council president, you know, so we really turned it around into a positive reason why you would do something else, instead of not doing the thing that you should stop doing, making it positive to do the thing that you can could do instead,

Dave Karlsgodt 30:01

got it. So instead of shaming people, you just make that whole behavior irrelevant. It just doesn't even matter. Yes, transportation is kind of going through a transformation like that. You can just take Uber and if Uber was run by an electric vehicle, for example, it doesn't you don't deal with enough to drive and you're doing it not because you care about gas, you're doing it or emissions, you're doing it because it's more convenient. Right. And yeah,

Krista Hiser 30:23

and and it's cool, right? Yeah. So I think that's where it's at, I think that this personal incremental change, I certainly can't say that it's, you know, not important for me to bring a tote bag to the grocery store or for me to, you know, recycle at home. Those personal choices are, they do have impact, and they are important. But that's not where we should be meeting students right now, that whole every little bit, you can make a difference, the lower x message, it's, um, it's really they're not working.

Dave Karlsgodt 31:00

It's kind of shallow and yeah, frustrating.

Krista Hiser 31:03

It's not working, because it's not working, right, they still don't really see it. If you're carrying a water bottle around, and the campus is still selling bottles of cold water in plastic bottles, then the incremental change has not affected. You know what I mean? It comes back to that cognitive dissonance. So the behavior has to then be reflected back in the broader system, whether it's a campus or the community or the country or, you know, global policies, that loop has to come back?

Dave Karlsgodt 31:40

Well, it's really great. I give me a lot to think about here. And this has been a fascinating conversation, I think, for anybody that's working in these areas of sustainability, or I'm going to call it thrive ability or mellow from now on. All right. This has been a lot to think about any final thoughts as we close up this episode.

Krista Hiser 32:01

I think what stands out for me about this conversation, is I'm in a position where I'm talking with really, really, really smart people all day long about these issues of sustainability, thrive ability, the perpetuation of well being, and how are institutions in our work, college campuses? How do we navigate this change and prepare students for an uncertain future? And we are, we're like levers, you know, between some generational points. And you know, we're teaching things that we weren't taught, we're educating in a way that we weren't educated. So we're really like a transitional type of work right now. And if the work works, then we don't need sustainability. If we do a good job, then we don't need to have sustainability designated courses or degrees in sustainability. If we do a good job, then we make it through this change. So I think that just as a closing thought, how do we survive and thrive in change? You know, we have to, I think, making connections with each other, and and people outside of the work that you normally do, you know, like on campuses, when the faculty engage with the facilities director, that's really, really helpful. And then what is the nature of that engagement? If people can talk about, you know, what got you interested in this talk about that aha moment? Or have a shared experience of reflection? Or really connect about where they're coming from? And what their expertise is? What do they have to create tribute to the problem, you know, the more we connect with each other, it becomes more exciting. And we can go from those, you know, little incremental baby steps, and just believe that those leaps will happen. If we keep working together.

Dave Karlsgodt 34:18

That's a great place to end. I like that. We all need more hope in this world, I think. So where can we learn more about the specific work, you're doing just websites or other resources you want to point our listeners to,

Krista Hiser 34:33

and we have a lot of great resources on our University of Hawaii systems sustainability page, which is www.hawaii.edu, backslash sustainability. And if you can cruise around there, there's some specifics, we actually have an implementation handbook for our s designation program, we're really happy to share that with other colleges and also learn from how other colleges are engaging with curricular transformation. We also have up there some PowerPoints, presentations from some of our faculty, who really talk with us about what do we need to understand about climate change impacts in Hawaii, food security impacts in Hawaii, and those are under programs on our website. And then another website that I contribute to is called teaching two big questions. And it's all spelled out teaching two big questions. dot wordpress. com. And this website is from a national grant project that was part of with six community colleges engaging with the big question. And the big question was, how do we build our commitment to diverse, healthy, equitable and sustainable communities? So you know, that really is the big question. This really is the big work. So that website, teaching two big questions has different colleges talking about these issues in their own geographic place, and how they're creating curriculum around around those big questions.

Dave Karlsgodt 36:11

Excellent. Well, we will get all of those listed in our show notes so that people can link to them straight from there.

Krista Hiser 36:17

I'll also give you a list of the five or six books that I might have mentioned. And there's so much there's so much out there, there's so much interesting research and scholarship and thinking going on. And I'd be happy to share a few few of the things I'm reading right now.

Dave Karlsgodt 36:34

That would be great. I'll be sure to put all of that into the show notes. Well, Krista, I really want to thank you again, for being on the show today. This has been fascinating conversation. I feel like I've been on quite the journey today.

Krista Hiser 36:46

And I really enjoyed talking with you. And thank you so much for the work that you're doing. And anybody that listens to a podcast like this. I think part of it is just like, it's so cool that other people are interested in, you know, in really thinking deeply about what it is that we're doing here with campus sustainability.

Dave Karlsgodt 37:08

Excellent. Well, thanks again.

Krista Hiser 37:10

Thank you.

Dave Karlsgodt 37:12

That's it for this episode. As always, you can learn more the show notes and the podcast website at campusenergypodcast.com. Please let us know what you think by sending us an email. Our email address is feedback@campusenergypodcast.com. Catch you next time.