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. 

Web Resources:


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:


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.

Episode 3, Part 1: Krista Hiser, University of Hawaii System - Sustainability Designation for College Courses

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 one 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. 

Web Resources:


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:


Dave Karlsgodt 0:04

Welcome to the campus energy and sustainability podcast. In each episode we will talk with leading campus professionals, thought leaders, engineers and innovators addressing the 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. Today's guest is Dr. Krista Hiser. Krista is the interim sustainability curriculum coordinator for the 10 campuses of the University of Hawaii system. In this role, her work is to benchmark existing sustainability focused courses and to facilitate interdisciplinary dialogue and professional development opportunities for faculty as they update and transform their courses. She's a thought leader and helping to rethink how we teach sustainability in our higher ed institutions. She is also a professor of composition and rhetoric at Kapi'olani Community College, which is part of the University of Hawaii system. I recorded a fascinating conversation with Krista that weaved through a myriad of topic areas, I have to admit, we got a bit carried away and far exceeded my own arbitrary time limit for a respectable podcast episode. I decided that rather than edit out entire sections of our discussion, I've split this episode into a two part series. Part One mainly focuses on Krista's work to create the S designation or sustainability designation for college courses in the University of Hawaii system. It also explores more generally how to effectively teach students, faculty and professionals about sustainability. Part Two dives a bit deeper taking on the role of language, how we can teach sustainable concepts without using green rhetoric. And we even get to learn a new word recently created in the Hawaiian language. I hope you enjoy this two part series with Dr. Krista Hiser. Krista, welcome to the campus energy and sustainability podcast.

Krista Hiser 2:07

Thank you, Aloha, so happy to be with you.

Dave Karlsgodt 2:09

So Krista, if I have this right, you are first a teacher as a professor of composition and rhetoric. But somewhere along the way you decided teaching wasn't quite enough of a challenge for you. Because now you're teaching the teachers how to teach. Perhaps you can start us off with a little background on how you ended up in that position.

Krista Hiser 2:26

So I've taught English composition and rhetoric since about 2000. And my entry into sustainability was two things happened to me, around 2000 2001. One was a book by Derek Owens called composition and sustainability. And what that book did was look at the fact that every student in the United States takes a course, like English 100, and therefore, it's an intersection point where students can look at some of the environmental issues that they might not otherwise cross paths with, in their general education curriculum. So I was reading that book and thinking about that in my teaching. And then I had this moment, I was just jogging in my neighborhood, and I crossed over a little stream. And there was something about the wind and the trees and the stream running underneath me. And I just had this moment, this, this world moment, where I kind of understood the complexity and immensity of some of these environmental issues. And that, you know, it was a real thing that I was going to deal with my kids were going to deal with, and that we needed to be teaching with. And this moment is called an ethical transformative moment in the the literature on transformative learning, Jack Meza row. And you know, people can change just like that. You just have this like, aha moment, you realize something, you see something clearly, and it changes your direction. And so this moment, this ethical moment of transformation, changed my direction, in my work, and in my teaching, and I literally went home and started writing different lesson plans and started doing different research and, you know, directing my work in a different way. What's interesting about this is that when you talk to business leaders, higher education leaders, teachers, you talk to people about sustainability and environmental awareness, and they will describe that moment, it's some describe like an awakening, some people have an illness, or something that changes their mindset. And it is, it's something that happens to people, so happened to me, and probably to you, that's probably how you got into the work you're doing, as well. And that's the moment ever since that's the moment that I've been wanting to create for students, because if they can have that type of aha moment in their learning, then it will change their direction.

Dave Karlsgodt 5:32

Krista, thanks for that introduction. And I think you're right. I think most of us have a moment like that in our own career. But it sounds like you've moved beyond just teaching sustainability to your own students and have now gone on to integrate these concepts into other courses in your institution. Tell us more about this as designation or sustainability designation?

Krista Hiser 5:51

Yeah, well, let me tell you where the S designation project came from. So in my own class, I was teaching the developmental composition at the time course called English 22. And the first thing I did was make my students start a campus recycling program. So they had to form a little company. And we made bins that were recycled big barrels that had bleach in them. And we painted them, we were alohar, and flowers, and started campus recycling programs. So one, let's just recall that in 2001, we did not have a campus recycling program. And now look at what's going on, you know, all the campuses that you visit, so 2001, there was no recycling programs. So my students put these bins out. And then they had to get the recyclables to a big dumpster, the special dumpster that the city and county with them come and pick up. And this was the beginning of Hawaii's statewide recycling center program. So my students, they didn't like doing this, they did not like collecting recycles, hauling them across campus dirty, it was sweaty, it was irritating. And they really did not want to be doing this type of work. But what was interesting about it is that it put them in direct, direct contact with behavior and behavior change, you know, with their own behavior, and then watching someone, you know, throw their lunch into the recycling container, or throw their soda bottle into the garbage can, you know, just watching that it really brought up a lot of interesting critical thinking issues, and, you know, wicked problems. And that's what really got me into it. Because we want to teach critical thinking. If you spend any time thinking about recycling, you're going to run into a wicked problem, and you're going to start engaging in critical thinking. So then I took students to the landfill, we have a waste to waste to energy facility. And, you know, recycling is probably a whole nother podcast topic that we could do. But it started to just unpack this huge issue of, of waste and materials and consumption, and the wicked problems. And so I really got into it that way. So really engaging with those issues, started taking other classes to the landfill and the H power facility. And then started talking with other teachers about the waste issue about some of our food security issues in Hawaii, and started saying, Well, you know, are you teaching this? How does this? What does this look like in your discipline? So it started out as informal conversations. And then in 2008, we had the first sort of system wide meeting. So there were, you know, a few writing teachers like me, some computer teachers, some scientists, natural resource people, of course. And you know, we were just started talking, what is sustainability? How does it change the way we teach? And what do we have in common in terms of how we're trying to teach this? And how can students find the sections? So that's really what the S designation project then is about is like, okay, teachers are teaching this. But if a student has an interest in sustainability, how can they find these classes in the curriculum, right, because the university is organized in this, like 19th century, disciplinary structure, geography, biology, botany, you know, humanities, and sustainability is, is embedded everywhere in the curriculum. And then students show up and say they, they say, Oh, I'm interested in sustainability. And, and they don't know where to find it, because they're coming from a different framework than, than that the Academy is, is organized. So then the next thing that happened was the Association for the Advancement of sustainability in higher education. So a group called AASHE was formed around that time, and they came out with a rating system called STARS. And I thought for sure University of Hawaii system would want to do the stars rating system. And a lot of stars, I'm sure you have interacted with stars in your work. A lot of STARS' work is about, you know, often operations side of things, how energy efficient are your buildings, water, use that kind of thing. And then this little piece of it is about curriculum. How are you teaching sustainability, climate change? How do these issues come into your classroom? Not just in what you're teaching, but in how you're teaching that? And how do we even know, really what's happening in the classroom. So I thought we would become a star school. And so I started studying the stars criteria. I kind of combine those with our conversation. And we said, you know, this is what a sustainability course looks like. And that was the origin of the project.

Dave Karlsgodt 11:44

Yeah, fascinating. You kind of took it from a needed opportunity to have my students have critical thinking. So I might as well throw them into sustainability, because it's really hard, rather than although I guess it did have a Genesis in your own passion. That's interesting. selfishly, I want to ask, you know, I'm sure there are people that are interested in how you got the S designation into your curriculum and the mechanics of that. But since I am on most of the work I do is on the operational side of the house of four universities, I guess I'm a little more interested in thinking about how do you go about teaching these concepts? Because I think that's something I might be able to glean some tricks from, in my work, I end up in a position of educating people on the operational side of the business. I run into roadblocks all the time, like, how do you talk about this? How do you bring up these topics without people's eyes glazing over or just hitting barriers left and right, because it is hard?

Krista Hiser 12:41

Right. Well, one of the first things I did was talk with students, I did a dissertation study, called students as stakeholders in the curriculum. And I did focus groups with students. And I asked them, you know, it's funny how you said that, because because I, if I asked students, Oh, are you interested in sustainability? Sometimes they would be like, what, what are you talking about? But if I can, if you come around sort of through a different direction, and start asking them about climate change, and invasive species and biodiversity and some of these other other issues, then they are very become very engaged in those things. So I was asking them, are your teachers teaching this? And how are they teaching it? And at first, they would say, you know, oh, no, it's not, we don't learn that in class. But then they would say, oh, except for, you know, when the teacher starts talking about water bottles, and water rights, and dishonor, you know, trying to buy water rights and sell water and things like that. And it turns out that faculty who are engaged will, you know, they'll teach they're values, they'll teach these issues, because they're thinking about them. And they're really smart people. So the sustainability curriculum would be coming in as a sidebar. And literally, that was the same in textbooks, right textbooks would have around that time, you know, a chapter on sustainability or a sidebar about, you know, plastic and the environment, something like that. And what this s designation does is take sustainability out of the sidebar, and really transform the curriculum. So having that conversation with students was really important. And then continuing that conversation with faculty. So faculty with talk about what's called cognitive dissonance. This is where operations comes in for you, it was really important to continue talking to faculty about teaching sustained ability, because what they would say is things like if they're in the classroom, and they teach about the importance of, you know, local food and keeping, keeping the local economy, things like that. And then if the students go across the Great Lawn to the cafeteria, and they find bananas from Mexico, in the cafeteria, or they look at why the healthy food is so much more expensive than, you know, the less healthy food issues like that. The teachers were telling me that frustrated them, and that the students, you know, we get one thing in the classroom, and then one thing in the cafeteria, just as an example. And that that found that very interesting. That's actually a psychological phenomena, called cognitive dissonance. cognitive dissonance is when a person holds two contradictory ideas at one time, and it's very uncomfortable. We do it all the time. But this application of the concept is a little different, because we're looking at a campus ecosystem. And the classroom is one part of the ecosystem. And the facilities are another part of it. And they have to resonate with each other. Yeah, so if the students are learning one thing in the classroom, and they don't see it, when they step out into a different part of their college experience, then it creates this cognitive dissonance, and it's uncomfortable, and it almost negates what they just learned. know,

Dave Karlsgodt 16:39

it's interesting, I have run into a lot of frustration in my own work, because I will, will interact with sustainability departments A lot of times, and part of their role is to help the operational side of the house, you know, become, you know, quote, unquote, greener. But a lot of their work has to do more with engaging students. And the way that you see that play out again, and again, and again, is, at least you know, sort of in the in the shallow sense is, you know, what do I do about water bottles on campus? Or what do I do about, you know, we should have a garden on on our campus, not really realizing that the scale of that compared to what the cafeteria serving is, is dwarfed. And, for me, I guess I run into a lot of cognitive dissonance when I, when I hear things like that, because I just it frustrates me because I don't, I guess I kind of feel it doesn't really matter, when the campus energy system is so much larger, so much of a bigger problem.

Krista Hiser 17:30

Right? Right. It might be interesting, if we talked instead about cognitive dissonance, what if we looked at the the potential for cognitive resonance, I may have just invented that term cognitive.

Dave Karlsgodt 17:47

I like it, you heard it here first.

Krista Hiser 17:48

Yeah, this is that whole, what we talked about in sustainability, the Living Learning Lab, concept of college campuses, and the way they are, you know, like, can be like a small town or an ecosystem. If a student learns it, in a classroom, experiences it on campus, sees, sees it in action in their community, a lot of students sustainability values come, of course, from their home, and from their community, from what they see at the grocery store, and so forth. So they're all interconnected, we need to think about all the places that a student interacts. The classroom, the campus, and their community are all really important sites, which is why it's important for faculty to also be engaged in the community, through programs like service learning, or just through their own, you know, engaged citizenship,

Dave Karlsgodt 18:52

I want to come back to something you mentioned earlier, because you said something about teachers bringing it up in class, I remember having experiences like that on my own college, I had an English teacher that would rant and rave, I think it was about traffic patterns, or something like that. And I used to get so frustrated, because I had nothing to do with the English course I was taking at the time. But I remember she was very passionate, and she took a good chunk of our class time to talk about whatever that was. Tell me more about that. Because it seems like you've run into that situation as well.

Krista Hiser 19:23

Well, teachers are people, and they will teach their values. They, whatever it is that they're passionate about, if they're a vegetarian, or a bike activist, a lot of the sustainability activism has been faculty driven. And those faculty will, it will bubble out of them in the way that they're teaching on the topic of the campus as a Living Learning Lab, right, so the faculty will say that whatever is being taught in the classroom, needs to be the student, if the students can experience it, then on campus, then they get that cognitive resonance. And that was maybe driving a lot of the work and campus operations. And what the research on sustainability in higher education some of the studies are saying is that the effort and energy on the operation side is actually beginning to exceed or surpass the change and transformation in the classroom, some of the classroom stuff is maybe it's just less visible. And that's what we are hope trying to do with this sustainability designation is again, make those classes more visible to students, and more visible to other faculty so that opportunities for interdisciplinary dialogue are created. What's interesting is that there is so much energy on the facilities and operation side with like energy goals and things like that. So you could actually have like, kind of the reverse impact. If students are seeing water conservation practices or energy, renewable energy, and they're not hearing about that in the classroom, then that's also a lost opportunity.

Dave Karlsgodt 21:26

Oh, that's interesting. So you're basically saying that, while you might think that what's being taught in the ivory tower, which is usually way out in front, or kind of the idealistic approach to things, you would think that they're teaching sustainability concepts that I had that like, way out ahead of facilities, but what you're saying is, facilities since they are in a lot of higher education institutions are pushing efforts like that. Yeah, they may be driving the education, not the other way around

Krista Hiser 21:52

I have seen some studies to that effect. Yes. Interesting. It's, it's a very interesting time. process can be very uncomfortable for faculty who, you know, have to look at what they're teaching, and, and what it means to students, and how they fit in with this whole s designation. Sometimes it can be a bit uncomfortable for faculty, it can be uncomfortable also, for facilities, managers, and administrators, sometimes it feels like there's different goals, sometimes competing goals, what is the direction we're going in? And I think the reason it feels uncomfortable is because it's change, change is difficult. What we're experiencing with sustainability in general, is really a paradigm shift. And this is a term that, you know, we we kind of use a lot paradigm shift. But what a paradigm shift really is, is a change in the fundamental knowledge, fundamental, shared common knowledge, like going from thinking the earth is flat to understanding that the earth is round, that is a paradigm shift. It's a change in scientific principle. And this is what's happening right now is a shift in, you know, the nature of life and our interaction with natural resources. The understanding that those resources are finite, is a change in how we think I looked up paradigm shift on Wikipedia. And I thought it was really interesting that somebody had added in there a one of those visual games an optical illusion, and it was a picture of a rabbit, or a duck. Depending on how you see it, you know, you kind of look at it one way, and it looks like a rabbit. Another way it looks like a duck. And this picture was representing what a paradigm shift feels like. And that that rabbit duck image is, is something I think about. Now, it when we look at Campus sustainability, we look at it one way and it looks like a rabbit. And then all of a sudden, you see it again, and it looks like a duck. And that change can happen. It's it's very, very uncomfortable. It's like, No, no, no, no, no, no, yes. And then the change can just happen like, all of a sudden, very quickly. And that's kind of where we're at right now, in the University of Hawaii system. I've been, you know, engaged in these conversations for 10 years, and they fell hard, they felt sticky, they're challenging, people would put energy in and then they get burnt out. A lot of false starts. And all of a sudden is the energy is different. And you know, it's we're starting to understand it.

Dave Karlsgodt 24:57

We had an experience like that with one of our clients, a large research institution in the Midwest, when we've been working with them over the course of a couple of years looking at different scenarios and how they could get off of coal. And at the time, it seemed pretty aspirational for them to actually pull it off. But it was interesting to see at a certain point, as the ideas percolated through the organization, and became kind of the ideas of the president and other key staff, it felt like overnight that they were able to make a transformational change. I think what was most striking to me was how wrong most of those early forecasts had been. I mean, everybody was predicting it would take him a really long time. And the only person that was even close to predicting how rapidly it would happen was a sustainability director. And even she underestimated where they eventually ended up. So it was a lot of fun to see that. But I, I guess it coming back to the term you used a second ago, you said the word cognitive dissonance. You've said that a few times that I, I guess I'd like to dig into that a little bit more. I know, a lot of the work we do, we will see people with goals, like a carbon neutrality goal of a certain year or something like that. But But along with that, they'll have these other goals that are things like, we're going to build more science buildings, or we're going to, you know, add more students or, you know, we're going to build, build, build and grow, grow, grow, but we're going to do it in a green way. And you know, a lot of term I always say to people is you can't grow your way to neutrality. But maybe he could. How, how should I think about that in this context? I mean, that's what do we do about cognitive dissonance?

Krista Hiser 26:28

Yes. Right. It's like one part of the organization, thinking one way like the sustainability department, or however it's organized, thinking one way, and then another part of campus thinking another way, it's interesting when campuses make these really big, aspirational goals, like we have a state goal to be for you h to be net zero by 2035. It's very aspirational for a leader to say that. And then, you know, the people whose job it is to make those changes, they're placed in that cognitive dissonance, suddenly, it's like, but, but how do we do that? Where does where do you even start, you know, and you'd begin with baseline measures. And we presented last week to the Board of regions. And we have an Energy Manager and his slide showed the the chart the line from where the campus was right now, in terms of renewable energy, and how it was going to get to 100%. net zero by 2035. And the, the line from 1.44%, 100% was of you have to start somewhere. But then you also have to trust that the change can be not just step wise, but jump wise, you know, it's like baby step, baby step, baby step, leap. And we have to trust that those leaps are going to happen if we keep going on baby steps.

Dave Karlsgodt 28:21

Yeah, they, we hear that term, incremental ism, which again, you can't really do baby steps all the way there, there has to be a giant leap somewhere the way? Yeah, I see that a lot. And it is it usually it's helpful when they have a goal like that, because at least it gets people thinking and talking. And I suppose the cognitive dissonance is part of the learning process, I suppose it's not necessarily a bad thing. It's or, or is it? You know, or is it just something we need to recognize?

Krista Hiser 28:47

cognitive dissonance is definitely something to recognize. It's something that happens to us all the time. And that discomfort causes us to, you know, examine our thought our thinking and our actions in a new way, when it becomes a bad thing is when there's a conflict between the thinking and the demonstrated environment. You know, it's very difficult, staying connected with sustainability and change and renewable energy. When it looks like business as usual, you know, when the media is still, you know, encouraging consumerism, and the mall is all lit up, and everybody's driving around, and it doesn't look like we're heading toward a climate crisis, it doesn't look like it, it looks like everything is fine as business as usual. And that's where I think cognitive dissonance where we can if we can address those experiences, so that students can interact with change, instead of just thinking and learning about change, when they begin to see it. That's what accelerates those those leaps. Not just in their, in their mind in that transformative learning. But in your campus projects and meeting those aspirational goals.

Dave Karlsgodt 30:34

Let's talk about the students then. So there's this concept of teaching students about sustainability. And I'm I mean that that's great, let's do that. Because in 10, or 20, or 30 years when they're running the world, will be really happy that they know these concepts. But, you know, in my day to day world, I'm placed in a position where I need to teach people that are already professionals in place about sustainability, because they're the ones that are actually making the decisions to buy the assets that we're going to be stuck with for the next 10 or 20 or 30 years. So I mean, how should I think about that?

Krista Hiser 31:03

Yeah, well, in some ways, you and I have the same job, because I'm talking with faculty about how they teach. And that is, that is one conversation. What What, what we do know a little bit about is how to teach sustainability with students. And I can tell you a couple of things that I've changed about my own teaching. Sure. One, one is that in talking with students, they'll describe, like being on a roller coaster with sustainability. If they're seeing, you know, film, like films like bag it, or, you know, any of these kind of eco attainment films, if they see that in one class, and then they're researching that, that problem or issue, and then they go to another class, and they might see the same film, and research that problem or issue. You know, we have to think about what they're learning in their other classes, and how it's going to resonate with what they're learning in our class, we have to work together to create some coherence in how we teach sustainability. Because if we don't, the risk is sometimes it's called Green fatigue. You know, if you get students all worked up about something, and then nothing happens, and then you get them all worked up and concerned again, and nothing happens, then they, they they tune out, they tune out from the real learning that is possible there. So what I did in my own teaching, I've been teaching environmental issues for almost 20 years. And I've read so many papers about polar bears floating on icebergs, and I just did not feel that these papers were sincere. I felt students were writing what they thought I wanted them to write. And they weren't really thinking through the issues. So instead of teaching the problem, so I used to send students out to you know, research and environmental issue. And then we'd write a research paper. We no longer start by teaching the problems, we start by engaging with the solutions, engaging with the solutions, kind of Prime's the mindset to become engaged in the problem, right, you want to become empowered and hopeful before you start doing the research, not vice versa. Maybe that sounds like a simple thing. But I really always am encouraging people to stop teaching problems teach the solution first.

Dave Karlsgodt 34:00

Now, I think we've kind of experienced that in our own work too. Because if we only if we just went in and talk to clients about how bad their issues are, I don't think we would get very far, the only reason we're there is because they want help figuring out the solutions. And if we can bring a message that there are some, we have a lot better chance of success than if we don't. So that totally makes sense to me.

Krista Hiser 34:19

So that's one thing. And another thing that I've learned a lot about from faculty is about the power of place. And of course, we're teaching in Hawaii, where we have an incredible host culture and incredible environment. Incredible degree of environmental impacts with biodiversity and all kinds of things going on here. The most powerful teacher we have is really the place itself is is nature itself, almost, if you teach in a classroom from a book, then it's easy to remain distant from from the information to detach from it. But if you're teaching from a grounded sense of place, it's got tremendous impact. And that's something that faculty talk about a lot.

Dave Karlsgodt 35:19

But it's interesting, you say that I remember my own experience when I grew up in Montana, where I could go fishing out my front door. And you know, it was right in the mountains as a kid. And then I went to school in Texas, and I remember how big of a shock it was just to not have the mountains right around me. And I never really realized how much appreciated that until I was moved away from it. And now that I've kids growing up in the city, we do our best to get them outside as much as possible. But you see a lot of their friends that they just have no connection whatsoever. It's just a it's a foreign experience to me, but I'm starting to understand a little better.

Krista Hiser 35:54

Yeah, well, you probably know about nature Deficit Disorder order. And it's a very real thing. If we're, if we're not connected to nature, we can't, we can't defend what we don't know what we don't what we don't love what we don't appreciate. So a lot of curriculum building does start there. Interesting, what I've learned about teaching sustainability, sustainability curriculum. And this is what I've learned from talking with faculty who are doing it, as well as from some other research on sustainability and higher education. And my own focus group research with students, it kind of boils down to a few guidelines, one is just not teaching from the problems teaching from the solutions being engaged and involved in real world solutions. The second is that idea of sense of place and being grounded in place, you know, the specific, whether it's Montana, where you're from, or here and Hawaii being grounded in place. The other thing that that comes up a lot is the importance of big picture thinking, systems thinking or creative thinking. One of our faculty actually designed a course around creative thinking. And it's actually something that you can learn, it can be practiced and developed, creative thinking. The university we are programmed to teach, you know, critical thinking. And that's actually the opposite of systems thinking critical thinking is taking things apart, systems thinking is putting them together, creative thinking is how to see problems in a new light. So teaching those kind of big picture thinking skills. And then the other skill that is most important, it's on all the workforce, future workforce skills. The most important is a communication, and both interpersonal and interpersonal. So the ability to talk with people engage people and become a change a change agent, you know, how to talk with people about climate change, or behavior change is, you know, right up there in the important skills for sustainability curriculum.

Dave Karlsgodt 38:26

Interesting. So we can't just have more engineering courses to work our way out of this.

Krista Hiser 38:32

No, it's it's, it is a much more interdisciplinary and even trans disciplinary endeavor. And, yeah, it's not just engineers, and we need different kinds of engineers.

Unknown Speaker 38:49

That's it for this episode. We hope you enjoyed part one of our two part series with Dr. Krista Hiser. 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.