Assistant civil engineering professor Leidy Klotz, second from right, works to help students recognize the impact they each can have on creating a sustainable campus.

By Victoria Witte
Office of Creative Services

Professor Leidy Klotz is working hard to change a common misconception about sustainability — it’s more than simply saving the planet. Of course, polar bears and oil spills are important, but Klotz wants to show Clemson how much more there is to sustainability.

“One of the common misconceptions is that it’s about saving the planet just to save the planet,” Klotz said. “The reason most of us care about the planet is because it’s where we humans live.”

For the assistant civil engineering professor, sustainability is a broad topic fundamentally about people. Sustainability impacts issues with which we are all inherently connected — energy, climate, war and health. With Klotz’s help, students will band together across disciplines to pursue sustainability.

“I think when it comes to sustainability, students know just as much, if not more, than us older people. I’m convinced these students are our best shot at the types of changes required to address these issues,” he said.

Klotz wants to one day see sustainability play a part in the education of all Clemson students. The President’s Commission on Sustainability is an important part of this effort. Approved by President James Barker in September 2009, the commission is working to creatively address sustainability in the Clemson community by bringing together students, faculty, staff and Clemson citizens. These groups fuse together education, research and public service issues aimed at pursuing sustainability.

Emerging from the commission is the Sustainability Café, a lunchtime gathering that brings people together to discuss sustainability issues and how they relate to Clemson’s campus and the world. Each week, the group picks a host to introduce a topic and present a problem; they spend the remainder of the lunch discussing potential solutions. With brown-bagged lunches and a healthy appetite for change, students, faculty, and staff interact on a personal level. Everyone is invited to join in on the weekly lunches.

Among his many projects, Klotz is currently leading two Creative Inquiry groups aimed at creating a more sustainable future, both on and off campus. Students work in small groups, focusing on projects that spring from their own ideas. Looking at engineers’ behavior in energy efficiency, for example, one group is studying engineers’ decision-making processes. Researchers want to know why engineers make the decisions they do, even when the outcome appears to be irrational. The other group of students is focusing on campus sustainability improvement planning and is designing their own project. Upon completion, the proposal will be submitted to Clemson’s capital improvement competition. If chosen, students are given the opportunity to see their own design come to life, and Clemson is given another opportunity to move toward being a sustainable campus.

Guiding his students through the Creative Inquiry process, Klotz takes a position not always found in the classroom. Rather than giving lectures and providing set guidelines for the class, Klotz readily offers his guidance, but only when truly needed. He goes to meetings, sits in the back and listens to his students’ ideas.

“The whole point of college is for students to learn, which is more likely to happen when they are actively engaged in the material,” he said. “Plus, I’ve found that the more flexibility I give them, the better results I get.”

The results he’s getting are providing Clemson with top-notch sustainability research and ideas, propelling Clemson forward in its efforts to leave a more sustainable campus for generations to come.