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Mike Kensler

Director of campus sustainability operations
Office of Sustainability

Mike Kensler is the director of campus sustainability operations for Auburn University. He earned a master's degree in natural resources management, planning and policy from the School of Natural Resources at the University of Michigan, where his program emphasized the integration of science and policy and an interdisciplinary, holistic approach. Before coming to Auburn, he worked in environmental and sustainability policy, advocacy, education and outreach for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Norfolk, Va., and Annapolis, Md. Kensler also worked with the National Wildlife Federation and its affiliates across the country, focusing on environmental policy and education, organizational development and movement building initiatives.

1. What sparked your passion for environmental conservation and sustainability?

Growing up and spending a lot of time outside in two beautiful and distinct places: on the shores of Lake Michigan in Traverse City and Petoskey, Mich., and in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. In northern Michigan, I learned to fish for native brook trout in crystal clear streams, hunted morel mushrooms and hiked through trillium-filled woods; swam in bright blue inland lakes; watched the aurora borealis and sunsets over Lake Michigan; skated and played in the snow every winter. In Florida, I spent a lot of time swimming in the ocean and exploring the Florida Keys and the Everglades, eating fresh mangos and finding really big blue indigo snakes in our yard.

My experiences in nature were tempered with a strong set of values taught to me by my father. He expressed a childlike delight and deep appreciation whenever we were in the woods or on the water. He taught me to appreciate and respect nature, and to take responsibility for my actions so that what we loved and enjoyed so much would always be there for us and others to experience and benefit from. His lessons were as much about thinking of others as they were about taking care of the natural world. He always saw the two as connected.

2. What are some of the ways the Office of Sustainability is working to accomplish its mission on campus?

It's hard to give a short answer to this question.

We see our mission, in part, as helping Auburn cultivate an ethic and practice of sustainability on campus and prepare our graduates to be sustainability practitioners who will contribute to creating a flourishing future.

Since that is our mission, one part of our job is to develop a shared understanding of what sustainability is all about and why it matters. In many ways, sustainability as a concept is derived from the core values I and so many others were taught as children about the way we should treat each other and the world around us. There is plenty of evidence, social, economic and ecological, that as a society we are not doing a very good job in either case.

Sustainability is about so much more than being green. It's about seeing the interconnections between a healthy global ecosystem, a viable economy that is equitable and respects the laws and limits of nature, vibrant and inclusive communities, individual wellbeing, and acting to create those four systems conditions of a flourishing society.

While we are working on those conversations about meaning, we are also undertaking specific projects. Last year, we completed the first iteration of our Climate Action Plan, which is designed to reduce our contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. While the Climate Action Plan is important, it is just one part of becoming more sustainable.

This year we are doing a campuswide assessment of our sustainability performance in the areas of academics and research, operations, and administration, planning, and engagement. That will give us a clear benchmark of current performance. Once we have clarity about where we are we can establish long-term sustainability goals as called for in the university's strategic plan.

This spring we intend to prototype a sustainable office certification program called SOAR, or Sustainable Offices Achieving Recognition. Our terrific interns developed this program, designed to help offices reduce energy and water use, reduce waste generated, make more efficient use of equipment and supplies, develop sustainable purchasing options and overall, be part of Auburn's sustainability initiative.

Auburn has one of the first truly interdisciplinary minors in sustainability, and it is in high demand. Nanette Chadwick, the director of academic sustainability programs, is working with students and faculty members to further enhance sustainability-related teaching and research. This spring, she is conducting a workshop for faculty members who want to incorporate the concept of sustainability into their classes.

3. What do you enjoy most about your work?

Getting to know and work with a diverse group of thoughtful and talented people across the university, the state and the region. I am inspired by how many people feel a strong sense of mission and are dedicating their careers to the common good. In particular, I enjoy the quick wit and good humor of many of my colleagues.

4. What brought you to Auburn?

It was a cosmic alignment. We were living in Bethlehem, Pa., where my wife, Lisa, was finishing her degree at Lehigh University and looking for a faculty position in educational leadership. Our daughter, Shelley, was investigating colleges and I was scanning the horizon for a position where I could continue my work in sustainability at the interface of science, policy and people. When we optimized our options, all signs came up Auburn!

5. What is your favorite thing about Auburn?

It's hard to pick one thing. Daffodils in January and baseball in Plainsman Park come immediately to mind.

April 16, 2012