By Greg Russell
The were no gold medals handed out, no international TV exposure, but two University
of Memphis representatives came back to Memphis winners all the same at a conference
featuring countries from around the world.
U of M sustainability coordinator Amelia Mayahi and Visiting Professor of Architecture
and Design Jennifer Thompson traveled to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, earlier this summer
to take part in the prestigious World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities,
an event parallel to the United Nations conference for Sustainable Development known
as Rio+20. Not only did the pair score big with a paper they authored that was one
of eight keynote presentations, the U of M as a whole made a big splash.
Visiting Professor of Architecture and Design Jenn Thompson (left) and U of M sustainability
coordinator Amelia Mayahi at a recent international conference on environmental issues
held in Brazil.
“This was a great moment for the University,” Mayahi said. “We were an international
icon at a sustainability conference that featured 57 universities from such places
as Finland, China, the Netherlands, India and Australia.”
The objectives of the conference were to secure renewed political commitment to sustainable
development, to assess progress towards internationally agreed goals on sustainable
development and to address new and emerging challenges. The summit also focused on
two specific themes: a green economy in the context of poverty eradication and sustainable
development, and an institutional framework for sustainable development. UNCSD offers a unique opportunity to also discuss the extent to which universities
have been providing a meaningful contribution towards the efforts in shaping a better
“What I came away with is that our university can be a leader in sustainability,”
Mayahi said. “We’re very much at the forefront of sustainability in terms of vision
and mindfulness of faculty, staff and students.”
Their paper examines how academics and other elements of a university campus such
as faculty, staff, students and facilities can come together to create a coherent
system for sustainable development.
“It focuses on how a campus such as ours can reach its sustainability goals within
a system theory where everyone — faculty, staff and students – work together to achieve
The paper, “Convergence and Confluence: Systems Thinking Approach to Integrated Sustainability
in Higher Education,” will be published in a special issue of the International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education (IJSHE) and in the book Sustainable Development at Universities: New Horizons. This book is a further volume of the award-winning book series Environmental Education, Communication and Sustainability. It is the world’s longest running book series on education and communication on
Mayahi said one thing she came away from the conference with was that universities
around the world all face the same sustainability challenges.
“We’re still in the early stages of campus sustainability initiatives, maybe a trial
and error stage. When you see universities like those in Finland facing the same challenges
we are facing, it makes you feel we are not falling behind but rather have the opportunity
to work with them for the same common goal. I feel like we will remain at the forefront
of sustainability initiatives.”
Since becoming sustainability coordinator three years ago, Mayahi has greatly expanded
the U of M’s recycling program and spearheaded several energy efficiency initiatives
among other things. Thompson, also sustainability coordinator for the Department of
Architecture, teaches sustainability in her classes and, along with architecture students
and staff, recently completed a recycle zone project that is adjacent to Mynders Hall.
“What better way to be a leader in sustainability than being an international icon
for sustainable development at universities,” Mayahi said of the U of M’s representation
at the conference. “We have high hopes of shifting the U of M even further toward
a more sustainable future.”