Dr. Norbert Mundorf teaches and communicates green

MundorfNorbertGreenThinkerPosition: Professor
Department: Harrington School of Communication & Media


What does sustainability mean to you?
We should make choices and act in such a way that the world remains a viable place to live for generations to come, and we need to conserve and share resources with other inhabitants of our small planet.  For me that includes reducing not only my own carbon/resource footprint, but also encouraging those around me, and the larger community.


Which URI project or program related to sustainability should we be the most proud of?
We have made great progress in our new buildings, which are LEED certified and have many sustainable features.  Also, URI tries to be ‘green’ when remodeling existing buildings and managing energy use across campus.   Dining Services has made some important changes reducing food waste and offering some local food.  A new agreement with the Town of South Kingstown will help bring some of our environmental expertise into the local community.  There are a few other ‘points of pride’: many offices have begun to cut down on paper waste by printing and copying double-sided, professors choose e-books rather than hard copy, and some students are taking the bus to campus.


How are you involved with campus sustainability at URI?
My field is Communication, so my primary interest is in using communication and media to promote sustainability.  Most of my classes have a strong sustainability component.  I also have been working on an Environmental Studies major as well as a Masters in Environmental Communication, and hope that both will be available to URI students within the next two years.

My research has focused on Sustainable Transportation.  With other researchers I am working on ways to encourage people to carpool, walk, bike, and take public transit instead of driving alone.  In another project we focus on communicating Climate Change and helping Rhode Islanders be prepared for its consequences, such as extreme weather and sea-level rise.  Sustainability is not just a challenge for a particular department or college—it reaches across campus; similarly, my research and teaching crosses department and college boundaries; it involves colleagues and students from most of URI’s Colleges.


What can URI do to be greener?
There has been some progress during the past decade, but we still have a long way to go. We have to create a Culture of Sustainability across campus, which involves all levels of our community, from janitors and food workers to office staff, faculty, students and administration.  URI is a world leader in environmental research, but we still have to translate this leadership into our everyday life on campus.   Transportation, for instance is a problem area.  Most students, staff, and faculty drive to campus by themselves on a daily basis.  I know, we don’t have a lot of public transportation available, but many of us have choices—for instance, carpool once or twice a week, even if it is slightly inconvenient.   We also could design our campus to be more pedestrian and bike friendly, and improve storage capabilities in high-traffic buildings so that people don’t have to rely on their cars for storage throughout the day.

We can also do more to reduce waste–from plastic water bottles and coffee cups to food containers and packaging.  Energy and food waste is still rampant, as well.   However, I know that many of our students, staff, faculty and administration care deeply about our surroundings and about our lives in the future.  Change is difficult, but it is possible.

Campus planning needs to promote “smart growth” by reducing ‘sprawl’ and preserving prime farmland and forest areas, by reducing stormwater runoff and restoring natural water flow. We should provide more education and incentives to reduce the number of cars coming to campus. But if we cannot come together to reduce automobile traffic, a parking garage may be a costly, but worthwhile alternative. 


What do you do in your personal life to be green?
I avoid driving by myself whenever possible.  Mostly, I bike to campus and into town.  If that’s not an option, I take the bus or carpool.  My wife and I share a car.  Also, I am involved in a South Kingstown community initiative “Healthy Places by Design” which encourages local food, alternative transportation, and ‘active’ communities.   As Kermit the Frog said:  “It’s not easy being green”—but change is possible.  And personally, I feel fortunate that I have been able to make some of these changes in my own life, and in the life of the campus community.