Our Culture of Sustainability

Written by Jaime Cano
    Wednesday, 21 February 2018
Our Culture of Sustainability

The German zoologist Ernst Haeckel coined the word ecology almost 150 years ago. He combined a couple of Greek words to do this trick: “oikos” means "habitation" and “-ology” means "the study of."

This fact may already be part of your ample knowledge, but a quick reminder won´t hurt: ecology started off as the study of where things live. In ecology, sustainability (from sustain and ability) is the property of biological systems to remain diverse and productive indefinitely. Who doesn't want to be diverse and productive indefinitely? I remember when I was younger and able to dunk a basketball…

As an organization, I think the Urban Ecology Center is a good example of sustainability. We have been around for two decades, and I have coworkers that are savvy professionals from many different backgrounds who show great passion. But, even with this organizational success, it is possible to lose some control over parts of the organizational culture. It´s very natural and common for the culture to grow and change as new people come bringing their own life perspectives and customs. This is why as an organization we decided to ask ourselves how to keep the culture of sustainability alive (and sustainable) for years to come at the UEC.

The answer was to create Sustainability Czars - this might sound harsh if you think back to some parts of Russian history, but we use the title in a “tongue in cheek” way—they are a group of people in each department who have self-identified as being passionate about sustainability, and we wanted to give them a light-hearted title to recognize their leadership: thus “sustainability czar” was born!

Czars work at the department level to help keep sustainability as a priority within each department. They encourage departments to always consider sustainability when making decisions or deciding on approaches. In addition, every department has several sustainability-related goals to accomplish each year. In my department, Visitor Services, for example, we created the building signage called “Eco-tips” as a way of conveying ecofriendly literacy. You might have seen these small squares all over our buildings, with tips on ways to save water, reuse resources, and other easy sustainable practices everyone can incorporate into their daily lives. Additionally, our department created “Boards of Action” to try to incentivize sustainable behaviors. You may have noticed these chalkboards at our building entrances that invite you to think with questions like, “What do you do to practice sustainability at home?”


After one year of the sustainability czars working together on this effort, we have realized some wonderful successes across the entire organization. The volunteer department no longer uses paper for background checks or reference checks, the IT department implemented a virtual meeting program (to cut back on fuel used to transport staff between branches for meetings), and our marketing team will soon be issuing the first ever entirely paperless newsletter! And the work continues! At the organizational level, Sustainability Czars work together to come up with recommendations for organizational sustainability goals that are shared at all-staff meetings.

In society today, sustainability can be difficult. You have to work at it and sometimes make specific decisions that may not be the easiest way. But it is essential and vital to living responsibly and protecting the world we live in. At the Urban Ecology Center, we are working hard to be more sustainable every day through the efforts I have shared here, and we’d like to extend the challenge to you: what can you do to be a “sustainability czar” in your own life?

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Photo: Chris Winters

Jaime Cano

Jaime Cano

Jaime Cano Lopez was born in Sevilla, España. He came to Wisconsin in 2014 and after a very rough first winter he has fully embraced this great state as home. Jaime is the Visitor Services Specialist at the Menomonee Valley branch, where the community can enjoy his humor and joy. In his free time he likes to travel, play sports, and enjoy nature with his lovely wife, dog and cat.


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