Paul Prosser, Alex Slaymaker, Sambhram Patel, and Scott Cloutier recently published a book chapter. Titled “Broadening Opportunities for Happiness with Local Knowledge,” the chapter explores the importance of integrating local knowledge systems into sustainable solutions. With this in mind, the team developed the Happiness Opportunities Spectrum (HOS), a framework used to analyze how sustainability solutions may impact the happiness of local communities.
Despite the “triple bottom line” emphasis in sustainability research and education today, creating sustainable solutions that fit the needs of the planet, the economy, and people can be extremely challenging in practice. Prosser, Slaymaker, Patel, and Cloutier decided to take a new approach to this issue.The team developed the HOS as “a foundation which can be built upon to create a more robust framework to inform policy makers and anyone trying to implement sustainability,” according to Patel. The tool is focused on people; specifically how to best ensure their happiness and well-being, a relatively new approach to creating sustainability solutions.
What started out as a white board discussion between Prosser and Cloutier has now transformed into a unique sustainability solutions tool that supports current research efforts about the importance of stakeholder engagement. For Prosser, it was this process of transformation that he enjoyed most about co-authoring the chapter. He emphasizes that “the bottom line is you have to be willing to let others challenge your idea,” an important lesson with respect to the collaborative writing and communication process
Functioning similarly to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, each dimension of the upside-down pyramid must be fulfilled before moving to the next, from technical to ecological to cognitive. The goal is for solutions to meet the conditions of every dimension in order to provide the most happiness opportunities for the group the solution is serving. Many sustainability solutions are driven by the technical or ecological dimension, with the cognitive dimension dismissed or rarely even addressed. According to their framework, the cognitive dimension is actually the key to ensuring success, and the key to fulfilling the cognitive dimension is allowing local knowledge to guide the decision-making process.
Whether it is installing more solar panels in neighborhoods to cut energy costs or implementing a community garden to bring people together and provide fresh produce, sustainability solutions are ultimately created by people for people. Every community has different needs, different wants, and different backgrounds that shape their values and beliefs. Therefore catering sustainability solutions to people, taking into account those cognitive differences, is a no-brainer. The HOS framework is a simple and easy way to ensure this happens. “We all have biases about what type of information matters and why,” states Slaymaker, “I hope readers reflect on these biases and how they can better respect and utilize the assets of communities they work with or study.”
To test the feasibility of this framework as a tool, the team analyzed four case studies using HOS as a qualitative lens. The studies include indigenous land and water rights in San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff, Arizona, sustainable energy production provided by a non-governmental organization in the Ladakh region of India, design of a new Chapter House for the Tonalea Chapter of the Navajo Nation, and the impact of the environmental education nonprofit, Imago, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Each case study has a different outcome, the framework is generalized enough to work for almost any example, but is critical enough to locate areas of improvement for each specific problem and/or solution.
Cloutier is amazed at the work his students are doing to further happiness and sustainability research. He loves “supporting students in getting our collective ideas into the world through written word and practice,” and is looking forward to seeing the positive outcomes in research and application after many months of hard work and dedication to make the HOS framework come to life.
The chapter is available in the book Environmental Sustainability. Access to the publisher’s website here: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-111936180X.html
Have you ever wondered how happy your neighborhood actually is? Siddhanth Paralkar, Scott Cloutier, Snigdha Nautiyal, and Ramanuj Mitra are trying to answer that question. The team recently published an article about a decision-making tool designed for neighborhood residents to use in community development efforts. The tool, called the Sustainable Neighborhoods for Happiness Decision Tool (SNfH), is based on Cloutier’s Sustainable Neighborhoods for Happiness Index (SNHI) and has been modified to fit the neighborhood scale.
Residents, referred to as stakeholders, are given a set of questions for each of nine indicators (buildings, business and economic development, community governance, energy management, food systems, neighborhood design, transportation, waste management, and water management) and responses are scored to visually display the level of happiness and sustainability in a given neighborhood. Displaying the extent of happiness and sustainability for each category provides stakeholders with quantitative data and a visual representation to make informed decisions about where the most effort and resources should be allocated to improve their community.
Paralkar, the lead author of the article, emphasizes the “accessibility and replicability of the decision tool” that sets it apart from previous sustainability and happiness research. Unlike previous studies, the SNfH tool provides a “new grassroots approach to apply this research,” directly involving stakeholders rather than leaving community development solely to urban planners and policy makers. The tool can be modified for changes in both physical and cultural geography, further empowering residents to make decisions about the place they call home.
The tool is focused on the neighborhood scale rather than a city scale because ultimately, cities are comprised of neighborhoods. This smaller scale takes into account the incredible diversity within cities, providing a better representation of the true state of sustainability and happiness.
The article, “The sustainable neighborhoods for happiness (SNfH) decision tool: Assessing neighborhood level sustainability and happiness” was published in November 2016 in Ecological Indicators. It is available, with limited access, here: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2016.11.009
Amy Bergley, a recent graduate of the Masters of Sustainability Solutions program at ASU, has a new position with the cCity of Phoenix as a Zero Waste Specialist withpart of the Zero Waste Team. She will be working under the recycling coordinator, promoting zero waste initiatives throughout Phoenix in an effort at local events to increase awareness of the importance of waste management in our rapidly growing city.
As a Master’s student, Amy worked for Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiative in the Resource Innovation Solutions Network. She also worked with Dr. Scott Cloutier in the Happy Lab, creating new and innovative ways to help people understand sustainability in a way that is beneficial to their wellbeing. During the summer of 2016, summer, Amy researched food waste in Denmark and the United Kingdom as her applied Master's degree project.
Amy looked at different food waste policies and management in the UK and Denmark in comparison to the United States, and how they relate to sustainability and happiness. She worked closely with the Happiness Alliance (http://www.happycounts.org/), creating tools to help educate people on how to implement sustainable food waste management strategies into their own lives. In addition, she wrote a two-part blog for the Happiness Alliance based on her own experience and research.
Looking forward, Amy will continue to volunteer with Local First Arizona, where she interned as a graduate student, to help further their efforts towards zero waste. In partnership with many organizations such as the Reimagine Phoenix Project, Local First Arizona and her own Zero Waste Initiatives, Amy In her new position, she will continue to use her innovative collaboration skills to reduce waste in the Phoenix. Her community involvement has helped her to become a creative problem solver, leading to her new job with the city of Phoenix. We hope to see more of Amy and her accomplishments in the years to come!
Siddhanth Paralkar is from Mumbai, India, and moved to the United States three years ago to complete the Master of Sustainability Solutions (MSUS) degree at ASU. His undergraduate degree is in mechanical engineering, providing him with a diverse set of skills to apply to his sustainability studies. His interest in sustainability and happiness started while studying abroad in Guatemala. He loved being able to work directly with neighborhoods and communities, while also experiencing how differently happiness was perceived abroad. When he returned from Guatemala, he took the “Sustainable Neighborhoods for Happiness” capstone course with Scott Cloutier. Sid’s knowledge and experiences from Guatemala and the capstone allowed him to more deeply understand the Sustainable Neighborhoods for Happiness Index, inspiring him to assess the happiness of one specific neighborhood in Tempe for his final MSUS project. Using the work from the capstone course as a base assessment, he developed a decision-making tool application designed to help residents clearly identify where they need to improve happiness and sustainability within their neighborhood.
After completing his MSUS degree, Sid served as the Sustainability Intern at the Farm at South Mountain for three months planning and implement a waste management system. In addition to providing the resources to make recycling and compost available at the Farm’s three restaurants, he helped the Farm become more involved in the community by creating a network of people to collaborate on sustainability initiatives.
Now, Sid is working for the Paradise Valley School District as a Recycling Specialist. Ten of the 34 schools in the district have recycling pilot programs, but none of these have been very successful. With the increase in consumption and waste generation and reduction of space for landfills, developing effective recycling programs in schools is critical. It is Sid's goal to develop a program that engages both students and teachers so they can bring practical sustainability knowledge and passion to their families, friends, neighborhoods, and communities.
According to Sid, “working together creates value in society; my focus is to create value in what they are producing,” a critical piece to successfully connecting people to sustainability. He believes that community engagement is both a process and application; bringing people together to work for the greater good is key to sustaining happiness. Over the past few years, Sid has positively impacted communities at home and abroad, from small villages in Guatemala to an entire school district in Arizona. Happiness and sustainability are integral to fostering intergenerational equity, and Sid is working diligently to ensure this now and in the future.
Cassandra Mac graduated from the School of Sustainability Masters of Sustainable Solutions program in December 2015. She completed her degree as an intern with the Tempe Grease Cooperative (TGC) and is now a full time employee. The TGC is a special program managed under the Environmental Services Section of the City of Tempe that works as an intermediary between local restaurants and grease collection businesses to ensure proper grease device maintenance and grease disposal. If not properly managed, restaurants may discharge their fats, oils, and grease (FOG) in the city sewage system. However, the city sewage system is not equipped to handle this type of waste, so Cassandra and her team are helping restaurants dispose of fats, oils, and grease in an environmentally safe manner. Safe disposal of FOG protects sewer infrastructure from overflows and, since the inception of the TCG, no overflows have occurred from TGC members. The efforts ensure sustainable sewer infrastructure in Tempe, especially since there are approximately 1000 restaurants and other food service establishments, and 170,000 residents contributing to the sewer system.
Although the program is only two years old and facilitated mostly by ASU School of Sustainability interns, 1 in 6 restaurants in the City of Tempe are partnering with the TCG. This number is increasing as more local restaurants realize the benefits of this type of intermediary work. Cassandra has hopes for a “change in proper FOG disposal to ensure each vendor is doing their job properly, and each member of the Cooperative is serviced correctly and with care.” The TCG is the first program of its kind in the world, and has inspired places such as Fort Wayne, Indiana, San Antonio, Texas, and even Dublin, Ireland to adopt its method to work within their cities.
When asked about why restaurants would not want to be involved with the TGC, Cassandra said, “some companies struggle to implement change.” The TGC is aware of this barrier to their work and has been striving to ensure safe, open communication and understanding between their employees and local restaurants. Cassandra emphasizes that, ultimately, it is about the member wanting to participate in a new way of doing things.
There are many similarities between our society and these local restaurants. All people have fears, judgements, and insecurities preventing them from change. So how do we find a way to overcome these barriers? The answer may simply be to let ourselves be vulnerable to others. To be completely raw and open allows for a unique space of understanding and learning. If we can help companies move to a space of trust with Tempe Grease Cooperative, they might be more willing to join. The result may be more sustainable management of waste, which would create a healthier and more productive environment, enhancing human well-being and happiness.
Photo by Mazhar Badani | The State Press