University of Vermont

Jeffords Hall

“Civil Rights, Human Rights, Climate Justice, And Sustainability – Who Will Lead Our Way In The 21st Century?”

by Patrick Mathon '16, LEED Green Associate, Sustainability Communications & Outreach Intern

The Rubenstein School’s Spring Lecture Series, “Leadership for Sustainability”, wrapped up on April 15th with an intriguing speech from UVM Lecturer Tracey Tsugawa.  The “Leadership for Sustainability” series brought in national and local figures to discuss leadership through a sustainability lens.   Her talk was called “Civil Rights, Human Rights, Climate Justice, and Sustainability – Who Will Lead Our Way In The 21st Century?” and drew many students, faculty, and staff.

Tsugawa’s vast knowledge and expertise in multiple fields made her the ideal candidate to conclude this semester-long lecture series. Tsugawa has three professional careers. She is a civil rights investigator for the Vermont Human Rights Commission, where she focuses on anti-discrimination in Vermont and anti-bullying in schools. She is a consultant for non-profit groups in Chittenden County, focusing on cultural competence in the workplace. Tsugawa is also a lecturer at the University of Vermont, where she teaches two courses: ENVS 181 Race, Class, and Garbage, and ENVS 295 Law and Policy of Environmental Justice.

By definition, a leader is one who guides or inspires others.  But when you stop and think about what defines a truly great leader, what comes to mind?  Tsugawa has a unique perspective on leadership, a holistic approach that embodies three distinct and equally important characteristics: awareness, skills, and knowledge.  Each of these traits are essential in becoming a strong leader.  Awareness enables us to become mindful of who we are and how we act.  We need skills to effectively deal with the situation at hand.  Finally, we must have the knowledge and humility to act upon the best interests of the greater good.  This idea has both challenged and stretched my understanding of leadership, resulting in a more comprehensive view.  

Tsugawa continued, suggesting that one’s ability to deal with conflict is a key component of implementing sustainability initiatives.  She explained how wars over water and other natural resources constantly end with conflict, and are settled by either federal agencies or an expensive lawsuit.  In order to combat these disagreements, we must first become aware of power and conflict in sustainability leadership.  Throughout this hour-long lecture, I was constantly reminded that awareness is the first step in effectively dealing with any conflict.

By the end of this lecture, Tsugawa had placed massive importance on two main ideas: we must have compassion for our own learning, and we must always consider the wellbeing of others.  It is our duty as both leaders and humans to act according to these guidelines.  I strongly recommend any students interested in environmental justice, class stratification or leadership in sustainability to check out Tsugawa’s full talk here.