By Sarita Chourey, Furman University

We can have both—a healthy, thriving planet and a basic quality of life for all of humanity—and in fact, we must.

That belief drives the new Shi Institute for Sustainable Communities at Sullivan Foundation partner school Furman University. The Shi Institute is a regionally centered, community-focused institute that promotes sustainable human flourishing through its centers for sustainability education, research and leadership.

The shift to a more broadly reaching institute culminates 11 years of progress and national renown as Furman’s David E. Shi Center for Sustainability. On Oct. 27, Furman announced the new institute—an education, applied research and leadership resource truly unique to the Southeast.

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“It is our imperative to preserve the Earth’s limited natural resources for current populations, to achieve a just and equitable society for all, and to leave future generations with a planet capable of sustaining life and community,” said Furman President Elizabeth Davis. “The Shi Institute brings a holistic, interdisciplinary approach to our most pressing sustainability and community challenges while providing our students with formative learning experiences through our programs and partnerships within the region.”

Faculty and students, environmental scientists and economists, urban planners and policy experts, sustainability leaders and elected officials will collaboratively pursue sustainable communities at the Shi Institute, which operates in a net zero, sustainable showcase home in the heart of Furman’s campus.

“The Shi Institute fills a critical regional need and will serve as a conduit and crossroads for providing innovative ways to think and learn about sustainability, applying sustainability systems research to contemporary problems, and convening, connecting and educating the next generation of campus and community sustainability leaders,” said Wes Dripps, the institute’s executive director and a professor of earth, environmental and sustainability sciences.

this photo shows a group of students weeding under the solar panels at Furman University's solar farm.

Furman’s Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity weed under the solar panels at the university’s solar farm.

“The future of sustainable societies requires that we find ways to move forward in a collaborative, holistic way that views societal sustainability through the interaction of various systems—environmental, social and economic,” Dripps added. “This approach requires institutions with interdisciplinary expertise, conceptual imagination and local partnerships like we have.”

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The Shi Institute will house three centers: The Center for Sustainability Education, The Center for Applied Sustainability Research, and The Center for Sustainability Leadership.

The Center for Sustainability Education will offer novel sustainability education programs designed to provide new ways of thinking, collaborating, and problem-solving as well as the skills and knowledge necessary to deal with the sustainability challenges of the 21st century. The center already provides a vast array of high-impact student learning experiences, including working on the Furman Farm, living in the Greenbelt Sustainable Living Community, and participating in Furman’s flagship Student Fellows Program, which engages students in real world, campus and community sustainability fellowships. To date the Institute has hosted over 325 student fellows.

The Center for Applied Sustainability Research will be the preeminent place for individuals, groups, corporations, government agencies, nonprofits and universities to find leading sustainability research and assessments. The center will support applied community-based research with faculty, students and community partners aimed at creative solutions for developing communities that are socially just and equitable, environmentally sound and resilient, and economically viable.

The Center for Sustainability Leadership will convene, educate, develop and sustain a strong network of diverse regional educators, leaders and practitioners in the state of South Carolina. The center will support visionary, solution- and action-oriented leadership programs, workshops and events designed to empower this statewide network to advance the sustainability of our communities.

This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the Furman University website.

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