Joe Abraham, Director of Sustainability at The University of Arizona

BY CHRISTINA LUND

 

What interested you about sustainability?

I think I can trace my interest in sustainability back to my parents, who also care deeply about the environment and the welfare of people.  We spent a lot of time outdoors and traveling around the world.  My training as a geographer and environmental scientist has helped me make it part of my professional life, and I am very grateful for that.

How has the sustainability program at The University of Arizona (UA) advanced throughout the years?

Sustainability has long been and remains an important focus in many parts of the UA.  We are truly world-class when it comes to interdisciplinary environmental research and education.  We have a very large impact locally, regionally, and around the world.  There are so many staff, faculty, students and administrators advancing sustainability through their work on and off campus, yet it’s not being driven by a directive from the top.  I get to work with a lot of people who are leaders and innovators in their fields.

Are there any major projects you are working on now through the program?

We are conducting a university-wide assessment of our sustainability programs, investments and activities that spans operations, education, research, outreach and administration.  It’s part of a national assessment of higher education institutions.

What do you hope to achieve through this project?

In addition to gaining recognition, we’re using it in the coming year to develop a strategic plan to ensure our position as a leader in sustainability among our peers.

How are students involved with the sustainability program and projects?

Students have long been a driving force in making the UA a more environmentally sustainable institution.  I work closely with student leaders on a variety of projects, including our new Green Fund that a committee of students uses to support a range of sustainability projects on campus.  I also have graduate assistants and undergraduate interns in my office working on several projects, including the university-wide sustainability assessment.

What excites you most about sustainability?

I enjoy the fact that it’s very interdisciplinary, draws on many different fields, and brings people together to find solutions to complex problems.  It’s not about doing things the same as before, which can be uncomfortable for some people.

What advice would you give someone just starting to explore sustainability?

Do what you love and the job will follow, but I know that might be hard to believe with our current job market.  I admire people who are able to do this.  Also, talk with people in the fields you are interested in to see what their jobs are really like, what skills are needed, and where the field is headed.  Creativity is also really important.

How do you incorporate sustainability into your home?

We try to ride our bikes as much as possible to work and for errands.  We buy some organic produce; we’re not vegetarian but don’t eat much meat.  We often shop for clothes at resale shops.  We own a house a couple of miles from the UA that was built in the 1950s, so we’re working on making it more energy-efficient and developing a comfortable low-water landscape.  It all adds up.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?

My family takes up most of my time, but I play ultimate Frisbee and ride my bikes when I can.  I also like to cook.

 

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