Seeing the Big Picture

Seeing the “Big Picture”: Students Examine Cultural and Practical Differences in Sustainable Practices Between the United States and Germany

Dr. Dan Nolan’s (World Languages and Cultures) class GER 3407: “Sustainability in German-speaking Cultures” not only brings languages, customs, and environmental systems together; it brings people together, too.

According to Nolan, “In this course students learn about sustainability and the history of environmentalism in German-speaking cultures. They conduct interviews to learn about the specific assets and needs of partner organizations in Minnesota and Germany. The course often draws on contacts developed through the University of Minnesota’s Climate-Smart Municipalities Exchange; in addition, students’ intercultural learning is bolstered through a Collaborative Online International Learning project with a partner course at the University of Siegen. At the conclusion of the course students report back to partners in North Rhein Westphalia and northern Minnesota.”

Travis Black (German & Environment, Sustainability, and Geography ’20) recently enrolled in the course and valued the knowledge and skills it developed: “The relatively independent workload in the class can be difficult; however, being able to understand how some of these networks function has been a real boon for me moving forward with my sustainability degree.”

During his time in the class, Black and a partner researched and gave a presentation on the benefits and practices of green roofs and passive architecture, two rising practices of green building in Germany. “We wanted to see how and where that approach could fit into the American model, and what benefits and challenges were associated with it,” Black explained.

They ultimately presented their findings to Mindy Granley (then Director of Sustainability at UMD, now the City of Duluth’s Sustainability Officer) and Jodi Slick at Ecolibrium3. Speaking about “green architecture to people involved at the city scale really added a sense of gravitas to the closure of our semester and research,” Black reflected.

According to Black, the course helped highlight “opportunities for us here in the States to learn from Germany. They are seriously ahead of our curve and in many ways are writing the book on how it is done. There are, of course, ways in which they can learn from us as well; this is an international improvement challenge we all face….Sustainability is critical for our lives. We are the generation who will see great amounts of change over our lifetime and hold the power to mitigate that impact. Understanding international perspectives and practices can help give a real scope to the topic. There is nothing to lose by broadening our knowledge base and looking to other countries to share and learn from.”