University of Houston—Clear Lake's sustainability concentration prepares graduate students to foster eco-friendly workplaces

The university has a good relationship with Armand Bayou Nature Center, and officials said they hope to forge similar partnerships with other local nature centers to create chances for students and nature center staff to advance their knowledge. (Courtesy Armand Bayou Nature Center)
The university has a good relationship with Armand Bayou Nature Center, and officials said they hope to forge similar partnerships with other local nature centers to create chances for students and nature center staff to advance their knowledge. (Courtesy Armand Bayou Nature Center)

The university has a good relationship with Armand Bayou Nature Center, and officials said they hope to forge similar partnerships with other local nature centers to create chances for students and nature center staff to advance their knowledge. (Courtesy Armand Bayou Nature Center)

At University of Houston—Clear Lake, educators are preparing graduate students to help foster more eco-friendly workplaces through a sustainability concentration within the master’s of business administration program.

Each local business and industry, from petrochemical to space, has its own unique set of strengths and improvement points when it comes to sustainability, said Kathy Garland, senior lecturer in environmental management at UHCL. The courses taught in the concentration help students learn which ecological issues are most prevalent in certain industries, as being able to identify specific improvement points is a crucial first step in sustainability management, said Garland and Dina Abdelzaher, UHCL associate professor of management.

Questions about sustainable business practices are asked and answered at an individual level, even if the issues at hand are prevalent worldwide, Garland said. One example is with sea level rising and flooding: These issues are hugely important to area petrochemical businesses because many of their plants are along Houston’s bayous, she said.

“These industries—they’re always adapting,” Garland said. “The change is global, but all of the adjustments are local because it’s different in every place.”

Businesses must closely examine their own ecological footprint and focus on balancing resources with cost through an incremental, gradual process, prioritizing the most pressing issues, Abdelzaher said.


“One way to get everybody to listen is to talk about how this is going to help the bottom line,” she said.

Sustainability management students at UHCL keep this balance at the forefront of their studies. Coursework involves understanding the intersections of economy, society and environment, as well as the parts that each play as consumer goods are made, from the raw material stage to disposal, Abdelzaher and Garland said.

Garland’s students identify local Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design buildings for a course she teaches; the national LEED system recognizes buildings using greener everyday components, such as energy-efficient lighting, solar panels and water conservation features. Several NASA facilities are LEED certified, Garland said, and she and her students have found that the number of LEED buildings in Clear Lake is increasing.

Other coursework within the sustainability concentration includes a class on energy economics, in which students gain an understanding of the larger players in the energy industry, and other courses examining business strategy. In all, students finish the program having learned how to promote sustainability at any level of an organization, Abdelzaher said.

Greener business practices involve both the products a business sells and the environments where they are created. Awareness of the life cycle of products and the toxicity of materials used to make them are important for manufacturers, she said. In buildings, simple actions—such as switching to LED light bulbs, planting pollinator plants on the property or renovating the building ventilation system—can all add up, Garland said.

The professors agreed there is a need for education among small business owners about how to properly execute these changes. They said the university hopes to someday have a sustainable business incubator where the knowledge of entrepreneurship professors and sustainability professors can be used to inform business owners, they said.

UHCL has promoted environmental research through the Environmental Institute of Houston on its campus since 1991. The institute “delivers unbiased technical and scientific expertise to provide clarity to environmental challenges,” according to its website, while incorporating graduate student researchers and promoting multidisciplinary collaboration through partnerships with various organizations and management agencies.

Other partnerships and outreach efforts the university hopes to further include those with area nature organizations. Armand Bayou Nature Center and UHCL have a good relationship, the professors said, which allows for new opportunities for both parties, but the key is creating more of these partnerships.

Sustainability is about making decisions to allow a business to move into the future with a longer life expectancy, Garland said. It is also about advancing equity in order to address issues such as wealth gaps: Responses to sustainability issues must involve decisions that consider the futures of people, society and culture just as much as they involve considering the external environment, she added.

“When the rich are stealing from the poor, you cannot have a sustainable planet,” Garland said. “This is as much about people as it is about what you can do in the exterior.”
By Colleen Ferguson
A native central New Yorker, Colleen Ferguson worked as an editorial intern with the Cy-Fair and Lake Houston | Humble | Kingwood editions of Community Impact before joining the Bay Area team in 2020. Colleen graduated from Syracuse University in 2019, where she worked for the campus's independent student newspaper The Daily Orange, with a degree in Newspaper and Online Journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and a degree in Spanish language and culture. Colleen previously interned with The Journal News/lohud, where she covered the commute in the greater New York City area.

<

MOST RECENT

vaccine drive-thru
Houston opens first drive-thru vaccination site

The site aims to distribute 1,000 doses per day for the first week and can scale up if more doses become available.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced the opening of a COVID-19 vaccine waitlist at a Jan. 25 press conference. (Screenshot courtesy Facebook)
Harris County to open waitlist for COVID-19 vaccines Jan. 26

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo warned that vaccine supply remains "extremely limited," and it will still take time for those waitlisted to get an appointment.

Eric Williams started as superintendent Jan. 18. (Courtesy of Clear Creek ISD)
Eric Williams concludes first week as Clear Creek ISD superintendent

Williams plans to spend his first months on the job discovering how the district can sustain and build on its quality of education.

“Hope is on the horizon,” Fort Bend County Judge KP George said at a press conference Jan. 4. “The vaccine is here.”
Vaccine distribution starts in Fort Bend County and more top Houston-area news

Read the most popular news from the past week from the Houston area.

One local health system leader said he expects everyone, including those under age 65, will have access to the vaccine within the next 90 days. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Houston-area health system leaders talk progress, hurdles during COVID-19

Officials from CHI St. Luke’s Health and UTMB Health said community members must remain vigilant as case counts climb but that they expect the current surge to peak by early February.

During a North Houston Association meeting Jan. 20, Jazz Hamilton—first vice president with the Retail Brokerage Services Group for CBRE—discussed how the future of retail will likely be shaped by the conveniences to which consumers have become accustomed amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Ronald Winters/Community Impact Newspaper)
Pandemic-induced retail conveniences are here to stay, official says

According to Jazz Hamilton, first vice president with the Retail Brokerage Services group for CBRE, between January and November of 2020, consumers spent almost $550 billion online—a 33% increase from 2019.

The estimated number of active COVID-19 cases in Harris County has surpassed 50,000, reaching 51,362 as of the most recent data Jan. 20, according to the Harris County Public Health Department. (Community Impact staff)
Harris County coronavirus count: Active cases top 50,000

See the latest trends on COVID-19 in Harris County.

More than 3,200 new COVID-19 cases have been reported in Galveston County since Jan. 6. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Galveston County adds 38 COVID-19 deaths in 2 weeks

Nearly 30% of the total county coronavirus cases are considered active as of Jan. 20.

Community snapshot: See how demographics have changed in Bay Area communities from 2014-19

Here is a breakdown of demographic and related data from Bay Area communities.

The fried egg burger ($13) is an 8 oz. beef burger on a brioche bun topped with a fried egg, bacon, avocado, cheddar cheese and caramelized onions, served with fries.
J. Henry’s Draught House + Kitchen: Family-style eatery offers rotating craft beer selection with crowd-pleasing dishes

When Clear Lake residents visit J. Henry’s Draught House + Kitchen, they can find a beverage to their liking whether they are craft beer aficionados or novices.