RIT Hosts International Symposium on Ethics in Sustainability

Event addresses political, economic and theoretical aspects of sustainability debate

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The different definitions and theories of sustainability, its key ethical concepts and how technology might advance or hinder sustainable living, is the focus of the international symposium, “A Conference on Sustainability Ethics,” sponsored by Rochester Institute of Technology.

The May 1 event brings together leaders in the field of sustainability ethics to publicly discuss their unique visions of what sustainability is and how sustainable goals can be met.

“Sustainability isn’t just a hot conversation topic,” says Wade Robison the Ezra Hale Chair of Applied Ethics at RIT and a co-organizer of the event. “It has become a significant theoretical and scientific concept that is transforming the way businesses, political leaders, activists and conscientious citizens look at our world.”

However, Robison and fellow RIT organizers Ryne Raffaelle, academic director of the Golisano Institute for Sustainability, and Evan Selinger, assistant professor of philosophy, note that disagreement exists over the practical meaning of sustainability, and questions remain as to why citizens, government and industry should view it as a priority. This has hampered efforts to implement sustainable principles and has slowed efforts to create educational programs in the area.

“Unlike more clear-cut fields such as engineering or physics, sustainability is an amalgamation of multiple disciplines and there is significant debate over which aspects should be dominant,” notes Raffaelle.

“Some experts view sustainability simply as a technical concept that can be applied to specific problem sets such as making a production process more energy efficient, while others see it as a broader moral idea that can assist society in changing how we act towards our surroundings,” adds Selinger.

The conference, which is partially sponsored by the Mellon Foundation, is free and open to the public. It will be held 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, May 1, in RIT’s Carlson Auditorium. Scheduled presenters include:

  • Braden Allenby, Lincoln Professor of Engineering and Ethics at Arizona State University

  • Bryan Norton, Distinguished Professor in Public Policy at Georgia Institute of Technology

  • David Orr, Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics at Oberlin College

  • Paul Thompson, W.K. Kellog Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University

  • William Shutkin, Director of the Initiative for Sustainable Development at University of Colorado, Boulder

“Before we can use sustainability to transform our society we need to develop a better understanding of what it means and why it is important,” says Robison. “It is the hope of all of the organizers that this conference will contribute to the broader dialogue surrounding sustainability and help society better appreciate what type of future is worth fighting for.”

For more information including an agenda and contact information, visit www.rit.edu/cla/ethics/Sustainability.html.