-Please, tell us a little about yourself.
I studied economics at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. My general education course in environmental issues led me to pursue environment further in my studies and career. We did not have a complete study program about it, and the term sustainable development was still unknown. After graduation I worked in the Netherlands’ Environment Ministry in the sphere of climate change. During those years I looked for opportunities to apply my economic and environmental knowledge in the former communist countries, which had just started on their transition to democracy and market economy. The opportunity came when I met an NGO director who worked here in Bishkek. Of course, I first had to find out more about Kyrgyzstan for nobody in my country had heard of it. I came here on holiday, and really liked the country. So I completed my job, and worked as an education coordinator for the NGO for a few years. Through my contacts I learned about AUCA, and came to see it as a potential next work place. When I was asked to come and teach here, the administration was discussing an environmental studies proposal, but this process got stalled. So when I arrived at AUCA in 2005 I felt I had to start from scratch. I am very pleased that I stayed long enough to contribute to the present upsurge in interest and activity for sustainable development.
-What courses are you teaching?
Currently I am teaching two general education courses in sustainable development called Clean Development Policy & Practice, and International Environmental Governance. The first is a general introduction into the thinking that is needed to balance economic, social and environmental arguments in the decisions our businesses and public sector agencies take. It teaches students to find the potential for reducing our impact on the environment and steps to start working for an equitable and cleaner world. The Governance course looks at the past half century of international agreements regulating environmental resource use and protecting vulnerable species and habitats.
-Why did you choose AUCA for teaching?
AUCA is a place where people are very curious and are willing to learn from other countries’ experience. It is also a university that trains future leaders for public and private sector organizations in over a dozen countries, especially in the former Soviet Union. This part of the world has a great (though unacknowledged) need for change agents that can move their organizations and society as a whole closer to a sustainable development path. Remember that it is leaders who make decisions about the infrastructures and institutions that enable or limit the rest of us to act sustainably!
-You are going to open a new field of study - Environmental Management and Sustainable Development. What is it about?
We are familiar with the idea that resources should be properly managed to obtain the best outcome for businesses and their shareholders. We also agree that the bigger businesses are, the more responsibility they have to do good to their employees, their clients, and the communities in which they operate. In the full world that we live in today, we are approaching the limits of what the Earth can bear in terms of resource depletion and environmental pollution. In order for the world not to be plunged into chaos, we must learn to meet our human needs (not perhaps all possible wants) within the limits of ecosystem health. If we won’t learn this, then the quality of life on Earth will go down for larger and larger groups of people – first the poor and soon also the rich. The new study field will teach about the vulnerability and resilience of different ecosystems, and about the technology, behavior and institutions that may achieve the long-term goal of sustainable development.
-You did a great job by placing boxes for sorting garbage. Did you make a research after it? Is it helpful?
Thank you, and I will share this compliment with the 10 volunteers who started this system and keep it going. You see, every two weeks the bins need to be emptied and the paper and plastic sold. In fact, it was students Meerim and Saikal who started the recycling effort. You may read about them in the next New Star. I started the Green Campus working group last September in order to build a stronger culture of sustainability at AUCA in preparation for the new study program and the move to our sustainable campus. The working group improved the system by putting the bins in groups, having posters designed to explain the sorting rules, and conducting a public awareness campaign. We now collect 80-90 kgs of paper and 50 kgs of plastic bottles every two weeks! The money is spent on sustainability initiatives. Soon we will begin collection at the dormitory too. Recycling is really only step 3 of the 3R concept, which in full goes like this: REDUCE – REUSE – RECYCLE. If you do a search of university recycling programs you will find lots of material from all over the world. Efforts to practice this concept bring people together to work for the common good. Community is a powerful tool to build a fairer and more beautiful world!
-Are you planning other events for recycling here at AUCA?
Here on the old campus we have our limitations, but we are investigating possibilities to increase reduce, reuse and recycling on the new campus.