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Take a Break With ... Ben McCall

Take a Break With ... Ben McCall

Shawn Robinson May 13, 2019

Ben McCall, who started as the executive director of the Hanley Sustainability Institute at the beginning of this academic year, took an unconventional path to get here. A chemist, physicist and astronomer by training, McCall shifted gears as he became increasingly aware of the "profound challenges humanity faces in terms of climate, energy, biodiversity and land use.” McCall said he reached a point in his life where he felt called to work to make a contribution toward addressing those challenges. We sat down to ask him about work, life and his love of growing food.

What attracted you to the University of Dayton?

Ben McCallThe opportunity to lead the Hanley Sustainability Institute is really what attracted me here. The institute represents a really exciting opportunity for the University of Dayton to become a national leader in all areas of sustainability, including education, research, campus operations and local engagement. I was excited to take on the challenge of really driving the University forward in these areas.

How have you found UD since you've been here?

I have found the University to be pretty much as it was advertised to me. The people are wonderful. The students are enthusiastic. The mission pervades the institution at all levels. There is a real receptiveness to authentic and sustained action in sustainability.

What are we doing right as it relates to sustainability?

All kinds of things. We've put in this amazing solar array at Curran Place and on the roof of Fitz Hall. We're working on energy efficiency projects across campus. We have an undergraduate minor and graduate certificate, and are exploring more academic offerings. We also have done amazing work in the community at Lincoln Hill Gardens. There are scholars across campus working hard on sustainability research. I see tremendous potential for the University to be a leader in truly transdisciplinary scholarship in sustainability. Faculty at larger research universities tend to be so specialized that they either don't have interest or bandwidth to get involved with scholars from other disciplines. I think UD is in a sweet spot where we're big enough to have an amazing breadth of faculty working on sustainability issues and can bring people together to tackle societal challenges in a way few other universities could.

solar panels on Fitz HallWhat are our challenges?

One of our biggest challenges is that we have committed as a University to be carbon neutral as some point in the future. But we've not yet crystalized when we will do that and how. It's a massive undertaking to eliminate all of the greenhouse gas emissions from our purchased electricity, the natural gas we burn to keep our buildings warm in the winter and our campus transportation fleet. Another challenge is going to be incorporating concepts of sustainability into the educational experience throughout the University. We have programs underway that students can elect to join, but I think we need to strive toward a point where all UD graduates have a basic foundation in the challenges humanity is facing in sustainability.

How are you sustainable in your personal life?

I drive an electric car. I had a completely net zero house in Illinois. I'm a big fan of solar energy, wind turbines and heating with renewably sourced wood. I try to recycle just about everything. Maintaining that level of sustainability personally has been difficult with my transition to Ohio, but I definitely aimto get back to that level.

What's your best advice for others looking to be more sustainable?

It may surprise people, but the single-biggest thing people can do to help the environment is fly less. The carbon emissions from air travel far exceed what people emit with local transportation and food and energy consumption. Around the house, people can caulk gaps in their windows and doors and add insulation to attics to make a substantial difference in reducing emissions and save money. Recycle, compost and be aware of the purchases you make. Try to reduce the amount of stuff you bring into the world, which subsequently will end up in a landfill.

What do you do when you're not at UD?

My time outside of work has been mostly dealing with the my transition to Ohio. But what I'm looking forward to is resuming gardening and growing food. That's been a long time passion of mine I wasn't able to get into last season. I'm looking forward to getting into that this season. I've grown everything from carrots to wheat. I really enjoy going to (local Ethiopian restaurant) Nanya Café.