Meet Dr. Steven Matzner



Dr. Steven Matzner

Professor, Plant Physiology, Plant Ecology


On Sustainability

            My views on sustainability changed dramatically more than ten years ago when I was team-teaching a course with Dr. Reynold Nesiba entitled “Is Globalization Sustainable.”  Dr. Nesiba was explaining that our current economic system essentially assumes there are no limits because as soon as one resource becomes limiting, there is a strong financial incentive to invent or find a new resource.  A graph of whale harvests from the last century illustrates this idea. When the most lucrative species like sperm whales became limiting, whalers shifted to harvesting the next most lucrative species and this continued until the useful whale species had been “harvested out”.  This idea that there are no limits is in stark contrast to my training as an ecologist where we can readily define limits.  There is a finite amount of solar energy that strikes each square meter of the earth. Plants are capable of capturing a finite amount of that solar energy and converting it into biomass.  This means there is a finite amount of biomass produced by the plants and algae (autotrophs) that can capture their energy from the sun.  This limits the energy available for the rest of the organisms (the heterotrophs) that rely on the energy captured by the autotrophs. My experience teaching with Dr. Nesiba convinced me that we need to change our economic system from one that uses resources until they are depleted to one that utilizes our resources in a sustainable manner.
            The idea of an economic system that uses resources until they are depleted is also at odds with the values I learned when growing up on a farm and attending a Lutheran church in central South Dakota.  The lessons I learned in both church and growing up on a farm instilled in me the idea that we were to care for and preserve the resources God has provided us.  I learned not to be wasteful.  I learned to share.  I learned about soil conservation at an early age.  These lessons are applicable to everyone and much of what we can do individually to contribute toward sustainability is common sense.  Turn off lights, walk or bike instead of driving. Don’t air condition the neighborhood. Buy more energy efficient appliances and vehicles.  Support elected officials that prioritize sustainable economic and energy policies. While individually, the effect of these actions seems small, if we all engage in these practices, the collective impact would be huge. 
            I am often inspired by the actions of my fellow Augustana faculty and staff as well as by the actions of Augustana students.  Many of the faculty and staff have invested in hybrid vehicles and/or make walking/biking to work a priority.  Many faculty discuss sustainability in their classes.  Even more so though, I have been inspired by the actions of Augustana students.  I have been an advisor to Augustana Green (our environmental advocacy student group) for 15+ years and am incredibly proud of what they have accomplished. Many of the accomplishments have taken years to fully implement and I feel that the students usually don’t see the fruits of their efforts. The recent Sustainability grant that Augustana received from the Cargill Foundation highlighted a number of “sustainability accomplishments” over the last ten years.  These included the Bike program for renting bikes to students, a collaboration with the Sioux Falls Area Metro to provide free transportation for Augustana students and staff on city busses with an Augustana ID, and going tray-less in the Ordal dining room.   Student members of Augie Green were involved in advocating for all of these activities long before they were eventually implemented. Augie Green spent several years lobbying for more recycling efforts and we were ecstatic when Sioux Falls waste management companies starting offering a single stream option for recycling.  Augie Green also lobbied to get each building on campus individually metered so that we would know the energy and water usage by building.  Their idea was to have individual dorms compete to see which dorm could reduce energy or water use the most.  Unfortunately, we were never able to do this because the buildings are not individually metered.  Some of the money from the Cargill grant is slated to meter each building so that finally we can see energy/water use by building and we may be able to have individual dorms compete to see who can reduce their energy use the most.  This example illustrates how it can take years before the fruits of these efforts are realized. 
            I am excited by our recent accomplishments on a number of sustainability issues and I look forward to continuing to make progress toward being more sustainable on this campus.  As I look to the future, I envision a number of sustainability goals that I would like to see Augustana achieve, but will mention just three here.  Sodexo has made great efforts to add grow chambers and campus gardens to increase the amount of locally grown herbs, greens, and vegetables used into the food service program.  I would love to see those efforts continued and expanded.  There are plans to increase sustainability within our curriculum and am hopeful that we can make strides toward that goal.  Lastly, I would love to see Augustana invest in renewable energy options, like solar panels, on campus.  These are just three high profile areas where we could improve sustainability on our campus, but there are certainly many more.  The great thing about embracing sustainability is that it is a win, win.  It is good for the environment and it saves money.