Sustainability, across disciplines

Geoffrey Trussell, director of the Coastal Sustainability Institute, and Stephen Flynn, founding director of the Global Resilience Institute (not pictured), deliver TED-style talks on sustainability during the official opening of Northeastern’s Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

A TED-style talk hosted by Geoffrey Trussell and Stephen Flynn—director of the Coastal Sustainability Institute and the founding director of the Global Resilience Institute, respectively—focuses on the variety of arenas where sustainability is vital.

Trussell, also a professor and chair of the Department of Marine and Environmental Sciences, explains the importance of protecting global coastlines, the region represented by “a collision between humanity and the environment.”

He outlines three major threats to coastal regions—storm surges, global fisheries, and climate change. Of the latter, Trussell says that, regardless of one’s stance on the causes and effects of climate change, “What matters is that the sea level is rising. So, forget about mitigation; we need to adapt. Unless we do this, it is going to be a major issue.”

These threats have solutions, though, many of which interdisciplinary groups of Northeastern students and faculty are already working on.

Establishing partnerships, inventing and investing in new environmental technologies, innovating in aquaculture, and restoring wetlands are all crucial steps toward protecting our coastlines and sustaining them in the future, says Trussell.

The environment isn’t the only sensitive field; global systems such as energy grids, internet systems, and transportation networks also need to be safeguarded and made more sustainable, says Flynn.

“The networks we’ve built in the 20th century were built for efficiency, not for resiliency or security,” Flynn says. “If we have a shock to our system, how will it recover?”

Answering that question and discovering interdisciplinary ways to protect global networks is part of the mission of the Global Resilience Institute.

“We need to design systems not just to withstand a shock but to fail gracefully and recover nimbly,” Flynn says.