Professors Recycle Sustainability Idea For Class

Jan. 22, 2010
SHSU Media Contact: Linda Borja


Out with the new and in with the used.

Students at Sam Houston State University now have the opportunity to understand the true meaning of sustainability through a new course, "Environmental Sustainability," being offered for the first time this spring.

“As a society, we clearly are in trouble because of excess and out of control consumerism. The purpose of the course is to get students to understand what causes this behavior and why people buy into it,” said Dan Phillips, who, along with Robert Maninger, is teaching the upper-level course through the biological sciences department.

“This will also be a chance for students to know what their needs really are,” Phillips said.

The course will examine the topic from a variety of perspectives and disciplines including environmental science, psychology, philosophy and sociology.

“It is important to look at sustainability from different areas of study in order to better understand the basic predilections of the human psyche,” he said.

Students who take the course will have a range of topics to discuss in class, including Jean-Paul Sartre, how vanity appeals to people’s buying/living habits, and energy consumption.

Students in the class will also be required to submit a formal paper to a publication.

The publication does not necessarily have to be an environmental one but does need to be a legitimate publication, according to Phillips.

The topic for the formal paper will be open to the students’ discretion. However, it must provide a new strategy, thought, or insight on some issue of sustainability.

Phillips has high expectations of the class saying he bets "10 percent of the papers submitted will be published.”

Phillips said he has confidence that his class, made up of 15 students, will learn how “we as a society got to those horrific strategies of consuming that are buried in our species and culture and how to cope with who we are and why we are this way.”

The idea of “pay it forward” also is another method of how the students will apply what they will have learned in the class.

“The initial 15 people will go out and each affect 15 more and so on,” Phillips said.

Philips is most known for his unique and sustainable house building around Huntsville. He is the owner of The Phoenix Commotion company, which builds homes for low income families out of recycled and salvaged materials.

The idea for the first sustainability course at Sam Houston State University is one of great importance to Phillips.

“This course is intended to bring up the notion that we clearly are in trouble because of excess and need to understand what is causing our out of control consumerism,” he said.

“It’ll be fun to teach and also to take the course. It will put people in touch with things that they were never aware of. We will discover who we really are as a species so we can then be in a better position to make judgments,” said Phillips.

For more information on the environmental sustainability course, contact Maninger at or Phillips at



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