The Center for Regional Sustainability and The Sage Project Move to the College of Arts and Letters

September 6, 2022
Jessica Barlow and Kristofer Patron-Soberano

CAL welcomes Jessica Barlow, professor of sustainability and director of the Center for Regional Sustainability and The Sage Project, a transdisciplinary program whose goal is to improve quality of life in the Southern California/Baja California region through community-based projects, in alignment with the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Why the move to CAL? Being housed in the geography department gives Barlow the benefit of added resources and bolsters the college’s focus on sustainability.

"Given CAL's ongoing commitment to sustainability, I am very pleased to welcome Dr. Barlow into the Department of Geography,” Monica J. Casper, dean, College of Arts and Letters said. “She helps expand the college's expertise and impact in community-engaged sustainability research. I look forward to seeing the many exciting new collaborations made possible by this move."

The Center for Regional Sustainability focuses on social, economic, and environmental sustainability and works with the community and stakeholders in organizations on and off campus to bring important solutions to the region. “It is both forward thinking, but also thinking about how we can undo some past wrongs,” Barlow said.

The Sage Project specifically focuses on helping communities become more sustainable. Each project  is tied to sustainability, whether it be from an environmental, social, or economic lens — or at the intersection of all three of those perspectives. It also gives SDSU students access to dozens of real-world projects each year in which they can engage with and learn about real problems to find solutions. 

When community partners ask to collaborate with the Sage Project, the requirement is that the project improves quality of life. An example of the impactful work of Sage, is a City of Lemon Grove project. The catalyst for the partnership began when representatives from the United Nations-Habitat heard about the Sage Project at an international conference, where they joined Barlow’s panel along with representatives from the National Science Foundation, and other organizations.

“They were interested to hear that we are partnering with cities,” Barlow said. The UN-Habitat created an ambitious and inclusive toolkit called ‘Guiding Principles for City Climate Action Planning’ where cities can evaluate their climate action plans.

SDSU students prepared recommendations for a climate action plan for the City of Lemon Grove, which was the first North American city to use the toolkit. The report that the students generated made a national impact and now sits on the UN-Habitat’s website. 

Sage has partnered with the San Diego Urban Sustainability Coalition and other cities like El Centro. This year, Sage will continue their partnership with San Diego Urban Sustainability Coalition and with the City of National City.

In addition, the Center for Regional Sustainability, the University Library, and the Instituto Municipal de Arte y Cultural in Tijuana are partnering to digitize a massive collection of archived materials. This is part of the Center for Regional Sustainability’s growing binational work, thanks to the great connections of program manager, Kristofer Patrón-Soberano.

Recently the Sage Project was nominated, along with five other community groups across the U.S. focused on sustainability, for the Greentech Green Community Awards. Barlow said, “I'm proud that we got nominated for the award and that it brought further attention to the great work that our faculty and students do in and with our community.”  

For faculty members across campus that wish to engage in community-based projects with their students, the Sage team can take on the burden of finding specific community partnerships and scheduling the projects. “Many times faculty just don't have the capacity to handle this kind of partnership on their own, so if there's a way that we can help with the coordination, we would love to do that,” Barlow said.

Contact Jessica Barlow at [email protected].

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