16:43 PM

Environmental policy expert looks to Ohio State for leadership

When it comes to building a community that is environmentally sustainable and resilient, Ibrahim Abdul-Matin believes The Ohio State University should play a role similar to a certain web-slinging superhero.

“So I think it’s like the Spiderman thing: You guys have a lot of power and you have a lot of responsibility,” he said.

Abdul-Matin, who served as the sustainability policy adviser to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, will get to expand on that idea on campus later this month. He’s a keynote speaker at the Ohio State 2019 Community Engagement Conference, set for Jan. 23 and 24 in the Ohio Union.

The theme this academic year is Partnering for a Resilient and Sustainable Future. The conference will bring together faculty, students, staff and community partners to explore the importance and impact of meaningful community-university partnerships with the goal of advancing sustainable communities.

Abdul-Matin said Ohio State is well suited to help lead that conversation as a land-grant university in a capital city in the Midwest.

“The Ohio State University owns property, has relationships with the community and is present in the community,” he said. “And the better they are at building partnerships and making people feel part of their success, the better things will be.”

Abdul-Matin’s resume on environmental policy includes experience in the public, private and civic sectors. In addition to advising Bloomberg, he was the director of community affairs at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.

He also worked as an Outward Bound instructor, helped found the Brooklyn Academy for Science and the Environment, and blended youth organizing and technology while at the Movement Strategy Center. His book, “Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet,” explores the intersection of faith and environmentalism.

“If our goals are to build a resilient society, to have our communities be resilient, to have our infrastructure, our communities to be resilient communities then we need to be engaged with the people … at a deeper level than we’ve ever done before,” he said. “So even if you’ve done amazing stuff in the past there’s more you can do.”

Conference planners agreed that building connections through engagement is critical to solving big problems.

“If we think about our land-grant legacy at Ohio State, it’s very important for us to be connected with our state,” said conference co-director Linda Weavers, a professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geodetic Engineering. “And how we can provide value to [municipalities] so that they can figure out how to solve some of the problems that are happening in their communities.”

“This is a tremendous opportunity for people at Ohio State to come together with people in the community, many of whom have been working together for many years, and really showcase the kind of work they’re doing and to learn from each other,” said conference co-director Elena Irwin, faculty director for the Sustainable and Resilient Economy program.

In addition to Abdul-Matin, Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and head of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, will also be a keynote speaker on the second day of the conference.

Planning for the conference includes an emphasis on sustainability as well. A mobile app containing agendas and information will cut down on nearly 20,000 pages from conference program booklets alone.

The planning committee and University Catering at the Ohio Union have worked together to reduce waste at meals by using all washable or reusable materials as well as reducing plastic use by not providing bottled beverages. Catering will also use sustainable or local providers when appropriate.

The 2019 Community Engagement Conference is made possible by ENGIE-Axium and Ohio State’s Office of Outreach and Engagement, OSU Extension, Wexner Medical Center, Sustainability Institute, Alumni Association, Corporate Engagement Office, Discovery Themes Initiative, Graduate School, Office of Government Affairs, Office of International Affairs, Office of Research, Office of Student Life, Office of Undergraduate Education, and the Ohio Water Resources Center.