Benson appointed sustainability research and education director

July 7, 2011

Craig H. Benson, Wisconsin Distinguished Professor of geological engineering and civil and environmental engineering, has been named the first director for sustainability research and education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


In this new role, Benson is charged with the primary goal of developing and coordinating a campus-wide effort to align UW-Madison teaching and research on sustainability with campus operations. He will also play a critical role in building a UW-Madison Office of Sustainability, a key element of the ongoing cross-campus Sustainability Initiative, which he will co-direct with Faramarz Vakili.

"The goal is to make sustainability a philosophy of operation for the entire university," says Vakili, the campus director for sustainability operations. "Our products are the students we graduate and the research we produce. It's important for these to come together with how the university operates to maximize the sustainability of the campus."

Benson, a Nelson Institute affiliate who joined UW-Madison in 1990, is an expert on environmental containment systems, waste management, and sustainable engineering. He chairs geological engineering and is director of the Recycled Materials Resource Center and the Wisconsin Geotechnics Laboratory.

Though "sustainability" has become something of a buzzword in recent years, Benson says it has been the focus of his entire career, spent at what he views as the interface between the natural and built worlds. He was first drawn to UW-Madison by its deep legacy of environmental stewardship and now wants to position the university as a leader in sustainability science.

"Craig brings an impressive set of skills in fulfilling the mission of the campus-wide sustainability initiative," says Gregg Mitman, chair of the Sustainability Task Force. "He has played a leadership role at the national level in sustainable solid waste management and transportation infrastructure, successfully building partnerships across multiple stakeholders including government, industry, and NGOs."

"He brings both a professional commitment and personal passion to issues of sustainability that are important to aligning research, education, and operations on campus in the service of environmental, economic, and social responsibility," he adds.

Benson will be responsible for identifying existing academic sustainability initiatives across campus and prioritizing new opportunities to integrate sustainability into the educational and research missions of the university, including curriculum, laboratories, and student activities.

"I would like for all UW students to have both formal instruction and experiential opportunities while on campus to truly understand what sustainability means, so that when they leave it becomes one of the tenets of their lives, both professionally and personally," Benson says.

One of the first steps will be to develop a collective vision of what UW-Madison sustainability should look like, he says, and begin to weave those elements into the fabric of everyday campus life.

"We hope to bring diverse research groups together using campus operations as our laboratory," Benson says. "We can look at how to solve complex sustainability problems for the future and trial them right here on campus with full-scale infrastructure. We can try things, measure them, verify our theories, and engage both undergraduate and graduate students throughout that process for experiential learning."