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SUNY Canton lecture series spreads the green gospel


CANTON — Like Rome, sustainable communities won’t be built in a day, and achieving sustainable lifestyles can’t be accomplished overnight — it takes discipline, study and practice.

Matthew S. Burnett’s contribution to the discipline is a weekly lecture series at SUNY Canton, one that has attracted the attention of community members interested in sustainable lifestyles and experts throughout the region ready to speak on the subject.

“It is one of the most important things we’re teaching at SUNY Canton,” he said. “I think it’s really important to not just be something we do and give lip service to, but something that is an active part of our planning.”

Mr. Burnett, a graphic and multimedia design professor, started the lectures in conjunction with a sustainable design course three years ago.

“The first year we did it, I thought ‘well, only my class is going to go to this’ and it seemed like it could be more,” he said. “I decided to make them open to the public. It took a while to find a way to do this that drew people in. Last year we started promoting it and we used a bigger lecture hall.”

Since then, the lectures have taken on a multi-disciplinary life of their own, attracting economists, architects, political scientists, conservationists and developers.

“It is a sign that it is growing, we’re starting to attract people really active in these disciplines from off campus,” Mr. Burnett said. “This year I had a tough time fitting everybody who wanted to contribute to the series in.”

Mr. Burnett also says the lectures attract an audience from the surrounding community.

“The last year, we’ve had more and more people trickle in, and it is a very diverse lot,” he said.“You have people who come in who already know quite a bit about these issues who are coming in because they are interested in becoming more efficient in their farms and their business. Then there are people coming in who want to have an academic debate. We’re getting the ingredients for a lively discussion”

The lectures themselves vary in subject matter — some embody the rigid academic discourse one would expect on a university campus, while others take on more practical topics, depending on the whim and expertise of the speaker.

“I really wanted it to happen, but I didn’t know that much,” he said. “I’m not a scientist or a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified architect. I started from the position of wanting lots of voices.”

Recent lectures have discussed using disaster recovery and rebuilding as an opportunity to use sustainable techniques, and another framing sustainability as a continual process, instead of an easily graspable product.

On Wednesday, St. Lawrence University biologist and economist Jon Rosales will speak about the feasibility of arctic oil drilling.

“He is going to be talking about the financial and environmental cost of drilling for oil in the arctic,” said Mr. Burnett. “He is well travelled, well regarded in the field of climate change and science. He gets invited to speak at the U.N., he is really active in the scientific community.”

Colton resident Jerry J. Bartlett, a SUNY Canton staff member and expert in off-the-grid living, will speak on sustainable diets on Feb. 13.

On March 6, SUNY Canton graduate and Syracuse real estate investor and entrepreneur Richard A. Destito will talk about urban development and living.

Saranac Lake architect Jesse Schwartzberg, founder of consulting and design firm Black Mountain Design Build, will discuss sustainable design and construction. Mr. Schwartzberg designed the first house in the Adirondack region to receive LEED platinum certification.

All of the talks will take place in Nevaldine North, SUNY Canton.

“I think we live in a time where awareness of environmental sustainability and all the issues surrounding it is of paramount concern,” Mr. Burnett said. “We have so many factors that are creating pressures that we, as a species, are dealing with now, but our students are the ones stepping into this economy and this world, and they will have to grapple with these challenges.”

For a full roster of speakers and topics, visit

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