Spotlight: Gregory Brown on Public Participation in the Environmental Movement

By. Sara Eddy

Dr. Gregory Brown joined the Cal Poly campus as the head of the Natural Resources and Environmental Science department in 2016. He comes from a diverse background in environmental studies having worked in universities around the world, including: Central Washington University, University of Queensland and Alaska Pacific University. Dr. Brown is also a former animal rights activist and a committed vegan. He enjoys walking his dog in his free time and snacking on nutritious and interesting health foods. Dr. Brown has been involved with non-governmental organizations, land use planning, and acting as an administrator and educator on the Cal Poly campus.

Dr. Brown teaches his students that to run an effective campaign or movement you must set an attainable goal. He believes, that in order for the world to fight the battle of climate change, organizations, leaders, and students need to tackle more explicit goals with measurable timelines.

Having recently taught a course in environmental leadership at Cal Poly, Dr. Brown shared his experiences and views with aspiring student leaders. In this course he had students evaluate various environmental organizations and leaders and their effectiveness in communities. He encouraged students to view an organization’s goals with a critical eye, reminding them that goals must be operationalized into “specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time sensitive” outcomes. Many environmental organizations are not as powerful as they could be because their goals are too, “fluffy,” meaning that they do not specify their outcomes in enough detail and often fail to set a timeline. Many environmental groups and non-governmental organizations strive to combat climate change. While this is a worthwhile action, it is far too broad.

Dr. Brown has conducted research in “Public Participation Geographic Information Systems” (PPGIS) which makes public values and preferences spatial to guide land use planning. Sustainable land use policy and planning is absolutely crucial to combating climate change, managing our resources wisely, and improving quality of life. Dr. Brown argues that, “crowd wisdom,” the phenomenon where a group’s collective answer to a question or solution to a problem is found to be as good, and often better than any of the individuals in the group or an expert in the field, is critical in making these decisions. Making policies that are more inclusive and participatory is what will lead us to more sustainable and environmentally friendly outcomes.

In the town of Avila Beach, CA, residents are currently envisioning their town’s future. Dr. Brown created a tool using Google maps to allow the citizens of Avila Beach to map their favorite locations and where they think various types of development should be allowed (or not allowed). Users of this program map icons pertaining to recreation, scenic areas, residential and commercial development, open space, and other land uses. This is a powerful tool for decision makers to better understand the value of specific areas and how they are best used. This knowledge will ultimately lead to outcomes that are suitable for residents and visitors to the community. Public participation is just one of many of Dr. Brown’s areas of research to promote environmental ideals.

Living by the mantra, “think globally, act locally,” Dr. Brown encourages students to become active community members to invoke the change they want to see. He recently moved to San Luis Obispo, CA, and has already involved himself in the community and on campus. In his prior residence of Ellensburg, WA, he assisted in writing city zoning codes to allow for small wind turbines to be permitted on residential and commercial properties in the city. Allowing citizens to bypass the hassle of permitting will make sustainable choices easier for those that seek them. Dr. Brown goes about invoking change in a creative way and has shown that land use planning is an easy way to let residents make more sustainable choices for their communities.

Many students would tell you that Dr. Brown is an influential leader and educator. He possesses many skills that environmental organizations and leaders could learn from to better promote sustainable ideals. He has already proved to be a positive influence on the Cal Poly campus and has greatly assisted students in meeting their goals.

Posted in _Featured, CSSC Blog, CSU Campuses.