Sustainability Champion Steve Root

The Office for Sustainability celebrates our friends and colleagues who work tirelessly to advance sustainability on campus and in the community. We call such individuals Sustainability Champions, because they are champions helping us create a culture of sustainability while improving quality of life for all.

SteVE Root, LANDSCAPE SERVICES Manager, Facilities Management    

Steve Root finds inspiration in people — and plants. As Maintenance Supervisor for Landscape services ‘south region,’ Steve began his journey in sustainability in the 1990s. An artist, musician, and designer, he caught the ‘bug for landscaping’ while working with a friend.  At the time, his focus was on the aesthetic; the way distinct pieces came together to create a larger whole. In the course of his professional development, Steve came to realize that there was more to the story of a landscape than the eye could grasp.

Steve’s interest in ecology sparked a passion that forced him to realize that as a Land Manger, he is in an influential position to promote positive, regenerative change. As a man of faith, Steve has conceptualized a new stewardship model. This new model focuses on regenerating the natural world, rather than managing it to serve humans. This model challenges mainstream notions of landscaping’s purpose – by honoring nature, by creating a mutually beneficial relationship between the steward and the ward, Steve intends to transform not only his thinking, but that of his department and his employees.

 “Go beyond sustainability, regenerate to revitalize. Sustainability is awesome, but we want to go beyond, we want to regenerate,  we want to make things better than what we found them, the old Boy Scout saying “leave it better than you found it,” we want a legacy for our kids and our future generations.”

In pursuit of this transformational change, Steve began leading a book club for his employees. The first book they read was Joel Salatin’s “Folks, This Ain’t Normal” – an incredible account of the last 100 years in American farming history. Intended as a tool to get his group thinking critically and questioning their assumptions, the book includes a detailed explanation of the rise of the Industrialized Food System – a huge contributor to global unsustainability, food insecurity, and numerous global health problems. The book club created a space for new thought, a place where Steve and his group can filter their problems, practices, and plans through the lens of sustainability.

The book club sparked a new philosophy that Steve has dubbed “Aggressive Positivity.” The idea came out of the realization that Steve and his group were becoming distracted by cultural predicaments that led to cynical, skeptical, or pessimistic thoughts about the state of the world. They decided to counter this negativity with the opposite, positivity. Because the nature of landscaping work is often to find a problem, what doesn’t fit, and fix it, the workers are inclined to think in the negative, rather than the positive. The “Aggressive Positivity” movement is an attempt to counteract negative remarks, emotions, or deeds with positive statements, actions, or feelings. Steve sees this as a key part of the work they do; as care-takers of life, they give life to plants, to soil, and bring it back. That is positive work, and Steve hopes to reinforce this fact throughout campus life.

Steve believes everyone can get involved with sustainability, on the surface or in-depth. He sees everyone having taking a leadership role — his advice; only buy products from companies that have demonstrated a robust commitment to the environment, their workers, and their community – “Your money speaks volumes.”