John Cook

Director of Sustainability for the Office of Sustainability

John Cook

John Cook

“I grew up in the South,” John Cook said as he gazed at the clouds from his office window. “Everyone was fighting a Civil War in their minds.”

As a child whose consciousness was formed in the turbulent times of the Vietnam War and the Cold War, Cook’s perspective eventually transcended the daily hysteria and paranoia that people felt.

Disgusted with what he saw as the “mentality of consumption” in America at the time, the young Cook, now UCR’s director of sustainability, studied abroad in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

His studies brought him to Istanbul, Turkey, where he studied 20th century art and dance, and followed the diaspora of his favorite Russian artists in exile. He eventually received his Ph.D. in performance studies from Northwestern University.That was also how Cook met his wife, a lecturer in anthropology at UCLA.

But all along, there was something bigger on Cook’s plate: an intense desire to bring about global change. With that, Cook obtained an MBA in sustainable management and has been working toward that goal ever since.

So what is sustainability to Cook?

“Sustainability is communication,” he said. “It’s changing people’s behaviors and ideas. It’s opening people’s minds up to other possibilities, to the possibility of a paradigm shift.

“We live on a planet with limited resources. People sometimes talk about the 3 Rs: ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.’ But we should add a fourth R to the list: ‘Restore.’ There needs to be a reinvestment from the population. People must invest in the planet so that we can find a balance in our consumption practices.”

Cook has many goals for UCR. He wants sustainability to be one of the first questions people ask when a problem or solution arises. He wants Highlanders to know exactly what sustainability is and how climate change works. That knowledge, Cook says, will make them more flexible and useful in the workplace and in society.

“Sustainability is becoming more important to businesses,” he said. “You risk avoidance and losing customers if sustainability isn’t on the agenda.

“The point is, it doesn’t make financial sense to be unsustainable. This [planet] is all we have and we have to take care of it,” Cook added.

The era in which Cook grew up was dominated by constant concern of annihilation by nuclear weapons. Ironically, he says, “now we are systematically annihilating ourselves.”

Ultimately, Cook’s goal is to engage with the mission of the university, implement the most beneficial sustainable practices, increase outreach to the community, and make the absolute best impact possible.

“The beauty of this campus is that it’s a microcosm of society,” Cook said, his eyes lighting up. “If we can make it happen here, the implications are far-reaching.” — Konrad Nagy

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