Member Spotlight: Helene Hilger

Helene Hilger

Dr. Hilger is a civil engineer who was engaged in environmental engineering research and teaching at UNC Charlotte before retiring in 2012. She started out working on very discipline-specific topics related to microbial mitigation of methane emissions from landfills. Her discipline-specific research interests include wastewater, solid waste, and bioenergy. Toward the end of her career, Dr. Hilger’s interests migrated to focus more broadly on sustainability. As the head of a sustainability-themed research center she helped to create at UNC Charlotte, she was particularly interested in how engineers learn about and appreciate the social impacts of their projects as they plan – helping them to design more sustainably.

Dr. Hilger convened the interdisciplinary UNC Charlotte team that proposed INSS to the National Science Foundation. As one of the grant’s P.I.s, she believes INSS can be an important resource for professionals in fields like engineering, land use planning, architecture, public health, and allied disciplines. The network can help individuals engaged in these professions to recognize their roles in sustaining and enhancing human social systems. She contends that a sophisticated understanding of how such professionals impact social systems is not likely to come about without a strong cadre of social scientists among the network’s members. Social scientists bring the important knowledge base of science that informs what makes social systems strong and successful.

Dr. Hilger believes that by turning the eyes of these two important stakeholder groups to social sustainability  research and case studies, INSS will advance how creators of the built environment do their work. The network is a resource conduit to help members see and find connections. Through INSS working groups (examining definitions of social sustainability, assessment tools, and developing new research agendas), INSS aims to influence social sustainability by letting academics, practitioners, and students showcase their work, describe their challenges, and seek answers to their questions from peers.