Sustainability Steering Committee continues to implement green efforts on campus

According to the Pew Research Center, 67% of Gen Z believe that the climate and environmental issues should be top priority for policy makers. Are there efforts being undertaken on campus to protect the environment, reduce waste and promote sustainability? 

Carolyn Shaw, chair of the Sustainability Steering Committee, said that many are unaware of the progress that has already been made on campus to promote practices that will be beneficial for future generations. 

Shaw said that in 2019, a day-long sustainability summit including faculty, staff, and students was held to generate ideas about how to advance sustainability ideas on campus.

“They fell into three different categories,” Shaw said.  “One was the curriculum. Can we create more classes, or a major/minor in sustainability studies?”  

This includes promoting freshman seminar courses, creating certificates, and other environmental degrees on campus. This would be a relatively new area that many universities are beginning to focus on. 

“The second was around research,” Shaw said.  “Can we pull in grant money and what research can we do on campus? The impetus for that has been in the college of engineering, particularly around solar panels and electrical grids, a key interest being solar.” 

Engineering students have the ability as seniors to focus on a project that promotes sustainability on campus. This allows students to make changes themselves instead of simply being purchased by the university.

Shaw said the third area of focus is facilities.  Sustainable practices on campus include xeriscaping the landscape, using less water, turning thermostats down and conserving energy.

The Steering Committee consists of the leaders of each of the three areas, and meetings consist of discussions surrounding the work they are doing and how they are implementing the sustainability plan. 

The sustainability plan has been endorsed by the president’s executive team, and in the future will begin to shape more and more of the daily life of the student body, as the campus looks to be more sustainable and efficient. 

Applicability is a focus of the committee, which means focusing on what each student can do in their daily lives to promote a better, healthy environment. Shaw said educating the student body actively through engagement will create a greater awareness of sustainability.

Eason Bryer, director of facilities, commented on the efficient use of resources on campus and how they have focused on upgrading to greener LED lights that will reduce waste and allow for more money diverted in the budget away from electrical expenses. They also have made advances in transitioning flowerbeds to native scape, little water or xeriscape gardens.

Alice Fitzgerald, president of the Green Group,  brings the perspective of a student who has lived on campus to the committee, allowing for representation of a number of students that want to bring about change to better the environment. 

“If people don’t start taking environmentalism seriously, there are dire consequences,” Fitzgerald said.  “Not a lot of people do take it seriously or realize that, you know, climate change is real, and using our resources carefully is really important for the future.”

The Green Group undertook many different community activities in the fall semester, including the revamping of the community garden located outside Ahlberg Hall and offering fresh produce and flowers, with a focus on growing organic food. The group looks to find areas in student life that can be slightly adjusted to bring about the greatest results for sustainability. 

All of the work done by the Sustainability Steering Committee directly relates to WSU’s focus on becoming a leading university in sustainability and teaching students how to properly create a greener earth.