Blugolds, Blue Devils ... Both Green

Chatting With Sustainability Leaders at UWEC, UW-Stout

Rebecca Mennecke

IT STARTS AT THE TOP.  The "green roof" on UW-Eau Claire's Davies Center. (Submitted photo)

As some of the largest institutions, facilities, and employers in our communities, universities have a major environmental impact. We talked with sustainability leaders at UW-Eau Claire and UW-Stout to see what practices students and others were pursuing to tread more lightly on the earth.

Lauren Becker, Student Office of Sustainability – UW-Eau Claire

Volume One: Can you tell us about the role of the Student Office of Sustainability? What kind of work do you do?

Lauren Becker: The Student Office of Sustainability is a completely student-run, student-funded commission within the UW-Eau Claire Student Senate. We were founded through a student-wide referendum in 2011 when our campus community called for action to increase the resiliency of our institution and take steps toward mitigating the climate crisis. Our purpose is to allocate our “Green Fund” budget of approximately $185,000 in student segregated fees toward sustainable initiatives that benefit our students. This involves incredible collaboration with all sectors of our campus, including but not limited to our tremendous partners in Facilities, the UW-Eau Claire Foundation, and upper-level administration. We answer to students and students alone, and right now students are concerned about the resiliency of our structures and systems in the face of changing climate and social injustice. Our office recognizes sustainability to be the intersection of community wellbeing, prosperity, and our relationship with the resources that sustain us. Therefore, our work spans projects focused on education, carbon-reduction strategies, communication efforts, long-term planning, high-impact experiences for students, culture-building, and services to our student body.

What are some of your goals for this year?

Although no one can predict where we’ll be in even a month, our office will continue our work to the best of our abilities this fall through primarily virtual formats.

Our goals this coming year include:

  • Continued partnership with the UW-Eau Claire Foundation on our new Special Projects Sustainability Fund, scholarship creation, and internship creation. This allows the institution to fund sustainable initiatives outside of the scope that student segregated fees should be allocated towards.
  • Continued partnership with Blugold Dining to explore low-waste dining options and increase proper post-consumer waste disposal. This is particularly important due to our university’s movement toward to-go meals during this pandemic.
  • Continued partnership with Facilities and University Centers as we re-examine the scaffolding and funding streams we set up this past fall for campus-wide composting and make adjustments according to the pandemic; examine student-funded spaces still in need of LED lighting retrofits; this past term we passed allocations to conduct five non-academic building LED lighting retrofits, saving students a total of $15,786 annually; explore opportunities to improve our E-waste Disposal Program; continue fiscal support for our campus arboretum, maintaining our Tree Campus USA Status to the tune of $13,500; and continue (to) explore expanding our fiscal support for carbon reduction strategies through our Renewable Connect Offsets to the tune of $21,344.

Our most exciting update is our plan to unveil the first look at the UW-Eau Claire Student Office of Sustainability’s Energy Dashboard, which has been in design and production for a little over two years now in terrific partnership with the UW-Eau Claire Student Senate Information and Technology Commission’s Innovation Labs.

In addition, our office has received an invitation into the University of Wisconsin System-wide Divestment Coalition. This coalition is focused on the strategic and fiscally responsible goals of the UW System becoming fully transparent about endowment investments, divesting from the top 200 coal and oil companies, and reinvesting in companies promoting a sustainable future, within the next five years.

The Student Office of Sustainability will explore involvement this coming fall as a full body, though two statements can be made with certainty: The Student Office of Sustainability supports divestment from fossil fuels and investment in renewables; the Student Office of Sustainability also supports divestment from the Wisconsin prison industrial complex and are not willing to pursue divestment from one but not the other.

How can people be cognizant of their environmental impact today, when taking care of the planet sometimes feels less important than focusing on the pandemic?

The most beautiful thing about the concept of sustainability is that it’s an intersection; that means that when we apply a sustainable lens to something as overwhelming as our current public health crisis – we don’t shift our focus. We simply get deeper into it. For example, why is it that so many Tribal Nations, such as the Navajo, and Black communities are being hit harder by COVID-19? One component is the disproportionate underlying and prior conditions these communities face as a result of health hazards being stored, disposed of, and built within their region far prior to our current pandemic. Sustainability is focused on people and care for one another, on systems and how we make them better – making it so much more than an environmental movement. In my experience, I’ve found that it’s easier to focus on sustainable initiatives once I realized it’s not solely environmental concerns. It’s not even primarily environmental concerns! This is a social movement. Because why do we care about the environment that we’re a part of? Because we care for one another.

Sarah Rykal, Sustainability Office – UW-Stout

Volume One: Can you tell us about the role of the Sustainability Office? What kind of work do you do?

Sarah Rykal: Our office works to infuse sustainability into our campus operations and campus curriculum with the goal of reducing our campus’ greenhouse gas emissions. We signed a Carbon Commitment in 2007, committing our campus to becoming carbon neutral by 2050. So much of our daily work is in buildings and energy, waste, transportation, landscaping, food, and curriculum, working to make these areas of our campus more sustainable. We also provide training and education to our students, faculty, and staff on sustainability topics. We do in-person training/education and create videos. We assess our greenhouse gas emissions annually, to know how we’re doing and where we can improve. We believe that we can’t manage what we don’t measure, so tracking metrics on a consistent basis is important in meeting our goals.

Also, our campus has a number of sustainability committees that I lead, co-lead, or advise. We have a lot of student, faculty, and staff involvement in making UW-Stout more sustainable.

  • Sustainability Steering Committee which manages our Campus Sustainability Action Plan and guides our sustainable development.
  • Waste Reduction Work Group which works to reduce our landfilled waste and increase composting, recycling, and reuse options.
  • Campus-Wide Energy Committee which works to reduce our energy consumption and make our campus more energy efficient.
  • Stout Student Association’s Sustainability Council, our student government’s committee for implementing Green Fee projects.

What are some of your goals for this year?

Each year, we have a lot of projects to infuse sustainability into our campus more and more. We use our Campus Sustainability Action Plan as our roadmap for sustainable development and we pull projects from this plan to implement. This year:

  • We’re looking at implementing EV charging stations on campus and working with Dunn County Transit to add to electric buses to their fleet.
  • We’re adding more LED lighting to campus with the goal of moving to LED campus wide.
  • We are installing $150,000 in solar PV on the roof of Merle Price Commons, which was a project funded by the Stout Student Association.
  • We are creating a dedicated transportation plan to enhance sustainable transportation (biking/walking, busing, ridesharing, etc.).
  • We will be implementing a new procedure for incorporating more green building aspects into our renovation and construction processes.
  • We plan to audit our campus waste collection stations in each building. All collection stations currently have compost, recycling, and trash bins, and we want to keep monitoring these stations to ensure they are intuitive and convenient for people to use.
  • We are looking at implementing a sustainable residence hall program to encourage students who want to live more sustainably.

How can people be cognizant of their environmental impact today, when taking care of the planet sometimes feels less important than focusing on the pandemic?

There is very likely more waste generation in our daily lives right now, with the use of disposable gloves and disposable masks, and shying away from reusable bags at the store. At the same time, a lot of us are traveling less and telecommuting, which is cutting down on travel-related emissions and pollution.

In many ways, being sustainable and focusing on the pandemic can go hand-in-hand. Staying at home can be trying for many people, so getting outdoors is a nice reprieve. Riding your bike or going for a walk or hike while physical distancing is one way to do something fun and be sustainable. Growing your own food in a backyard garden or a physically distant community garden is a sustainable activity that can help limit the need for trips to the grocery store. Opting for washable cloth face coverings instead of disposable masks can reduce waste. This pandemic is giving many of us the time to be in nature and forge a better relationship with our neighbors. Those connections with our planet and our community can really help us to understand the importance of living more sustainably and interdependently.

Go Green is sponsored by:

Xcel Energy
Eau Claire

Go Green is sponsored by:

Xcel Energy
Eau Claire