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UO making strides in sustainability



Leslie Montgomery

Steve Mital dismisses the Sierra Club’s low environmental ranking of the University. In fact, the director of the University’s office of sustainability rejects the entire idea of quantifying schools’ environmental quality.

“It’s impossible to produce a ranking of such individually diverse schools,” Mital said. “Each school’s sustainability efforts grow out of organic, original ideas … ‘happy accidents.'”

The history of eco-friendly action at the University, from the recycling program spearheaded in the ’80s to the Outdoor Program’s Bike Loan Program, has helped boost the overall environmental awareness of the campus. Nonetheless, students and faculty alike are faced with new on-campus environmental challenges every year as both the natural and social environment changes around them.

The Office of Sustainability, only two years old, has assisted many recent campus initiatives towards a greener community. Managing the Student Sustainability Fund of about $36,000, Mital can to grant funds to any student working on a project aimed at restoring or creating a more sustainable campus. One product of this fund is Project Tomato, a student-run endeavor educating students about local organic produce and agriculture.

Mital also initiated the Climate Action Plan, which tries to plot ideas for transforming the campus into a more energy-conserving and sustainable facility.

Many students come to the University expecting overwhelming access to “green” programs, but don’t know where to look. Shelley Bowerman, a recent international studies graduate, has developed a local sustainability manual through the Office of Sustainability for incoming freshmen in the fall.

“Your Guide to Sustainable Eugene” is intended to help newcomers to the area become familiar with the “green” side of Eugene, listing organic grocery stores and restaurants,
environmentally friendly transportation and housing options, and a variety of volunteer options focused on sustainability.

“The idea is that students will be able to engage more quickly with their new environment,” Bowerman said, “whether that’s through buying locally or becoming more active in the sustainable-living movement.” She adds that much of the information included is what she would have liked to know as a freshman.

Along with a community guidebook, environmental activism on campus has become more accessible thanks to growing cooperation among student groups. During fall term, ASUO Environmental Advocate Daniel Rottenberg plans to start a group called the Student Sustainability Coalition. The coalition will promote cooperation among the 15 environmental groups on campus. It will host a Web site with a shared calendar, message board, and links to the groups, along with promoting opportunities for students to lead
 sustainability initiatives.

“Our goal with the Sustainability Coalition is to bring (the groups) together,” Rottenberg said, “to maintain their independence while serving as one voice as we work to inform the administration on students’ desire to be number one in each and every sustainability ranking.” Rottenberg said while the University is highly ranked, it still has a way to go before returning to the forefront of student-led environmental advocacy.

While extracurricular projects keep the campus active, the educational departments also play a major part in preparing students for an environmentally aware world. The environmental studies program, along with offering general introductory courses, founded the Environmental Leadership Program, partnering undergraduates with graduate students to educate others about, research and restore the environment in a real-world setting. Projects range from monitoring turtle habitats to investigating illegal dump sites.

“The environmental studies program teaches students skills different than in a regular classroom,” said Alan Dickman, the program director. “It’s a whole different experience applying what you’ve learned about the environment in class to what’s actually going on in the world.”

The environmental studies program may lead the University in its field, but environmental education is growing in each department campus-wide. Mital explained that each department now includes a certain environmental aspect, whether it be environmental law or sustainable landscape architecture.

“Each and every department at the University is attracting students hoping to be a part of working towards solving the greatest environmental challenges of our time,” Rottenberg said.

The University must also prepare students for the changing job market, which green jobs increasingly populate. Environmental studies professor Peg Boulay explained the importance of setting students up for future green jobs and issues. “Environmental problems are currently more complex than simply removing an endangered species from a contaminated environment,” Boulay said. “We’re now faced with major issues, such as climate change, and must prepare students for more long-term goals.”

Independent of rankings, Boulay said the University is trying to create a greener campus through student-run groups, independent sustainability programs and environmental education courses. “This is a very active and engaged campus with a lot of environmental advocacy going on to keep it interesting,” she said. “It’s the students’ responsibility to keep these issues current and well-known.”

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