Op-ed: Hiring a sustainability coordinator: the next step for progress on campus

By Alexa Gatti ‘16

Contributing Writer

Change will happen. It is just in the process of being approved. That is what many campus environmental leaders and administration have grown accustomed to hearing. Professors, faculty, and members of environmental organizations attend the monthly Sustainability Committee meetings led by director of facilities planning and construction, Mary Wilford-Hunt. The assistant director of plant operations, George Xiques, also serves as campus sustainability manager. These meetings (open to all members of the campus community) facilitate discussion of ongoing campus sustainability projects and requests for funding of new projects. Everyone on the committee has other jobs and commitments. As a result, funding and implementation of projects is slow and problematic. This committee structure is inadequate due to a lack of accountability and an ambiguous initiative approval process. We are in need of a campus sustainability coordinator and an office of sustainability.

A sustainability coordinator would connect student life, academics and plant operations to promote sustainable attitudes and behaviors on campus. More specifically, a sustainability coordinator would help facilitate communication among clubs, assist in marketing campaigns and events to the entire campus, and ensure follow-through on student- and faculty-led projects. For example, a coordinator could ensure the successful implementation of single stream recycling (SSR). Even though Lafayette is currently sending recyclables to a single-stream facility, the committee has been paralyzed, waiting for approval to inform custodians of the switch to SSR, to inform the campus and print accurate signs for recycling bins. As a result, LEAP had to use its budget to print signs and distribute them around campus. Instead of being efficiently implemented, SSR got stuck in the “process of being approved” and there has been no clear indication whose approval we need.

Director of Princeton University’s Office of Sustainability Shana Weber visited campus to share her experiences with sustainability endeavors at Princeton. This allowed students, faculty and administration to see the potential for campus sustainability at Lafayette. In her presentation – which had a large number of students, faculty and administration in attendance (including President Alison Byerly and our Vice President for Finance Roger Demareski)– she discussed the mission of liberal arts institutions to “engage in the world’s challenges.” Weber asserted that colleges must prioritize sustainability in order to stay true to such a mission.

Lafayette is making progress in incorporating sustainability into campus life. This is evident in the development of LaFarm, new majors and courses related to the environment and sustainability, and the shift to a more environmentally conscious dining services provider. Sustainability will also be integrated into campus life through the Connected Communities program, which will facilitate the growth of the individual and the community based on several values (i.e. leadership, intercultural development, career, civic engagement, and sustainability). Hiring a sustainability coordinator is the next step in fully embracing sustainability as an institutional priority.

Colleges and universities have a great deal of power to impact the world in which we live by shaping minds, communities and built environments. The way we invest matters. As Weber noted, now is the time to make decisions on sustainability – before more buildings are constructed or renovated, before another course list is created and before another class graduates without the benefits of a campus that values and acts on sustainability. Institutionalizing sustainability through a full-time administrative position would result in research opportunities (to further improve campus sustainability), new abilities to engage the community, more efficient campus operations and improved campus infrastructure.

This has been an ongoing campus movement. Faculty members created a job description for a sustainability coordinator position. Last semester, the presidents of Lafayette Environmental Awareness & Protection (LEAP), Lafayette Food and Farm Co-Operative (LaFFCo) and Take Back The Tap (TBTT) met with Byerly to present a petition for a coordinator. The petition was drafted and signed by officers of campus environmental organizations. Weber also spoke with Byerly during her visit and I am hopeful that the administration will take this next necessary step toward campus sustainability.

LEAP will continue to push for progress on campus initiatives and for timely action in hiring a coordinator. I am excited to see sustainability emerge as a campus value and for all of the incredible opportunities that await us if the administration takes action.

Alexa Gatti ‘16 is the president of LEAP.

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