Defining a new position

College explores the role of a sustainability coordinator

Two weeks after President Byerly said Lafayette would hire a sustainability coordinator in response to student efforts, the college continues to search for what this new position would mean.

To answer that question, students and staff hold monthly sustainability committee meetings and learning from other people who hold the position. At the forefront of the sustainability dialogue for is Vice President for Finance and Administration Roger Demareski, who has been actively involved in shaping this new position.

“It’s the champion of sustainability for a campus,” Demareski said of the position. “It should be the person who is passionate about the field and believes in it.”

“A sustainability coordinator is a good interface between the administrative processes of the institution and the students and faculty who are engaged in thinking about sustainable practices,” Byerly said. “A bridge between sustainability as a topic in the academic program and sustainability as a practice within the college’s own administrative structures.”

Demareski, like Byerly, shares the view that sustainability should be a continued effort on campus and beyond.

“First, we need to look at our own house, our own carbon footprint: what can the college do on its own to be more sustainable?” Demareski said. “[Then] we want people to be educated about climate change and its impact on the world, and take what they’ve learned here and go out into their careers.”

Demareski added that the way that they still do not know how the coordinator will function. The position would be funded from the annual budget agreed upon last January,  he said, and that it will not take money away from other parts of the budget.

The administration has already taken steps to focus on what they’d like to see from a sustainability coordinator, starting with a visit from Princeton University’s sustainability director Shana Weber, who did not respond for comment.

Joseph Ingrao ’16 had the opportunity to meet with Weber and learn from her experience.

“[Weber] was very vocal about how important it was that students were to champion sustainability initiatives in order to get sustainability coordinators and how important it was for her as sustainability coordinator to make allies among other administrators,” Ingrao said.

“She was able to mobilize students better, get to know faculty who were teaching about these things and has at various times also taught classes,” Ingrao said. “That allowed her to further get students involved and had them do work to make Princeton more sustainable through her classes.”

The functionality of a sustainability coordinator would be more than a liaison between the students and the administration. The coordinator would also be able to “diffuse a lot more sustainability into everything” campus-wide, Ingrao said.

Getting the college to hire a coordinator has been a work in progress for many years, according to Ingrao. Current sustainability efforts are currently focused in student groups and the sustainability committee, composed of students, staff and faculty.

Student members of the sustainability committee said that many issues are prolonged indefinitely at the monthly meetings.

“You only have an hour to update each other on what’s going on and tell people what gaps need to be filled in order to make things move forward,” said Alicia Halpin Ortiz ‘16, who is on the committee. “At the end of the meetings, sometimes there’s no final outcome or it gets dragged on forever and doesn’t go anywhere. Having a sustainability coordinator will help with that.”

Demareski said the sustainability will continue to operate, while it may be reconstructed and expanded to accommodate the coordinator.

“I would like to see a greater administrative presence than what’s currently on the committee,” Demareski said. “I would like to see a trustee on the committee. I would like to see a resource from another school on the committee. The way you learn is from what other people are doing.”

“This is someone that both faculty and students should be able to go up to have conversations with. Someone who is approachable, yet has a firm hand. Open-minded,” Ortiz said.

Byerly said she hoped the position will be filled by early in the coming spring semester.

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