Recycling bins have been part of campus culture since the passage of a $3.50 student fee to support and establish the Sustainability Center in 2009. In the three years since, this student-funded initiative has worked to make recycling, along with other sustainable practices, campus priorities. The center will soon become the Office of Sustainability.
A change of name is not the only adjustment the center has experienced. Its original director, Gretchen Hooker, stepped down in Jan. 2012 to pursue other opportunities. She was followed by an interim director who left in Aug. 2012. Since then, the center has been supported by student employees with help from organizations such as the Network of Environmentally Conscious Organizations (NECO) and the Campus Sustainability Advisory Council (CSAP).
Terry Leist, MSU’s Vice-President of Administration and Finance, made the commitment last spring to supplement the Sustainability Center’s earmarked student fee with an additional $30,000 for the next two years to transition the center to the Office of Sustainability. A committee is currently in the process of selecting a new director.
“Fingers crossed, we will have a new director by the new year,” said Sam Atkins, NECO President and member of the selection committee. The university will also hire a part-time recycling director to aid the new director of the Office of Sustainability.
In the past, the recycling program received almost all the Sustainability Center funds. By separating the responsibility of the recycling program and the director, the office will be able to focus on other sustainability projects apart from recycling.
One of these projects is advocating for university responsibility for the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). Signed by past MSU President Geoff Gamble in 2008, the ACUPCC focuses on climate control and reduction of greenhouse gasses and has been signed by 661 universities and colleges.
“We want the director to hold [the] university responsible for signing the commitment,” Atkins said. She added that there is a significant difference between signing a document and following through on the promises the signature implies.
E.J. Hook, Environmental Services Manager of Facilities Services, has worked closely with NECO and is part of the CSPA. He has aided the students that have been running the center in the absence of a director with some of the administrative responsibilities.
Hook hopes the future director will be able to prioritize and advocate the long term sustainability goals. “There are thousands of ways to approach and improve sustainability on campus, but if we try to do all one thousand…most of them would turn out to be half measures,” he said. “We cannot spread ourselves that thin.”
The Office of Sustainability hopes to continue the center’s emphasis on student involvement. The director’s purpose, along with fulfilling the Climate Action Plan and “integrating sustainability into campus operations planning, development and academic pursuits,” as outlined in the position vacancy announcement, will be to aid student initiatives related to sustainability.
Sustainability efforts on campus have continued to grow and expand over the past three years. Many attribute this growth to the persistence of MSU students in their effort for sustainability — as Hook said, “Students are the most powerful group on campus.”