New director offers holistic approach to sustainability

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Photo by Matt Wiegand

Kristin Blackler is MSU’s new Office of Sustainability coordinator, a job that requires her to be “100 percent devoted to sustainability.” As such, she is responsible for the university’s sustainability policy and action, a role she has met with gusto.

Born in Missoula, moving to Bozeman was something of a homecoming for Blackler. She spent six years as the program director for the Sustainability Solution Institute at the University of California-San Diego, and cannot help but grin when she talks about Bozeman’s mountains. Her love of the outdoors is obvious, as is her passion for sustainability.

“I see pictures of overflowing trash barges, hear about environmental injustice and just can’t sleep,” she said. “There’s nothing else I should be doing with my life.” Fresh-faced, young and fashionable, Blackler is full of energy and optimism.

Currently, she spends most of her time forging relationships with faculty, staff and students. As a new addition to the MSU community, she is eager to “work with stakeholders on campus, having them help set the priorities, to find what works.” Her goal is what she calls a “holistic approach to sustainability.”

“Decisions affect everybody, and so everyone has to be involved in the decision-making process,” she said. There are many individuals and organizations on campus concerned with sustainability, and unifying these efforts is a priority for Blackler.

“An authority on sustainability is so important when it comes to moving forward and providing valuable feedback to the appropriate leadership on campus,” said Michaela O’Donoghue, president of the Network of Environmentally Conscious Organizations (NECO). As a result, the Office of Sustainability hopes to be a guide for all of things sustainable at MSU. “Hopefully, we’ll be on speed dial,” Blackler said.

To encourage participation in sustainability discussions and action, the Office of Sustainability will offer student internships in the fall, and Blackler is attending a workshop, to “help faculty…connect sustainability issues to core concepts in their own disciplines.” She is creating a Sustainability Plan to supplement the current Climate Action Plan, which focuses primarily on energy and waste. Blackler’s plan will include a wide array of campus activities and issues, from composting to curriculum.

Blackler revamped the recycling program on campus and planned a full schedule of events in April to celebrate Earth Month, including an electric car show and a talk by Nobel Peace prize winner Steve W. Running.

Her job is not easy. She struggles with aging campus infrastructure and hard economic realities. “When trash is so cheap, it’s hard to make the case for recycling everything,” she explained. But she remains practical. “Things always take longer than you think,” she said.

At the Office of Sustainability’s helm, Blackler has a role in shaping MSU’s future. Her vision is backed by concrete plans for action and engagement, and she has hit the ground running. “There is so much possibility for this position to morph the Office of Sustainability into the most revolutionized and prestigious office on campus,” O’Donoghue said.

Blackler’s goals are larger. She foresees MSU as a leader in sustainability, not only in Montana, but for universities throughout the country.