Encapsulating an exciting year for the Office of Sustainability

From increasing recycling diversion rates to promoting eco-friendly transportation plans, the Office of Sustainability has wrapped a green bow around MSU’s campus this year. “Sustainability is the middle ground between taking care of people and taking care of the environment. Looking back on the past three years, it’s really cool to see all the changes we’ve made,” Director of the Office of Sustainability Kristin Blackler said. For Blacker, getting involved with sustainability was a no brainer. Even at a young age she understood the importance of sustainability, “As a little kid I remember watching videos of oil spills and wanting to help the animals covered in oil. Learning about the different bacteria and microbial communities used to clean up the oil was so interesting. There really isn’t a downside to getting involved with sustainability,” Blackler said.

Looking back on the progress of this year, the Office of Sustainability has made major improvements to the health and well-being of the campus environment. The sustainability program worked with MSU to create a compost pile. Along with the new recycling program in Jabs Hall, this has managed to increase the average diversion rate (process of diverting waste from landfills) to 23 percent. “Our new way of recycling in Jabs Hall has really taken off. Other similar buildings on campus have a diversion rate around 12 percent, so to be able to see that kind of change in Jabs Hall is exciting and gives us so much hope for other projects,” Blackler said.

In their attempts to expand the recycling program on campus, the Office of Sustainability received funding from ASMSU to install outdoor recycling bins. “At one point we were using cardboard boxes that had ‘recycling’ written on them. Last year we got a grant for recycling bins and were able to collect data on if they were working, and they were. If you make sustainability easy for people, they’ll do it,” Blackler expressed. The team’s goal is to eventually see the ratio of recycling bins to trash bins equal one-to-one: if there is a trash bin there should also be a recycling bin next to it. The Office of Sustainability has also sponsored a lot of student projects to work on the bicycle master plan which promotes the idea of educating students and faculty to try different ways of getting to campus. “My favorite part of my job is when I can get students, faculty and staff working together to solve problems at our university,” Blacker said.

In the future, the Office of Sustainability would love to see more formalized versions of sustainability awareness in the MSU curriculum. “Climate change is one of the biggest issues facing our generation and the generations after us, so every student should have a basic understanding of the science behind these issues,” Blacker said. The team would also like to work with campus to have a net-zero building and to set carbon neutrality targets. “These are big goals but they’re achievable. If you don’t set goals you’ll never get there so we need to come together as a campus community and set a plan to be leaders,” Blackler said.

Blacker pointed out that even the smallest of actions can make a world of a difference. “I encourage students to do more of the little things like buying reusable coffee mugs because in the long run that really adds up,” she said. The Office of Sustainability strongly advocates for student involvement. “Don’t underestimate the power of your student voice. If you have an idea of interest, follow that passion; there’s mentors here that want you to succeed,” Blackler expressed. She understands that sustainability can be frustrating in the sense that change can take a long time to see, but encourages everyone to be patient and recognize the importance of sustainable actions. “When people hear sustainability they think things just stay the same, in reality what it means is that we are striving to constantly improve. Things do turn around, there have already been radical changes in the past three years and that is what keeps me going,” Blacker said.

For more ways to get involved with sustainability, email: sustainability@montana.edu, or look into joining clubs like Sustainability Now (SNow), 1,000 New Gardens or Engineers without Borders.