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Spreading Sustainability

New program keeps faculty and staff thinking green

Link by link, the Center for Sustainability at SCU has been building up a valuable network that stretches from residence halls to classrooms, from students to faculty, from peer groups on campus to beyond. The most recent link in this chain is a group known as Workplace Sustainability Liaisons (WSL).

“It’s a program for University employees,” explained Lindsey Kalkbrenner, director of the Center. “The goal is to help employees understand that anyone who has a job at SCU can contribute to developing a culture of sustainability at the University.”

WSL began last year as a pilot project with 10 participating employees. Unveiled this academic year as an official program, it quickly drew two dozen employees coming from some 20 different University schools and departments. “Word has spread,” said Kalkbrenner. “There’s now more awareness and people like the idea of being change agents—of helping to lift up their departments for the cause of sustainability.”

According to Kalkbrenner, the WSL project is one of four programs in the sustainability network. The first, SCOOPS (Students Collaborating and Organizing Opportunities and Projects for Sustainability), began several years ago with leaders of student organizations, then branched out with CF liaisons (Community Facilitators). A new SCOOPS offshoot is LOCALS (Living Off Campus and Living Sustainably), which helps off-campus students lessen their environmental impact with such ideas as do-it-yourself gifts, buying budget-friendly local products, and eco-conscious party planning. Another new program, Community Facilitator Sustainability Liaisons, is for leaders in SCU’s residential learning communities who share ideas with their residents and engage them in on-site conservation practices.

Not surprisingly, Kalkbrenner and her team relied on available resources in constructing the sustainability network. “Once we figured out we could work within existing University structures instead of trying to create something new, everything fell into place,” she explained.

With the outreach programs gathered under one network umbrella, Kalkbrenner said all participants are able to “dive deeper” into prescribed topics. Each month, network groups are given a particular theme on which to focus. Members share ideas, engage their peers in workshops and discussions, and bring suggestions to the Center for Sustainability.

In designing the WSL program, Kalkbrenner said busy employee schedules were a key factor. “We didn’t want to add a lot of extra work,” she noted. With supervisor approval, participating employees are asked to attend an hour-long meeting each month at lunchtime and spend one hour a month on sustainability efforts within their departments. Each term spans an academic year.

Even with those minimum time requirements, WSL members have accomplished much in a short period. Gayle Catterlin, resident director of the Communitas RLC, took part in the pilot project and signed up again for this year’s program. During her first year, she communicated “sustainability tips of the week” for department staff meetings, worked with students to help with the annual Residence Energy Challenge to help residents examine their energy use, and installed smart strips in department offices.

“I was making changes in my work and personal life and trying to make sustainable practices more convenient,” says Catterlin. “These small changes add up to a big impact and I feel like I'm part of an important movement.”

This year, spurred by the success of another WSL employee—Director of Campus Recreation Janice DeMonsi—Catterlin activated a pilot project to compost paper towels in all her RLC restrooms.

Other achievements in the WSL program include recycling collection for the single-use coffee pods found in many University departments and collaborative work on a purchasing guide for sustainable products and services.

In addition to being able to make tangible improvements toward sustainability, SCU employees say membership in the WSL program offers other benefits as well. Bill Mains was a lecturer for Undergraduate Business Programs and was recently named Director of Sustainability and Leadership Development for the Leavey School of Business. Involved in WSL since its beginnings, he said, “What I find most beneficial is having a resource and support group of like-minded colleagues across campus with whom I can learn, brainstorm, plan, organize and, occasionally, vent.”


 

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