By Jeffrey Dahdah, photos by Marcus Catlett and Jaesea Gatherum
The trouble with calling it a snowball effect is that it might melt. But that could also make the metaphor perfect: In a way, the idea of sustainability is to keep the snowball from melting.
The sustainability movement at Utah State has snowballed since 2007, when President Stan Albrecht signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. The goal of the commitment is to make universities carbon neutral by the year 2050. By 2008, universities in all 50 states had signed the Commitment, which laid out a series of actions and responsibilities for the colleges to meet that goal.
The Commitment instructed universities to “create institutional structures to guide the development and implementation of the plan.” This led to the creation of the Sustainability Council, a group dedicated to making the university more environmentally conscious.
Corey Cozzens, a Utah State University Dining Services employee, first got involved with campus sustainability when he suggested recycling various items at work. Before long, his boss put him in charge of representing Dining Services at a Sustainability Council meeting. But he wasn’t convinced of its use. “I felt like we weren’t doing very much. I was very hesitant about even going to another meeting,” he said.
He stuck with it. Now, under Cozzen’s leadership, Dining Services has composted more than 40,000 pounds of food since January. Staff members donate what they can’t compost to the zoo for the animals. They have reduced food waste by donating to the Student Nutrition Access Center. Because of all of this, Cozzens said, Dining Services recycles or composts more than it throws away.
Dining Services isn’t the only organization trying to be environmentally conscious. In fact, there are many organizations attempting to reduce their carbon footprint at Utah State. The Sustainability Council has a wide reach, and that excites its leaders. “I really see from where we started back in ’07. The momentum has just been exponential,” said Jordy Guth, Sustainability Council chair.
Utah State has seven Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings, which essentially promote clean and re-usable energy, and more are coming. With new buildings the university doesn’t “even think about whether or not we’re going to build a LEED building, we just build it because it’s become more the norm and it’s the right thing to do,” Guth said. In the last five years, Utah State has also cut down its water usage by 40 percent, largely by fixing small leaks in underground pipes. There are almost 3,000 people using Zimride, a ridesharing program celebrating its first anniversary.
Students are also inherently involved. “The Blue Goes Green Grants are another piece of it because that’s the way students get to vote with their money,” said Alexi Lamm, sustainability program coordinator at Utah State. For every credit students take, 25 cents comes out of their fees for the grant. Students then pitch ideas for grant money. Since the grant began in 2011, there have been 24 awards given out to fund student initiatives. These include bike racks, recycling bins, water bottle filling stations and a horticulture garden.
The Sustainability Council also encourages student involvement in other ways. It has events early in the year, is present at involvement fairs, recruits students to join and even teaches a class at Connections for Utah State freshmen. Lamm said it’s “a crash course in sustainability.”
Utah State’s clean-slate mentality has led to vast and quick growth. As sustainability remains omnipresent on campus, more initiatives and progress sprout up.“If somebody is interested in doing a project and they have the motivation to do it, then we want to provide the resources to help them go ahead and move,” Lamm said.
The more paths the initiatives take, the easier everything gets. It’s a module that ensures growth of the program. It’s a method that gets “easier and not harder,” Guth said. Those involved with sustainabilitymay be proud, but they are not satisfied yet. “Every year has been a huge step forward. It’s almost like, ‘What else can we do?’” Cozzens said. The goal of carbon neutrality looms still. Darren Bingham, a Blue Goes Green Grant intern, hopes to make Utah State carbon neutral by 2050. In order to do so, he said, it’s apparent that meaningful action needs to be taken by the year 2030.
This fact is not forgotten by other leaders. Although Sustainability Council members may look back on what has been done, they never stop thinking about what is next.“There is a lot more that we need to do if we really are going to be carbon neutral by 2050,” Guth said. “We’ve really got a long way to go.”
That realization is not without optimism. In fact, it may be met almost entirely with optimism. Bingham noted that optimism comes from a rise in interest. “I’m not alone. There are more and more kids every day that I talk to that want to see an impact, that want to see something done.” In the meantime, the sustainability snowball keeps rolling and grow ing, not melting. It’s an ironic race against climate change at Utah State, with the end goal of carbon neutrality.