Students lead on sustainability
Should we use eco-friendly compostable tableware or china? Can we replace the hand soap in dispensers with all-organic Dr. Bronner’s soap? Do we have enough housing yet?
These are the kinds of questions the Chico State University students in charge of planning the upcoming This Way to Sustainability II conference have been asking themselves lately. They want to make the nation’s largest student-run sustainability conference the most “sustainable” conference possible.
“I think it would be cool to use compostables,” one student suggested at one of the group’s last Monday meetings before the start of the four-day conference next Thursday (Nov. 2). “I went to some festivals over the summer that used them, and not many people know about them.”
The group decided that it would be OK to use compostable tableware as well as china, which after all can be reused and so conforms to the sustainability paradigm.
But they were upset to learn that the soap dispensers in the Bell Memorial Union couldn’t be filled with Dr. Bronner’s, but rather had to be filled with the regular synthetic—or “toxic” soap, as conference coordinator Kate Taft described it.
The first sustainability conference at Chico State drew about 200 guests; this year, organizers expect more than 500 people to attend. About 65 of them will be coming from out of town, one couple from as far away as New Jersey. In true sustainable fashion, the student organizers will be playing host, offering up their couches and even constructing a “tent city” in one planner’s back yard, said Mandi McKay, housing coordinator for the conference.
“When anyone registers for the conference from outside Chico, they have the option to stay for free with students and not at hotels,” McKay said. “The whole point is to build community, so we want them to stay with students working with the conference.”
On the weekend of Oct. 4, Taft and conference Volunteer Coordinator Cameron Scott joined Chico State’s sustainability coordinator, Jillian Buckholz, at Arizona State University in Tempe. It was the inaugural North American conference of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.
“What AASHE is trying to do is to get a lot of schools to start doing what Chico State already has: a recycling program, sustainability coordinator, sustainability conferences,” Scott said. “We have all these, and we hope to be not only a leader but also a support and model for other schools to follow.”
Anthony D. Cortese, co-founder of AASHE and president of Second Nature, a group also promoting the incorporation of sustainability in higher education, will present his keynote address at 7 p.m. Thursday (Nov. 2) in the BMU Auditorium.
“Anthony is extremely action-oriented, very excited and passionate about sustainability in higher education, so he will talk a lot about the changes needed for future generations,” Buckholz said.
Along with Cortese, there will be more than 100 speakers discussing more than 60 topics ranging from sustainable business practices to organic farming, Stemen said.
This year’s conference will incorporate the College of Agriculture’s fourth annual Organic Farming and Food Conference, bringing more attention to both gatherings, Buckholz said.
“At the University Farm, we’ve worked with the College of Agriculture to start a program to grow an organic garden,” she said. “The goal is to grow organic food that could be sold in the Marketplace in the BMU.”
Buckholz, who is the only full-time sustainability coordinator employed by a California State University campus, was excited to mention that Felicity Barringer, an environmental reporter for The New York Times, will be covering the conference as well as presenting a keynote address 4 p.m. Friday in Laxson Auditorium.
“The conference is free and open to the public, and there will be something for everyone, regardless,” Buckholz said. “We’re dedicated to teaching the future leaders of this country how to practice sustainability.”