Sustain yourself

How to be green at UNR

You’ve heard about the polar bears, the melting glaciers, the food scares and shortages, droughts, smoke, fire and—oh yeah—rising gas prices. What are you going to do about it?

Option one: Curl up in a ball and draw the shades.

Option two: Get aware and involved.

During your time at the University of the Nevada, Reno, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to do both, but, for the sake of the planet, let’s hope you choose door No. 2.

Here are a few ways to be green at UNR.

Getting around

In terms of alternatives to driving—and to buying a parking pass and dealing with finding a spot—the most obvious is biking. Many students do, and bike racks are set up at key locations all over campus. You can also rent a bike locker. However, while the campus itself is pretty bike-friendly, students can’t say as much for the surrounding area. The Old Northwest’s streets, nicely tree-lined as they are, are also narrow, curvy and make it easy for bikers to become nearly invisible to cars. So be careful, and in case your mom’s not here to tell you, wear a helmet. There’s also moped, motor scooter and motorcycle parking on campus.

Get on the bus. Students can get a Wolf Pass, which provides unlimited rides on any RTC Ride or Sierra Spirit route in town (visit There’s a limited number of these passes, but, for students, they cost $85 for Fall and Spring semester, or $55 for just the Spring. There’s also a $150 pass covering fall and spring for students commuting from Carson City on the daily commuter bus. Also, the Sierra Spirit is a free bus that runs from the university through downtown to Liberty Street.

Carpool: You know how to do this. If you can’t find a partner, use Alternet Rides, (, UNR’s free, online ridesharing service.

Schedule smartly. If possible, try to schedule your classes to require the least amount of commuting as possible.

For other alternative transportation ideas, call UNR Options at 784-4654.

Round and round we go

Recycling at UNR has picked up considerably in the past two years. Only three residence halls had recycling bins in 2006—now they all do. You can recycle the basics: plastics (numbers 1-7), paper, glass, aluminum and tin cans.

Each office has a recycling bin that accepts all types of paper except for cardboard. “They’re in every single building, but they’re not always easy to find,” says John Sagebiel, environmental affairs manager of the Environmental Health and Safety department, which oversees the recycling program. He says UNR recycles and recovers toner and ink cartridges and batteries, and if you want yours recycled, call his office at 784-1139. All campus computers also get sorted, packaged and shipped to a recycler in California.

The best recycling is the item you use again, so at least get your own reusable water bottle and coffee cups.

Building blocks

The Joe Crowley Student Union and Canada Hall are “green” buildings. “The Joe” has highly efficient air conditioning, heating, windows and lighting, and has low water usage fixtures. Canada Hall uses energy from its solar-thermal panels. Let administrators know you appreciate all this, and encourage them to use green building concepts for new construction and retrofits when possible. Lest you think you have little power in this arena, it was a student-led initiative that led to The Joe becoming a green building. Students and Educators for Environmental Development and Sustainability, or SEEDS, took on this task after forming in 2004. The group of mostly graduate students sprouted from an industrial ecology class report about how to greenify the building.

“It was a group of people who took the initiative when the new student union was being built,” says SEEDS co-leader Virginia Smith of the group’s beginnings. “They lobbied to have a clause that said if the students were going to fund the building, it would have to be a green building.”

Now that SEEDS has laid a successful foundation, Smith says she thinks the UNR administration could be more receptive to similar ideas. “I think they’re more apt to hear it now,” she says. “When the group first started trying to do the building, some people didn’t know who we were or really take us seriously.”

Join a group

There are many environmental groups you could become involved with in Reno, such as the Great Basin Community Food Co-op, the Alternative Transportation Club, Sierra Club, Friends of Nevada Wilderness, Reno Bike Project, and the Nevada Wilderness Project, to name a few.

Mattie Melrose co-founded EnAcT, which began as a group project for Jennifer Huntleysmith’s (pictured below) environmental studies class.

Photo By Kat Kerlin

There are also student-led groups on campus. The aforementioned SEEDS is one of them, and while it’s mostly composed of grad students, undergraduates are also involved. Their focus is primarily working to improve policies and procedures on campus regarding sustainable practices, such as green building and recycling.

Another, Environmental Action Team, or EnAcT, was formed last spring by a group of undergraduate students. It, too, had its beginnings in a class project. Mattie Melrose, Erin Hansen and Cristina Milner had to complete an “environmental citizens” project as part of their environmental studies requirement. They wanted to do something with food. So EnAcT began with pumpkins—locally grown, organic ones they sold at a mini-farmers’ market held on campus last year. They also organized a small environmental film festival last spring, which they plan to do again. This summer, they’ve been hard at work creating an organic garden off Valley Road (See “Good things are growing,” page 10, this issue.)

The Student Association for International Water Issues (SAIWI, pronounced “say-wee”) was formed in 2000 by graduate students in the hydrology program but now also includes undergraduates. They travel to developing nations to work on water projects, from building composting toilets in Panama to teaching about water hygiene in Kenya to installing water pumps in Haiti.

Get with the program

Many of you who are interested in the environment may already be considering a major in an environmentally related field, such as hydrology, biology or engineering. Pick a top environmental issue of the day, and it’s happening in Nevada. Renewable energy? (You can minor in that, by the way.) The state has been cited as having some of the biggest potential in the country for solar energy, geothermal energy, and our wind power capability isn’t too shabby, either. The debate over “clean” coal and proposals for a handful of coal power plants in eastern Nevada are still raging. At the same time, we’ve got major water issues, whether it be the clarity of Lake Tahoe, protecting desert lakes like Walker Lake, or controversial efforts to pipe water from eastern Nevada to our thirsty neighbors in the southern part of the state. Wildfires burn every year near Reno, and researchers continue to explore the best ways to manage our forests to deal with them. All of these issues and many more are being studied at UNR.

Those who aren’t quite so math-and-science savvy also have environmental outlets. The school began the nation’s first Literature and Environment Program in 1996. It’s for master’s and Ph.D. students, but it’s out there and has often brought eco-critics, poets, writers, essayist and other artists to campus as guest speakers. Undergrads also have been able to get in on environmental literature through classes in the English department. For example, Scott Slovic and John Sagebiel taught a class last spring called “The Literature of Sustainability,” using texts by Al Gore, John Hersey and Jack Kerouac, among others.

If you end up getting your journalism degree or gain professional experience in that field, UNR also has an Interactive Environmental Journalism masters program.

Academy for the Environment

While students in many of these programs may tend to work quietly in their separate parts of campus, the Academy for the Environment is trying to bridge that disconnect by promoting interdisciplinary study and raise awareness on campus about environmental issues. The Academy created an environmental studies degree program in 2007, in which students have a double major. Each environmental studies major has a community project so they can get hands-on experience with tackling environmental problems and learn skills like leadership and communication needed to get that kind of thing done. The group EnAct grew out of such a project.

“That project [EnAct] exemplifies exactly what the Academy for the Environment is set up to do,” says Jennifer Huntleysmith, associate director of academics and outreach at the Academy. “Set up collaborative projects with entities on campus to do what otherwise wouldn’t happen.”

Eco happenings

So you’re a linguistics major and don’t want to join a group but are still interested in sustainability. A number of eco-events take place on campus throughout the year. There’s to be a fall festival in late October—more organic pumpkins, anyone?—with speakers, food and art projects made from recycled materials. Also, keep your eyes out for environmental films, speakers, art shows and other events throughout the year.

One way to hear about environmental events is online. Journalism student Michael Higdon set up a social networking site at

Green pie in the sky

We wish we could say there’s this great little organic café on campus or that Chartwells, the campus food service supplier, buys local food when possible, but it’s just not happening. EnAcT may want your kitchen scraps for compost at their organic garden, but it may be best to talk to Mattie Melrose about that.

Huntleysmith is associate director of academics and outreach at UNR’s Academy for the Environment.

Photo By Kat Kerlin

Another dream not yet a reality—but one in discussion—is a “green wing” on campus, with the solar-paneled Canada Hall as one potential location. This would be a portion of a dorm where green-minded students would combine their efforts to live a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle. Other universities have tried this, with shortest-shower competitions, communal gardens and experiments in sustainable technology to show for it.

Final note

Whichever route you choose to greenify your life at UNR, get involved.

“Getting involved on campus, whether it be through an environmental group or another group, is the best way for a campus to thrive,” says Smith. “The people who just go to campus, take classes and leave, they don’t have as much say as to what goes on on the campus. Just getting involved is pretty good.”

“There’s a lot of things we could be doing in the daily life of this campus much better and much more efficiently,” says Huntleysmith. However, she says she sees a rising tide beginning as more people become interested in doing something about the environment rather than just talk about it. “It’s an exciting time to be here. There’s so much enthusiasm.”

Academy for the Environment

They’ll help you add an environmental component to whatever major you’ve got and connect you to other environmental groups and researchers. 784-8262.


New group of mostly undergrads focused on sustainable food and agriculture issues but open to a variety of environmental causes. Contact

<p<b>John Sagebiel

Ask anyone about green stuff at UNR, and they’ll direct you to this guy, environmental affairs manager of Environmental Health and Safety. He rides an electric bike to work, lives in a solar-powered home and is in charge of UNR’s recycling program. He even said we could put his number in the paper: 784-1139


A group of hydrology grad students who take what they learn at UNR and go to developing countries to improve water systems there.


Comprised of mostly graduate students, it focuses on improving green building and recycling policies and procedures and were largely responsible for why Joe Crowley Student Union is a green building. Learn more at

A social networking site started by journalism student Michael Higdon with green groups and news on it.

Wolf Pass

A discounted bus pass for students. Visit