Lawrence starting sustainability initiative with student ‘Eco-reps’

Lawrence University is starting a campus-wide sustainability initiative centered on a new ‘Eco-rep’ program, in which student advocates will educate peers about composting, energy and water consumption, food systems and more.

“The Eco-rep program is really at the heart of this effort,” said sustainability coordinator Kelsey McCormick. “The goal is to foster sustainability as part of everyday behavior. As a residential campus, a great way to accomplish this is to encourage our students to conserve energy, reduce waste and be more conscious in the spaces in which they live.”

The liberal arts college, founded in 1847, is located on College Avenue in downtown Appleton, and currently has about 1,500 students from more than 50 countries.

Starting next fall, Eco-reps will work as Residential Living Advisors — students living in residence halls, working with students who live there to “establish norms” on things like recycling and responsible energy use. They will focus on first-year residence halls in order to impress upon students early that these activities aren’t just suggested — they’re expected.

McCormick says this social angle will work better than the standard top-down approach in setting up students to be “good environmental stewards.”

The college will also create a ‘Sustainability Institute’ for faculty to learn more about sustainability and how to incorporate it into lessons. It will run for two years with up to eight participants per year.

According to McCormick, faculty will assess the courses they offer and try to put more of a focus on sustainability, or develop entirely new courses “with sustainability at the core.”

She will co-chair a newly formed sustainability subcommittee along with Jeff Clark, a geology professor who is also a special assistant to the president for sustainability. The committee will hold open meetings where members of the Lawrence community can come and pitch ideas for how to improve college operations.

He says “a lot of progress” was made in the last decade with regards to sustainability, pointing to the construction of the LEED Gold-certified Warch Campus Center and two solar arrays, a campus-wide bike share and ride share program, a quarter-acre student-run organic garden and more.

“That said, we still have lots of work to do to try and change the culture of campus by integrating sustainability into our daily routines as well as our curriculum,” Clark added.

The college will also begin a Community Read program, a campus-wide book club which will highlight sustainability-related topics. The goal of this part of the initiative will be to connect Lawrence students with others in the community.

All these new efforts are at least partially supported by a three-year grant from Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies.

According to Rick Peterson, media relations manager for Lawrence University, Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies preferred that the amount of the grant stay private.

“It’s a generous grant — it’s letting us refocus our efforts on sustainability,” McCormick added.

Part of the money will also go toward a special fund for community members to pursue sustainability projects, and the school plans to make one infrastructure improvement for each of the three years. These improvements will aim to reduce environmental impact and waste while improving efficiency, all with a goal of saving money down the road.

–By Alex Moe