University of Arizona students are pushing to make the campus – and the surrounding community – a greener place to study, work and live.
One example is Students for Sustainability, where students plan and implement projects benefiting the environment.
Such student-sponsored sustainability issues include composting waste generated on campus, a garden to grow food, solar device implementation and others, said Lesley Ash, the group's director.
Students for Sustainability has more than 50 student interns pursuing seven projects to make UA more sustainable, said Ash, a veterinary science senior.
The group plans to transform the UA campus into learning laboratory of sustainable technologies through proactive student involvement, education and outreach.
Their goal is to demonstrate how higher education's ideas can be turned into real world solutions, and make the UA's water, energy and material usage more ecologically sustainable and to provide students with the practical knowledge and skills needed to successfully carry out green projects on campus as well as in a real-life setting for years to come.
After returning to UA from studying abroad at the University of East Anglia in England, she quickly noticed the campus was lacking in student sustainability efforts.
A big issue for Ash was plastic shopping bags, which are given out for free by the thousands and often end up blowing around in the breeze or filling local landfills.
"You don't see plastic bags there. They were available but you were charged heavily for them," she said of the UK college. "The use of reusable bags, reusing things in general, is very strongly ingrained in that university culture."
"I noticed on the (UA) campus that while plastic bags were everywhere, reusable bags aren't sold, and some of the cultural aspects of that (UK) campus I thought I could help promote here," said Ash, who became director during the fall semester 2008.
Students for Sustainability intern teams are working on seven projects, Ash said. They are:
- Garden in the Desert, a demonstration garden at the Udall Center that will expand to include a productive garden where UA students and members of the community will be able rent a plot of land to grow food.
- The Solar Dorm Initiative, which if implemented will result in a cogeneration system featuring solar energy and solar hot water on the Villa del Puente dorm.
- Compost Go Live is building a demonstration composting system at the Arizona Veterinary Diagnostic Lab with plans calling for an enclosed composting system to deal with the 2,000 tons of waste material generated on the UA campus each year.
- Another group will put on campus Earth Day festivities on the UA Mall April 22.
- Climate Action Planning is identifying sources of greenhouse gases on campus and looking at possible solutions.
- General Sustainability is developing a layered computer mapping program called Locale that will allow students to view different aspects of sustainability on the UA campus.
- Education/Outreach will this year put on an eco fashion show in an effort to educate the public on sustainability issues.
Having students develop and run sustainability projects offers an advantage for success at UA, Ash said.
"I think especially on this campus that people listen to students. You'd be amazed that if something is student initiated, how many people will give you a second look and will say, ‘That is a really good idea,'" Ash said. "The fact that students are taking extra time out of their day on top of their busy schedules to go after something that is important to them really makes people listen."
Caleb Weaver, project manager for the group's Garden in the Desert team, agreed.
"I feel that as students we are definitely at an advantage versus if we were just faculty or private consultants because we're the ones attending this university and we're the ones the university is intended for. So if it is us who want to make a change people actually look and listen to us," said Weaver, a junior majoring in geosciences and evolutionary biology. "We've gotten a lot of help from faculty and outside consultants that I really feel we wouldn't have gotten if we had not been students."
Not only are efforts like Students for Sustainability making the UA campus and the surrounding community a greener place to live, it offers participants educational growth.
"When you are working with students, it's a lot more about not only the product, but the journey to get there in the sense that a huge component of all our initiatives is that it is student driven," Ash said. "The students will at the end of the day not only have a product they can point to and be proud of, but that they also learned something, and that they have gained some sort of set of personal skills that they can use elsewhere or they have gained a set of competencies. With students, it's a lot more about the journey and reaching that end goal."