Keeping campus green all year long

(Edmonton) September is here, students are filing back to campus and the summer colours are beginning to give way to autumn tones. But there’s still a lot of “green” on the campus, and the University of Alberta’s Office of Sustainability is hoping to inspire that commitment of keeping the university green—and clean—throughout the year.

Throughout Week of Welcome and orientation, students will see messages all over campus on sustainable environmental practices and opportunities to become more active in living an environmentally harmonious lifestyle.

The office, which supports the Students’ Union in its environmental messages and programs this week and throughout the year, has some new programs and initiatives rolling out this fall. Lisa Dockman, sustainability co-ordinator, says that engaging with students through a variety of campaigns and initiatives is the best way to get them thinking early about keeping the green in the Green and Gold.

“One of the goals is to support embedding sustainability into the university, and this is a prime opportunity to do that,” she said. “We have a lot of different sustainability-related messages delivered through a variety of events. But students, staff and faculty can expect to see even more active education and engagement happening this year.”

Behaviour for a better planet

Dockman points to a number of initiatives to reduce environmental footprints across all U of A campuses. At Augustana Campus, for instance, a recently installed in-vessel composter allows them to recycle all the organic waste from the cafeteria on site rather than shipping it to Edmonton. And as Campus Saint-Jean’s successful community garden winds down, its sustainability committee’s activities will wind up as students return.

A more immediate change that students will notice is that the WOW pancake breakfasts will be served on compostable paper plates.

“The Students’ Union has moved to paper and provided compost receptacles,” she said. “They usually serve 2,000 meals over three days. That’s a pretty big impact when you consider the scale.”

Sustainable points of interest

As students file past the many student groups and clubs on display, they may notice some groups displaying plants on their tables. Dockman says these plants identify the sustainability-related groups on campus for people looking to get involved with green-themed activities. She also notes that this year’s orientation tours will have a few more stops. Orientation volunteers will inform students about some interesting sustainability features of North Campus as the students walk past lawn signs.

A more tongue-in-cheek take on these important green messages comes by way of videos featuring many of the sustainability stops, starring a U of A theatre alumnus and improv actor.

“We’ve put together these brief videos to help educate the campus community on how to sort your waste, what contamination is and what it means,” said Dockman. “The improv actors in the videos are the ‘tough guys’ of sustainability; that’s sort of their persona. They’re pretty hilarious. We’re really excited to have those up.”

Green engagement

Another new piece to this year’s Week of Welcome is the Waste street teams that will be at major events throughout the week, helping people navigate the waste and recycling system. It’s an expanded program that allows for direct contact and influence on student behaviour.

For those who want to get involved, there’s an opportunity to join the movement on campus, jointly managed by the Office of Sustainability and Sustain SU, a service of the Students’ Union. “They’re called Campus Sustainability Volunteers, and September is an ideal time to get involved as applications are open,” says Dockman.

Lest one think that the environmental message at the start of the year is a one-off, look for lots more throughout the year, she says.

“We work in a number of ways with all of the different sustainable and environmental-related groups, through events such as the sustainability summit, a two-day conference that provides student leaders with the skills and abilities to do effective programming and group outreach work,” said Dockman. “There’s also Sustainability Awareness Week running from Oct. 29 to Nov. 2. Dozens of student groups choose to host events during this week to profile the work that they do and their mandate.

“When it comes to keeping the campus truly green and gold, there’s some pretty incredible stuff happening out there.”