Students share thoughts on campus sustainability at forum

Ellen Dux, programs director for the Office of Sustainability, presented ideas about improving environmentalist efforts on campus. (Sunny Dong | Daily Trojan)

Nearly 70 people gathered for the Sustainability Forum, an event for administrators, faculty, staff and students to discuss the improvements and importance of sustainability on campus Monday.

Olivia Pearson, co-director of Environmental Student Assembly and a senior majoring in environmental engineering, said the forum intended to give students, staff and faculty a chance to connect and share ideas about sustainability on campus. She said there’s a lot the University can do to improve sustainability on campus in ways that don’t require upper administration approval to get started.

“All of our departments can start to do something and start to make change and I hope that this inspired them,” Pearson said. “Also [I hope they] heard the student voices, how we want to get involved and how we want to offer our help and how we also want to be heard in these decisions.”

Ellen Dux, the programs director for the Office of Sustainability, offered updates on the University’s Sustainability 2020 Plan. The plan has goals in seven main areas, or verticals, with the three primary points focused on waste diversion, energy conservation and water conservation.

Dux said the forum is an opportunity for groups on campus that do not typically communicate to have an honest dialogue.

“I think we all realize that the more we are getting separate siloed groups together in one room to bring their voices together … then the more we can say be mindful that people on this campus, your customers, your staff [and] your faculty are demanding this of you,” Dux said.

Students who developed an app called Trojan Sense which allows their peers to give feedback on the temperature of rooms on campus also presented.

Simon Blessenohl, the advisor for the team that created the app, said it has three long-term benefits: energy reduction, education and engagement.

Leaders from the different sustainability student groups presented as well, including ESA co-directors Pearson and Claire Mauss, director of Sustainability Affairs for USG Catherine Atkinson and co-directors of the Environmental Core Tianna Shaw-Wakeman and Milena Castillo-Grynberg.

The students gave updates about different sustainability projects they were working on. Atkinson, a junior majoring in political science, said USG Sustainability Affairs had instituted composting in Cardinal Garden Apartments last week and plans to do the same at USC Village next week.

Mauss, a junior majoring in environmental science and health, discussed a project she is working on that would require incoming students to take a module on sustainability at USC.

“Students are coming from all over the world when they come to this university and sustainability looks different depending on where you’re from,” Mauss said. “We want to teach them about what sustainability looks like here.”

Pearson spoke about the Green Engagement Fund, which allows students to apply for funding for sustainable projects on campus. Trojan Sense is one of the projects that has received money from the fund, and Pearson said that students are making change in whatever small ways they can on campus.

“We as students [have] been fighting for sustainable change on this campus for years,” Pearson said. “We want to show administration that we care, that we’re willing to work hard to make our campus green.”

Shaw-Wakeman, a junior majoring in psychology, echoed that sentiment. She said she believed when she was a freshman that change would happen if she could demonstrate to the University’s administration that students cared about sustainability through rallies and petitions.

“While that is true, sustainability should not be focused on whether or not the students want it,” Shaw-Wakeman said. “It is what students need. The student push behind sustainability should be supplemental to the top-down approach … that [the] administration is making sustainability a priority.”

Eric He contributed to this report.