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Students talk about the future of sustainability at Western

Author of "The Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus" Mitchell Thomashow speaking in the Wilson Library reading room, Wednesday, April 20. // Photo by Daniel Hart.
Author of “The Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus” Mitchell Thomashow speaking in the Wilson Library Reading Room on Wednesday, April 20. // Photo by Daniel Hart.

Western students gave feedback on the university’s sustainability at an event on Wednesday, April 20.

Mitchell Thomashow, author of “The Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus”, spoke in Wilson Library’s Reading Room about sustainability on college campuses.

“You have a lot to celebrate. So the point is, how can you do even better at what you do well now? That’s what the challenge is,” Thomashow said.

Western’s Office of Sustainability displayed the ten chapters of their sustainability action plan around the room. After the presentation, students placed multicolored dots indicating approval or disapproval on sections of the draft and filled out comment cards. A “what’s missing” board was left open for general comments.

Junior Stephanie Cheng attended the event.

“I think by not divesting from fossil fuels, they’re not upholding [their pledge],” Cheng said. “Western does talk a lot and prides itself on sustainability and how we talk about the environment, but without action behind it, Western’s not living up to our core values.”

In 2013, 86 percent of students voted for divestment, Cheng said. “This is still a big problem.”

Thomashow discussed challenges to sustainability, including what he called the planetary emergency. He broke this concept down into an imminent extinction, dramatic declines in biodiversity, changing climatic circulation and “biogeochemical imbalances” – or disturbances in the carbon cycle.

On a smaller scale, Thomashow described the challenge of student attitudes.

“The best sustainability initiatives are those that are integrated campuswide, so that you don’t even need a sustainability coordinator, but everyone understands the value of moving forward,” Thomashow said.

Junior and environmental policy major Sarah Voth said she agreed.

“There’s still a lot of people here who just don’t care enough. Once everyone gets on board, it’s really easy to move forward.” Voth works in the dining hall and explained all food waste goes to compost. She said other improvements still need to be made.

Voth said classes should go more digital to avoid having to print so much.

Junior and environmental science major Devon Kaufman said other schools in  the Northwest like The Evergreen State College use food grown on campus for their cafeterias.

“So why isn’t Western doing that, if they have a farm here? I think that would be an awesome thing to do,” Kaufman said. Kaufman said produce from Western’s Outback Farm is less accessible to students.

Junior and Fairhaven student Aleyda Cervantes, also attended the event. She said including students of color in the sustainability movement is an important priority.  She also said student voices are generally not being heard.

Even with rallies and meetings about sustainability, Cervantes said she still feels like students are not given the power to make changes at the university.  Students of color face layers of oppression and sustainability often can’t come first, she said.

On the same theme, Thomashow said student voices are vital to the movement.

“Students can play a very important institutional role in ensuring that the value of sustainability permeates the entire campus culture. And the best way they can do it is by providing living examples of how you get it done,” Thomashow said.

Huxley College of the Environment professor Grace Wang introduced Thomashow. Wang began by acknowledging the Coast Salish people who owned the land on which Western was built, and the Lummi people in particular.

Thomashow was the president of Unity College in Maine from 2006 to 2011. He discussed the nine elements from his book, “The Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus”, during his presentation, which include food, energy, materials, governance, investment, community wellness, curriculum, interpretation and aesthetics.

“I don’t know how anybody can be against this. The right wing talks about living within our means and frugality. So what’s the problem? This is the way to bring communities together,” Thomashow said.

Students were asked to complete an exit survey on a laptop regarding the sustainability action plan as they left the event.



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