The University’s Movement Towards Sustainability

Juliette Gaggini, News Co-Editor

Despite being a campus strewn in big green lawns and large energy-burning buildings, the University is on a journey towards a more sustainable future. As environmental concern continues to grow both nationally and globally amidst the current climate crisis, it is important that we as a University does what we can to limit our carbon footprint and push towards a more environmentally friendly and sustainable future. To do so, faculty, staff, and students alike are working ever more diligently to face these environmental challenges head on and make positive changes on campus that will hopefully extend past the University’s gates. 

The University is taking on the long term responsibility of working towards sustainability in many different ways. One way is through the President’s Sustainability Council (PSC). Under the umbrella of the PSC is the Bucknell Student Government (BSG), the Bucknell Center for Sustainability and the Environment (BCSE) and the Office of Campus Sustainability (OCS), which includes four Sustainability Working Groups (SWGs) each with different focuses and goals. 

President’s Sustainability Council (PSC)

Dr. Victor Udo, Director of Campus Sustainability, described his role to be one of oversight, governance and strategy. Udo coordinates action across various University department to ensure environmental goals are met.  “By definition, sustainability is everyone’s job, which is why the University recently included it as a key component of performance appraisal for every employee,” Udo said. 

Since joining  the University in the fall of 2019, Udo and his team have made a great deal of progress towards achieving full sustainability. “In the last year and half that I have been here, (with a whole one year under COVID-19), I have seen the students, faculty, staff, administration and the Board of Trustees take significant steps towards sustainability. The PSC is fully engaged. A 10-year draft sustainability plan is under review for final approval. We have instituted a Sustainability @ Bucknell newsletter published every semester to engage the stakeholders.”

PSC is the Bucknell Student Government (BSG)

The groups that work under the PSC have been busy at work, implementing a number of their new action initiatives. A recent update was sent out to students outlining the jobs, goals, and ongoing activities of the PSC for the 2020-2021 school year.  With many different roles and responsibilities, BSG has taken action on tackling some environmentally unfriendly issues on campus. For the fall 2021 initiative, BSG plans to have a reusable bag initiative, as well as a utensil supplement initiative.  

Bucknell Center for Sustainability and the Environment (BCSE) 

The BCSE was created in 2005 with about 50 faculty and staff from the University and students. BCSE’s main projects focus on campus greening, the Susquehanna River and designing environmental humanities courses. The center received external grant support from the Jon Ben Trust, Henry Luce Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Chesapeake Conservancy and the Degenstein Foundation, which have contributed to three educational programs. The programs help students, faculty, and staff conduct scholarly work while creating teaching and learning opportunities. 

In the Fall of 2020 semester, BCSE provided in class lectures to seven different faculty’s classes, reaching 224 students. They also mentored 11 different student researchers. BCSE successfully led 26 field excursions, engaging 370 students, 14 faculty members and 13 staff members.  

BCSE’s Operation Manager Samantha Myers spoke highly of the efforts of faculty and staff to serve the common good and promote justice through BCSE. “For the past 16 years, the Center has offered faculty the opportunity to engage BCSE staff to lead field trips and engage in outdoor laboratories for their students,” Meyers said speaking on BSCE’s mission. “Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the staff of the BCSE made the decision to offer experiential learning opportunities to ALL Bucknell students in residence. For the 2020-2021 academic year, the staff at the BCSE has been offering educational field trips, injected with fun, while at the same time adhering closely to all the University’s pandemic health and safety protocols.”

Office of Campus Sustainability (OCS)

The OCS, which is staffed with five students each assigned to specific responsibilities, have a number of ongoing projects: They write a semesterly newsletter about on-campus sustainability, plan development for zero waste status and GIS mapping of sustainability related assets. The four working groups of the OCS include the Carbon Neutrality Working Group, the Ecological Conservation and Restoration group, the Pathway to Zero Waste Working Group and the Socially Responsible Investing Group. 

Each of the four Sustainability Working Groups includes faculty, staff and students, with co-Sponsors and group leaders. The Carbon Neutrality Working Group’s main focus is climate change and air quality under these three subgroups: Powering Campus/Renewable Energy, Efficiencies and Transportation, and Carbon Pricing and Offsets. In the long term, the group hopes to attain Carbon Neutrality by 2030 and ensure sustainable utility services along with the implementation of the energy master plan.   

The Ecological Conservation and Restoration group is focused on biodiversity, natural habitat, landscape, watershed and farming. There are three subgroups for farming, including Aquatic and Hydrologic Ecosystems, Terrestrial Ecosystems and Farms and Human, Nature and Wildlife Connections. One of the goals of this group is to restore the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems on the University’s properties. “The Ecological SWG is preparing to plant 1,000 trees in 1,000 days. They are working with BCSE and Facilities to establish a four-mile sustainability trail around the campus in addition to specific restoration projects across campus,” Udo said.  

The Pathway to Zero Waste Working Group is focused on waste minimization and behavioral changes for sustainability, under the subgroups of Messaging and Processes, Recycling, Mulching, Digesting, Donations and Landfill and Waste Equipment Inventory. The group’s goals include achievement of zero waste campus status, elimination of single-use plastics on campus as the budget permits, and sustainability certification of offices, dorm rooms, classrooms, dining and events. 

The last working group is the Socially Responsible Investing group. The main focus of this group is to educate and guide the application of ESG considerations as it relates to the management of campus assets, with subgroups being Purchase Policy Considerations, Educate and Increase Transparency and ESG Investment Framework. Some of the group’s goals include enhancing campus investment opportunities for the Green Fund and integrating philosophical frameworks that best guide the application of ESG considerations.

Student Involvement

There are many other ways for students to get more involved in sustainability on campus, including with courses, clubs, organizations, farming and housing. Detailed below are just some of the other ways students can get further involved in sustainability action on campus.

Students can embark on many different types of sustainability-focused classes, with the option of majoring or minoring in environmental engineering, geology and environmental geosciences, environmental studies and sciences, and managing for sustainability. 

“As a Managing for Sustainability major, my classes focus on businesses and shared value and how businesses can operate, not at the expense of our community and the environment. I learned about this through management, but my major requirements also have me take classes in the College of Arts and Sciences in complement to my business classes, which is great,” Kate Normandin ’23 said.

The Environmental Club is a student lead club that strives to raise awareness of issues related to the environment, both on and off campus. When asked about recent projects, Sarah Frischmann ’23, the treasurer of the Environmental Club said, “The club has partnered with the Ray’Cycle research team this past year to collect plastics for the conversion to Bucknell-themed products. We have collected 3,810 recyclables so far and are continuing to process them. The club hopes to keep contributing to make campus a more sustainable place where all feel welcomed. Think global, act local!”

Sunrise Lewisburg is the Lewisburg hub of the national youth-led movement, the Sunrise Movement. The hub is made up of many leading student voices on climate change on campus. The Sunrise Movement started in 2017 and works to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process. The Lewisburg hub was created in 2019 to contribute to the greater movement and to address local concerns surrounding the climate crisis. The organization’s overarching goals align with that of the greater Sunrise Movement such as making climate change matter across nationwide elections and enacting policies such as the Green New Deal.

Mary Collier ’21, one of the co-hub coordinators of Sunrise Lewisburg, hopes that the Sunrise Movement will provoke conversation about climate change among students. “The central issue our movement exists to address is the global climate crisis but Sunrise recognizes all of the interwoven injustices within the climate crisis including political corruption, racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, and many other social justice issues,” Collier said. 

Some of Sunrise Lewisburg’s recent events and actions included electoral work in the fall, such as holding a “Count Every Vote” rally, as well supporting injustices at the University, such as drawing attention to issues of food insecurity on campus, and holding COVID-19 relief action with other Pennsylvania Sunrise hubs. 

As a student activist, Collier says that her actions are often at odds with the University.  “I definitely wouldn’t say that our events are explicitly encouraged by the school because a lot of them are drawing attention to problem areas that need to be addressed, but the University’s mission statement encourages its students ‘to serve the common good and to promote justice in ways sensitive to the moral and ethical dimensions of life.’ We are fighting to create a better university because we all love this school and we want to see it DO and BE better, and that means cutting ties with the destructive fossil fuel industry and including students in higher-level decision-making processes.”

The Bucknell Farm and Lewisburg Community Garden are both great ways for students to get more involved in hands-on practices of sustainability. Established in 2018, the Bucknell Farm was built off the success of the Lewisburg Community Garden. The two encourage educational exploration, and the Bucknell Farm provides fresh food for the University Dining Services, which helps eliminate some of the produce that gets trucked to campus from afar. As reported in the Fall 2020 edition of the Sustainability @ Bucknell newsletter, the Bucknell Farm grew over 4,000 lbs of food in 2020, including butternut squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes and more. In the Fall 2020 semester, the Farm collaborated with 23 classes and three Residential Colleges, which included over 700 students.

The University has 12 different affinity houses, one of which is the Sustainability House. Students who live in this house share a common interest in sustainability. As described on the University website, the Sustainability House is, “a community of individuals who are mindful of their consumption and motivated to adapt to a more sustainable lifestyle through innovation and action.” 

“We all have a common goal in mind and an inspiring combination of creativity and determination throughout the house that encourages me to do my part! I have certainly become more conscious of my environmental impact and motivated to work alongside my housemates to help our community,” affinity leader Theresa Dollar ’22 said.

“The community created at the sustainability house is also unique because of its location; we live near a creek and field, and see the effects of what we do. Whether it’s composting or working on the farm, actually doing stuff to be sustainable is the best part of living here,” Dollar said.

Optimism for the future

Looking to the future, faculty, staff and students are optimistic about the positive action being taken by the University to work towards a more sustainable campus while also considering the financial cost of making transitions into more sustainable practices. Associate Professor of Environmental Studies & Sciences Andrew Stuhl has been working to improve campus sustainability since coming to the University in 2013. “The University is not a leader in terms of its full environmental profile, but we have a lot of great things that we have going for us and a lot of hard work from a lot of great people. I think we should be proud of the building design, which we have earned a lot of accolades for from environmental certification groups around the sustainability of our buildings. The trouble is, we build more and more buildings and now we have used more energy than we did before we started these buildings,” Stuhl said. 

Though Stuhl agrees that the work done thus far has made campus more sustainable, there is still much to be done; this is where the University’s large endowment and academic resources are particularly valuable. “We have a great opportunity as a place of higher education where we need to be a center of innovation and experimentation. How do we model for the rest of society what clean energy looks like, what regenerative agriculture looks like and what the jobs of tomorrow will look like as we transition our full sectors of all of our society? I think we really need to think about that in terms of our identity as a university,” Stuhl said. 

The University will continue to help students navigate sustainability as it becomes a more and more prominent issue in society.  “From environmental sustainability, social sustainability to technological sustainability, the race towards decarbonization, digitalization and decentralization of processes is the way of the future. Existing assets are being leveraged by progressive organizations to mitigate climate change, inequity and social injustice,” Udo said. “Individual and corporate behavioral changes are shifting toward innovative utilization of sustainability and ESG impact investments as means of operational, reputational and financial risks mitigation…We have to prepare our students to thrive in this emerging new world of equitable global sustainable development as a living-learning community.”

There is always room for improvement when it comes to sustainability, but the University is on the track to increase its sustainability and to be more environmentally conscious. 

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