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New program promotes sustainable living

St. Olaf has long prided itself on being an environmentally-conscious campus, but the new SustainAbilities program has the school amping up its game. SustainAbilities is a co-curricular sustainability education program designed and led by Oles. This summer, Lauren Kramer ’13, Andi Gomoll ’13 and Tyler Nielsen ’13 worked under the leadership of Prof. Jim Farrell to create a sustainability initiative to be implemented this year.

“We really want to emphasize that sustainability is not just about individual behaviors, such as recycling and composting,” Kramer said, “Those things are certainly important, but it’s also about how you take action and engage in your community. Sustainability is a mindset.”

Patricia Lamas ’12, who studied instituting campus sustainability initiatives for her senior CIS major project, set up the framework for the program. After Farrell obtained a grant, he hired the three students to design and implement SustainAbilities in coordination with the CURI research program. “Each residence hall has a SustainAbility representative, and this individual teaches residents how to live sustainably,” Kramer explained. Every month representatives will put on events which might range from information sessions on buying local foods to activities such as field trips to the farmers’ market. The purpose of these events is to increase students’ awareness on how they can live more sustainably.

Kramer emphasized the collaboration that took place across departments to develop the most comprehensive and feasible program possible. The team met with Board Manager of Bon Appetit Randy Clay, Director of Facilities Pete Sandberg and Director of Residence Life Pamela McDowell, among others, to discuss possible ways to make campus more environmentally-friendly. “So many people have come together to make this happen,” Kramer said.

While the pilot year of the program is focusing primarily on living sustainably in residence halls, the team designed SustainAbilities to work with students each year of their undergraduate experience. First years will learn how to foster environmentally-friendly practices in residence halls, sophomores will explore civic engagement, juniors will focus on political involvement in environmental issues, and seniors will learn how to transfer sustainable practices beyond the Hill.

Students wishing to get involved with SustainAbilities should check their email for upcoming events from SustainAbility reps. Kramer also cites the website as a key tool for tracking what’s going on around campus. An online calendar combines SustainAbilities events with student organization events, acting as a “central hub” for everything environmental happening at Olaf.

In addition, the website offers a Green Room Certification program, which allows students to receive public recognition for practicing sustainable behaviors, such as turning out the lights in their rooms and printing double-sided. Certified students will receive a certificate and a water bottle sticker. The program officially launches on Oct. 24.

“SustainAbilities is really important because it allows students to live in community with others and practice sustainability,” Kramer said. “Hopefully through that we can create new social norms so sustainability will be something that we just do. We want environmentally-friendly practices to become a habit.”

Mark your calendars for Campus Sustainability Day, coming up on Oct. 24, and don’t forget to check out the website!

*Photo credit Her Campus St. Olaf archives

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