Shedding some light on sustainability at Webster University
written by Heather Bartel
Take a walk around campus. Staples of sustainability are located everywhere. Items such as recycling bins and the more recently installed solar-powered trash and recycling compactors are just a few of the ways in which Webster is focusing on turning sustainability into a priority on campus. The East Academic Building, the most recent addition to the university, is Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certified, and has features such as a draining system and a rooftop-garden. Sustainability is present in these ways, but being environmentally conscious isn’t all sustainability is about.
Sustainability is a buzzword that seems to find itself on the lips of numerous people at Webster University. Whether it’s a faculty member utilizing the phrase in their lectures, students interested in promoting the concept, or attendees of the university’s annual conference on the topic, sustainability is something that has garnered much attention on campus. Despite how frequently this word is uttered, not everyone is aware of exactly what it means and why it matters. As sustainability continues to grow more and more relevant at Webster, and in the world, the best time to learn is now.
Lori Diefenbacher, the coordinator of Education for Global Sustainability, is responsible for bringing the concept into the classroom at Webster. Although she stepped down from this position in March of 2014 to be with family for the birth of her first grandchild, a lot has stemmed from her idea. The program began nearly seven years ago with the addition of a summer course to the education department that focused on the child as a naturalist. It has since developed into the establishment of an entire program dedicated to sustainability.
Webster’s School of Education has offered both an emphasis and certificate in sustainability since 2009, and in June 2014, will be one of the only universities in the United States to offer a Master’s of Education in Sustainability degree. A minor in sustainability studies is offered as well. Diefenbacher believes that these additions are essential as the concept of sustainability continues to grow.
“Sustainability is different from environmentalism in that you’re no longer just looking at the environment, you’re asking what the impact is on the environment and how this will affect the economy and the health of our citizens, the relationships with other countries and security implications, in addition to many other things,” Diefenbacher said. “Sustainability is the web, the relationship, the balance between all of these things.”
Outside of the School of Education, there are professors from various departments who teach courses for the sustainability studies minor including Karla Armbruster, Jeff DePew and Kate Parsons. Diefenbacher said that sustainability is still being promoted, if not directly taught, through the development of Webster’s Global Citizenship Program.
“Global citizenship is connected to sustainability, and through developing this curriculum, Webster has made a huge acknowledgment of the importance of being aware of how we impact and are connected to the rest of the world,” Diefenbacher said.
The interest in continuing to promote sustainability on campus is evident through freshman Valerie Martin and the other members of the newly reformed Webster Students for Environmental Sustainability (WSES). Martin, a biology major and president of WSES, said that the organization was something that she had been interested in being a part of when she came to Webster, and was disappointed to discover that the student leadership of the group had fallen apart.
Martin spoke with the faculty advisor Jeff DePew, who told her that if she wanted the club to exist, then she needed to do something about it. Fortunately, Martin was not alone. She and the other officers all met through their shared biology major. Martin said with the similar interests of other organizations, many members involved with the gardening club, the recycling program and WSES overlap, creating a trio of sustainability-oriented projects on campus. Although the numbers are still small and the redevelopment of WSES still recent, they have not been slow to use the organization to promote sustainability on campus.
“This semester we’re definitely focusing on outreach and education, but we’re also working on energy conservation,” Martin said.
After attending MO Love, a retreat for environmental organizations across the state to discuss ideas, Martin said that the officers of WSES came back with a plan to have an energy audit at Webster Hall. This has led to support from sustainability coordinator Brad Wolaver to conduct minor energy audits on buildings around campus. WSES also focuses on other elements of sustainability, such as the way in which it can impact economics, by hosting events like a “peer swap,” where students are able to exchange old clothes and other items rather than throwing them away.
Collaborating with Martin for this event is Caitlin Zera, student worker for Webster’s recycling program, which is responsible for many of the efforts towards sustainability on campus. This includes the installation of solar waste-compactors and recycling in buildings all over campus. The most familiar face of the program is Geoff Janovsky, recycling coordinator. Janovsky can be seen daily working to maintain a more environmentally-friendly campus by doing tasks such as picking up and collecting recycled materials in buildings throughout campus. He can sometimes be seen accompanied by student workers, many of whom share his passion for reducing waste and creating a more sustainable future. Zera is one of these students.
A senior film production major, Zera said that the recycling program has been doing a lot to reduce waste on campus. This effort most recently includes the addition of composting at the university, as well as initiatives in the dorms and offices to help monitor trash and material consumption. Through the program’s event RecycleMania, all departments are encouraged to do a “paper purge” in their offices, going through all of the paper they’ve accumulated over the course of the semester and recycling it. The recycling program will then provide tips on how to decrease waste.
“Education is really important,” Zera said. “And it drives action, which is important too. We’re moving towards ultimately zero waste, where everything is contained and you’re not really generating any kind of external waste that just sits somewhere. It’s a pretty intense goal, but I think this is where the future is.”
It’s agreed upon that it all comes down to taking small steps to make Webster’s campus a more sustainable one. Whether it’s by viewing class material through a more sustainable lens or focusing on using energy more efficiently and reducing waste, each step counts. It is students and faculty taking the initiative to learn and become actively involved that allows sustainability to be promoted in places throughout campus and remain a priority at Webster.