Over the past year, Drew University students have increasingly engaged with sustainability issues on campus. The undergraduate Student Government Roark-Lora administration created a Sustainability Committee to address sustainability issues according to a resolution passed Jan. 23, 2022.
Additionally, students have brought their concerns and plans to the Center for Civic Engagement to lead projects such as a campus climate rally and a Climate Change Teach-In. Drew also has active environmental advocates in the form of student organizations such as the Drew Environmental Action League and Drew Theological School’s Transforming Environmental and Religious Resources for Action organization.
Most environmental and sustainability efforts on campus are organized by students. Prioritizing and promoting student voices on campus issues is never detrimental. However, students should not be expected to organize everything needed for environmental change on campus. Drew University needs a Sustainability Coordinator.
Drew previously had a Sustainability Coordinator; according to the Director of Facilities Stephanie McCormick, prior to 2010 the Sustainability Coordinator was part of the President’s Office. In 2010, the Sustainability Coordinator was moved to the Facilities Management Department, and then the Sustainability Coordinator left Drew in 2019 for other opportunities. The position has not been filled since due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and during the pandemic the responsibilities of the position were split between Facilities and Student Activities.
According to a job description from 2008, the Sustainability Coordinator was a full-time staff member who would “work under the direction of the University Sustainability Committee with various campus groups to help create, develop and enhance sustainability programs across the University to reduce the campus impact on the environment.” The Sustainability Coordinator worked directly with students in many different ways, such as directing the EcoReps program (which was a group of work-study students who served as environmental community advisors for the residence halls) or investigating student waste.
Reintroducing the Sustainability Coordinator to Drew would help take some of the pressure for environmental action and change off of students. Although students would still need to hold the Sustainability Coordinator accountable, they would not be required to helm all of the environmental changes on campus.
Having a Sustainability Coordinator at Drew is an urgent, pressing issue, particularly when addressing the global climate crisis. For instance, after a week of sessions, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change produced a report that warns that “Emissions need to go down now, and be cut by almost half by 2030” to avoid warming above 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Drew has a Climate Action Plan, which was developed and released in 2010 by the university’s Sustainability Committee. The Sustainability Coordinator was a major part of this committee and provided invaluable guidance during the process. The report discusses how Drew “aims to reach carbon neutrality by 2035.” Having a Sustainability Coordinator would aid in easing into an effective transition to carbon neutrality. Acting on climate change is beyond necessary.
According to a podcast interview, Drew President-Elect Hilary Link, in her previous presidency, helped Allegheny College become “one of the first 10 institutions of higher education to be declared carbon neutral.” Link is passionate about campus environmental sustainability, and having a Sustainability Coordinator would help Drew accomplish a variety of campus sustainability goals under her leadership.
Having an institutional role for environmental sustainability is necessary, as it takes some pressure off of students who are acting on campus sustainability issues and helming efforts to make changes.
As a student environmental advocate, I am burnt out and exhausted. While I have an amazing support network of others at Drew who are passionate about and engaging with campus environmental advocacy, student environmental advocates only have so much mental bandwidth. It is not sustainable for students to continually push for environmental action on campus.
I have been working with students, faculty, staff and administration over the past year to create an institutional structure that would administer and oversee a variety of environmental activities. This structure, the Sustainability Council, provides a way for students to be involved with and direct sustainability activities but does not shoulder them with the burden of orchestrating every single change. It involves a variety of departments and offices around campus that would be in charge of sustainability goals in their specific areas.
This is one step closer to my long-term goal, which is reintroducing the Sustainability Coordinator. It is not sustainable, in the traditional sense, for students to always have to advocate for, plan and execute the changes they want to see on campus. Students need a Sustainability Coordinator to provide institutional support to accomplish environmental changes on campus.
Elisabeth Sauerman is a junior majoring in public health and minoring in anthropology and environmental justice.