Graduating green: Sustainability on campus

Center for Urban Ecology and Sustainability, CUES, encourages sustainability through Green Grad program. Photo by Bella VanMeter.


“Dawgs go green … It’s the Butler way,” the university’s website reads, going on to say that universities should be at the forefront of environmental conservation. What is Butler doing to take steps toward eco-conscience thinking?

The Green Grad program, offered by the Center for Urban Ecology and Sustainability, CUES, gives students the opportunity to attribute a point value to specific eco-conscious actions they complete throughout their time at Butler. After achieving 10 points and signing a Green Graduation Pledge, they receive a green cord to wear at graduation. In addition to the Green Grad program, CUES offers a variety of internships, volunteer opportunities and other groups and programs to participate in. 

Director of CUES Julia Angstmann said she is an urban ecologist by training and has been studying climate change since 2006. Prior to that, she worked on environmental science based topics, specifically conservation. Now as the director of CUES, she oversees all of the programs at the center, including Green Grad. 

“The Green Grad program was meant to recognize students who are already doing [sustainability] work and create an incentive for students to think sustainably,” Angstmann said.

Green Grad was brought to Butler last semester by former CUES assistant director Jamie Valentine. While Angstmann now oversees the project, she is aided with day-to-day coordination by student intern, senior biology major Taylor Coleman. 

Coleman has worked with the CUES office for three years but only became the CUES student intern and Green Grad coordinator last semester. Coleman explained many ways students, including herself, can reduce their carbon footprint

“Basic things [help], like using reusable water bottles, bringing reusable shopping bags, trying not to waste food,” Coleman said. “We can’t change the past … In a sense it’s up to you; inspire your friends and family [to be more sustainable]. One person becomes a small group and then small groups [can inspire] big companies.”

Tracking the points Green Grad participants earn throughout the semester is done in two ways. Participants are responsible for reporting the points they earned at the end of each semester to CUES through a points form, while Green Grad staff keep track and validate reported points. Once students reach 10 points, they will be notified and awarded their green cord for graduation. 

Students have the opportunity to receive points in sets of one, three, five and seven depending on the activity they complete. 

Items worth one point include volunteering with sustainability-related organizations or attending sustainability-related events. Items worth three points include taking a three-credit course focused on sustainability or completing a semester-long internship with a sustainability organization. Items worth five points include minoring in sustainability-related courses — science, technology and society, environmental studies or applied local food system. Items worth seven points include majoring in science, technology and society or environmental studies. 

While each person can make an individual impact, some suggest that the individual should not be where the responsibility lies.

Jesse Van Gerven is an associate professor of environmental studies and science technology studies. He believes that a lot of the pressure to create a sustainable world falls on the individual, and it is not on accident. 

“[Society sees] the discourse being very strategically channeled into, ‘You need to do better — It’s on you,’” Van Gerven said. “[This] is a very convenient way of distracting attention away from the much larger forces and structures that are causing the problems.” 

Butler has taken some steps to promote sustainability on campus, one of these being President Danko signing Second Nature’s Carbon Commitment in 2014. Signing this stated that Butler will reduce its emission of greenhouse gasses by 15% in 2020, 45% by 2030 and 100% by 2050. According to Butler’s greenhouse gas emission report, in the 2021-22 academic year Butler saw a 1% decrease in total campus emissions. 

While the university works with CUES to create a more sustainable campus, additional opportunities are given to students to learn about and practice eco-consciousness. For example, Butler began offering an environmental studies major and minor in the 2015-16 academic year after an increase in demand for more focused classes on the topic. Additionally, many lighting fixtures in some buildings were switched to timed lights to lessen Butler’s electricity usage. Lastly, Butler implemented water-saving flush systems in Irwin Library bathrooms, another way to lessen the university’s waste. 

Butler’s 2021-22 Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventory found that indirect emissions from items not owned by Butler —  such as wastewater and campus dining — saw an increase in emissions. In 2020, Butler reported nearly five thousand tons in emissions from indirect sources, but in 2022, reported almost 15 thousand tons.

Butler also reported that over 75% of greenhouse gas emissions from campus dining come from use of animal products; beef being the largest source at 69.1% followed by cheeses at 9.56%. 

Last year, CUES organized a composting service at Atherton Union to try and minimize the food waste that the dining hall produces, but these efforts have not continued into following semesters. 

“[Butler] doesn’t give us any resources,” Coleman said. “The composting only lasted a year and [Butler’s] reasoning was that they couldn’t find people to come pick it up. Well, look harder. It’s important.”

Sophomore instrumental music major Korah DeLeon has practiced some form of sustainability for their entire life. From living by the mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle” to using plastic-free toothpaste tablets and shampoo bars, they have always participated in eco-conscious living. DeLeon explained that the composting at Atherton Union was a good way to practice sustainability on campus. 

“I loved the compost idea last year, and I really wish they went back to it because [the dining hall] produces so much food waste,” DeLeon said. “Global warming is very real, so if we all do even a small thing like compost, it will make a huge difference.” 


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