Making sustainability second nature: An interview with Miami’s new Sustainability Coordinator

By: Archer K Hill II

First-year graduate student Kelsey Forren certainly has her hands full with her Master of Environmental Science degree coursework, her new puppy Winston and copious amounts of recycled batteries. The latter is due to her new role as the Sustainability Coordinator at Miami University. She agreed to give us a brief interview providing insight into her job and the sustainability efforts being undertaken across campus.

The Sustainability Coordinator—who works under Director of Sustainability Dr. Adam Sizemore—is a position held by a graduate student over a two-year period. The job’s remit is wide, and includes sitting on the sustainability committee, helping write sustainability reports, running campus recycling programs and increasing sustainability awareness among students. Not unlike a member of city government, the coordinator must wear many hats while pushing forward one mission. According to Ms. Forren, “A university is essentially run like a small city.” Given her area of study—Environmental Science with a focus on Sustainability and Urban Planning—and her career aspirations of working in city planning, she jumped at the job opportunity when offered.

As the role is varied, so are the day-to-day responsibilities. One of the most exciting projects Ms. Forren is currently working on is a campus carbon footprint report. A carbon footprint is “the amount of greenhouse gases and specifically carbon dioxide emitted by something (such as a person’s activities or a product’s manufacture and transport) during a given period.” This information is especially important given that Miami University is applying for a new sustainability stars ranking from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). The AASHE ranking is “a badge of honor in terms of marketing [Miami] as a sustainable campus,” says Ms. Forren. It takes into account various factors (sustainability course offerings, graduate program offerings, recycling efforts, carbon footprint, etc.) and is a great way of comparing Miami’s efforts to those of other academic institutions. The rankings are Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. Miami—previously awarded a Silver—is going for Gold in 2019.

To achieve a Gold ranking Miami has set six Sustainability Commitments and Goals (SCAG), one of which—to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 30 percent by 2020 (relative to FY 2008)—has already been met. Beyond lowering the university’s carbon footprint, Ms. Forren also wants to encourage more cross-campus collaboration, in a bid to educate students of the value of sustainability to their particular areas of study. As she puts it, “Sustainability isn’t just for natural science majors…it’s relevant to every single department on campus.” She hopes that students who learn this can take it and apply it in their careers, regardless of sector—creating a more sustainable future for all of us. “Sustainability needs to become more easily engrained without having to consciously think about…it should be second nature,” exclaims Ms. Forren, “That only comes with education and awareness.”

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