By: Shannon Reilly
Miami is expanding its sustainability team, and this year, an upper level graduate student in IES has taken on the role of Sustainability Coordinator. This is important in a time when campus-wide attention has put the spotlight on Miami’s responsibility to be green. Olivia Herron, a student in the combined bachelor’s and master’s program, is the new Sustainability Coordinator in an office of two people that have been given the critical but exciting responsibility of exploring what the future of sustainability could look like at Miami.
As Sustainability Coordinator, Herron is involved in several committees that link the students and administration to find green solutions that meet all demonstrated needs. She is the Green Team Co-President, a member of the University Sustainability Committee and co-Chair of the Student Sustainability Committee. Herron is also the owner of an adorable kitten that I played with while we talked about her background and perspective on sustainability at Miami.
Herron’s studies at Miami prepared her for the many roles she plays as part of the University’s staff. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Strategic Communication with co-majors in Sustainability and Food Studies. Herron said she was surprised how well the curriculum gave her the background she needed to understand the complex challenges of shaping policy at the University. To her, Miami’s sustainability classes gave insight into where the University could and should be headed in reducing its carbon footprint and overall environmental impact by supplying potential strategies to achieve these end goals. Strategic communication taught Herron other practical skills, such as how to reach students better through social media.
Outreach to students is one of the foremost goals of the office as they look to increase student engagement and awareness. One challenge Herron acknowledged is how many students aren’t familiar with the Sustainability Office at Miami, nor with the numerous committees working hard to find solutions to better our planet and University. For example, there is currently an ambitious Master Plan in progress with deadlines in 2026 that entails constructing a geothermal plant on Miami’s North Quad and a hot water plant on Central Quad. Both of these endeavors represent sustainable sources of energy. One of Herron’s goals is to increase outreach to inform students on what is happening, as well as receive more student input.
In light of the recent protests pushing President Crawford to sign the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments, Herron was excited to see such energy to better our University and be sustainable; however, she wants to stress that this agreement is not the only way for Miami to be a more environmentally friendly campus. The University is committed to reducing its carbon footprint and is trying to find the best plan. For example, other universities may claim to have net zero emissions targets, but that is because they buy expensive carbon offsets while not actually reducing their output of carbon. This therefore avoids the root of the problem. The money from carbon offsets usually goes toward green projects such as restoration, but offsets are just one method of reducing an institution’s carbon footprint.
Moreover, Miami has come a long way in sustainability in recent years. Since 2008, the University has decreased its electric consumption by gross square foot by 36 percent. This is an immense improvement, though it can seem slow because most students are only at the University for a few years and don’t get to see these changes through. This temporality can make Olivia’s position challenging, but at the same time, it makes it even more rewarding knowing that she is deciding the fate of the university. The Sustainability Coordinator position enables Herron to take part in a greater movement to help Miami be more energy efficient and mindful of the impact it and peer institutions have on the planet.
Miami’s Sustainability Week is taking place from Oct. 14 to Oct 19. This programming is a great opportunity to get to know what Miami is doing to be more sustainable through our campus organizations. Campus-wide change is slow and complex, so as students, it can be frustrating to see so much room for improvement. One way to address this is to be educated on what our University is already doing by engaging with offices such as the Sustainability Office and environmentally-geared campus organizations, as well as reducing our individual energy consumption here on campus.
For more information, visit Miami’s sustainability website to see the great steps forward Miami has taken in sustainability and learn about ways the University wants to improve.
Photo courtesy of Olivia Herron & cover photo courtesy of the Miami University Sustainability Office