There are thousands of colleges and universities with millions of students across the United States. With that many people in one location, it can be hard to keep the school as eco-friendly as possible. Students come from different backgrounds and bring their experiences and lifestyles to campus with them. Rules vary from state to state, which means one person's idea of "green" may differ from another's. However, with eco-representatives on campus, academics can learn how to live environmentally friendly.
What are eco-reps?
Eco-educators come with various titles depending on what organization they're part of: the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education's Eco-Reps, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's EcoAmbassadors or the National Wildlife Federation's EcoLeaders. No matter what you call them, they all have the same goal – to create a healthier, more sustainable planet.
Through working with campus administration and environmental agencies, students seek to educate their peers about the issues facing the Earth today and implement projects that promote sustainable goals, the EPA explained. Eco-reps may work alone or in teams to bring eco-friendly programs and events to the school. They can supplement sustainable measures already on campus or bring in new ones. Ultimately, they must know their audience and how to best get other students involved.
How can schools start a program?
The best first step is to do research. The EPA, the AASHE and the NWF's programs are only a few of the myriad out there. Each of them has different processes and methods to go about starting your own project. Some may involve the entire campus getting involved, while others allow a single person to take on a task.
The EPA provides a list of activities – from energy efficiency to sun safety – to choose from and suggests an expected time commitment for each. Individuals who wish to become EcoAmbassadors must register their names and chosen activity on the program's website. From there, students follow the guidelines that the EPA supplies for each project.
If students and administration want to create a campus-wide program, they may find the work a little more in-depth. There are several steps that the AASHE recommended to establish a sustainability outreach program.
- Design your program – You'll need to know who your audience is. Do you need to get your message to administrators, students or both? To get the best support for your organization, recruit members from all levels to provide input about goals, the vision and projects. You should brainstorm ways to get funding and campus-wide backing.
- Establish yourself on campus – You won't be able to succeed without continued support from other students and faculty. You'll have to hold events, sign up more participants, set goals for the campus and market your program to the school. Working alongside other departments and organizations will help you get the awareness you need.
- Evaluate – While implementing a sustainability program is the main goal, you won't know if it's working without a method to measure its success. You'll need to determine what you'll be keeping track of and how. Will you look at student attendance at events, utility reductions or the number of students and departments with access to eco-reps? Will you ask for quarterly reports about energy usage or use surveys to gather information? These metrics may vary depending on the project your participating in, but you should establish methodology to determine achievements.
- Adjust – Are you not getting the attendance, participation or changes you desire? This is your chance to change outcomes. Once you've established an evaluation system, you'll be able to see what's working and what's not. From there, you can modify your methods to increase their success rates.
What kind of projects can you work on?
There is always room for environmental improvement on college and university campuses, which means students have plenty of projects to choose from. They can pick an area of sustainability that they are passionate about and go from there. Do they want to reduce the amount of waste the campus produces? Is maintenance using pesticides and fertilizers that are harmful to both humans and wildlife? Do they think too much energy is being used throughout college facilities? With so much happening daily on campuses, eco-reps will discover various projects to work on.
The EPA has many suggestions for students looking to get involved in the sustainability of their colleges or universities. Fix a Leak Week promotes awareness of water usage on campus, encourages water-efficient choices and implements methods of reducing waste on campus. The Energy Star Benchmarking Project tracks the energy usage of the school's buildings to reduce greenhouse gases, educates students about how energy use affects the environment and improves efficiency. The Design for the Environment Event educates students and faculty about the potential dangers of the products we use regularly, such as cleaning solutions.
There are plenty of ways for colleges and universities to get eco-reps involved on their sustainability efforts, from an established program to creating one of their own. With the countless activities that occur on campuses, there are plenty of opportunities to green the school.