In the recesses of Dana Dining Hall, Linda Dixon
has been making these St. Lawrence’s iconic Pub
Cookies for 37 years, and for now she’s bee.
While no one
at home, at
all of the initiatives that the University was taking and planned
to take in order to become a more sustainable campus, from
LEED-certified buildings to enacting an Environmental Action
Plan to signing the American College and University Presidents
Climate Commitment. A year prior to its publication, the Uni-
versity had also hired its first sustainability coordinator, Louise
Gava ’07, who remains at St. Lawrence today (see her thoughts
on sustainability on page 27.).
Within months of that publication, however, the country
stared down a financial and economic crisis unlike any since the
days of the Great Depression. While the summer of 2008 had
seen record energy and raw material costs, the financial panic
just six months later caused commodity prices to plummet.
he buzz surrounding the sustainability movement
may have quieted since the late 2000s, but the efforts seemingly
have not. While no one was paying much attention, sustainable
living practices have crept into our daily lives—at home, at work
and at school. Meanwhile, the young adults who grew up recy-
cling, turning off their lights and walking or biking places rather
than always driving brought these habits to St. Lawrence and be-
gan normalizing those same sustainable practices on campus.
A broad definition of “culture” is when attitudes, customs or
beliefs are transmitted from one generation to the next. The ef-
forts that had gone into promoting better sustainable living hab-
its had, in fact, begun rubbing off onto our children.
Like many changes that affect our society, the concept of sus-
tainability began at colleges and universities. Faculty interested in
environmental and conservation issues and who conduct research
in these fields were witnessing, documenting and publishing
reports on the causes and effects of climate change and the im-
pacts of our consumer habits on our environment. Students also
helped change the discourse on sustainability from something
that was (and remains) politically charged to something that
seems—to them at least—completely normal. Throwing sheets
of paper and aluminum cans into the garbage rather than the
recycling bin appears just as repugnant to the environmentally-
conscious student as dumping toxic chemicals into the ground
and local waterways seems to older generations.
Today, St. Lawrence University students are actively advocat-
ing for environmentally friendly solutions, from carrying water
bottles to eliminating pesticides to divesting the University’s in-
vestments in fossil fuels. They also demand that academics be
in line with their sustainable ways of thinking. The Adirondack
Semester—an intensive semester spent deep in the wilderness
of the Adirondacks—is so popular that the program has to turn
away students. In spring 2013, the Sustainability Semester be-
gan its inaugural term, giving students the chance to live and
learn on a nearby farmstead and intern at companies and orga-
nizations committed to environmentally just solutions.
ut it’s not just in special off-campus programs
where St. Lawrence has infused sustainability into its curriculum.
This change in thinking has become systemic. Starting with the
Class of 2017, every St. Lawrence student will have to take at
least one environmental literacy course in order to meet the Uni-
versity’s graduation requirements. These courses’ learning goals
dictate that students must, according to the St. Lawrence Catalog,
“demonstrate an understanding of the consequences of human ac-
tivities on natural systems; an awareness of the cultural, economic
and political forces that affect environmental policies; and an un-
derstanding of natural systems and the impacts they can have on
the environment, human life, health and welfare.”
Jessica Prody is an assistant professor of per-
formance and communication arts (PCA). She
teaches Environmental Communication, a
course in which students learn how people talk
about issues related to the environment.
“The course examines our behaviors about
and toward environmental policies as well as
the ethical implications of those same policies,”
says Prody, who also teaches courses in rheto-
ric. “We’re never going to get society to solve its
environmental problems unless we get people
to talk about them.”
There’s a debate, Prody says, about who gets
to speak about sustainability and from whose
point of view environmental issues are dis-
cussed. “There are ethical issues at stake, such
as food justice, social justice and how humans
have to live with climate change,” she explains.
And because it’s a science course that comes
from a humanities perspective, it tends to be
extremely popular with St. Lawrence students.
“There are a lot of students interested in en-
vironmental issues—students in global studies,
PCA majors, English, history, and so on,” she
says. “These same students may be intimidated
by science courses. So this is a way for them to learn and talk
about an issue they think they should know more about. It’s a
way for them to enter into the conversation and be more com-
fortable talking about it.”
Prody’s course also happens to be one of about 90 that St. Law-
rence classifies as a “sustainability course.” These courses meet
the societal, economic and environmental challenges of sustain-
ability while also conveying skills to address those challenges.
Today, 19 of St. Lawrence’s 26 academic departments offer at
least one sustainability course, and 10 academic departments
have faculty who are actively engaged in sustainability research
(see sidebar on page 26 for examples).
Despite the widespread change in attitudes toward sustain-
ability and environmentally friendly living habits, especially
with younger generations, there’s still work that needs to be
done. And who better to teach students about these issues than
The Environmental Action Organization, or EAO, is a stu-
dent-led group of individuals who not only care about issues
of the environment and sustainability but also look for ways
to address environmental concerns on campus.
Margot Nitschke ’16 of Rochester, New York, says that
while students may look the part, they don’t always think
and act with environmental sustainability in mind.
“The campus dresses like we’re all sustainability-minded.
People look ‘crunchy’ in their Carhartts and Bean Boots be-
cause looking ‘sustainable’ is actually a way to look cool on
campus,” Margot says. “But, while they may
talk the talk, they don’t always walk the walk.”
Gwyneth Buchanan ’16 grew up in Bur-
lington, Vermont. For her and her family,
recycling and eating organic food was a nor-
mal part of daily life.
“But coming to college, I realized that
these things don’t always occur to everyone,”
she says. “People bring other lifestyles with
them. It’s one of the reasons I joined EAO,
so I could help be that go-between for stu-
dents. And even if they don’t change their
ways, at least they’re becoming mindful of
EAO members don’t only teach students
about sustainability concepts. They are also
working hard to get students to change their
ingrained behaviors. This year, through a
University Innovation Grant, EAO helped
facilitate the adoption of green clamshell
to-go boxes that students could use to get
their meals from Dana Dining Center. Stu-
dents can buy a box for $5, turn it in for
cleaning and receive a clean one in return
for their next meal.
Last year, EAO received a small grant from the New York
State Pollution Prevention Institute to develop an aware-
ness campaign over the use of bottled water. And the group
is looking into selling silverware that students can keep in
their backpacks rather than using plastic.
“These all might seem like small things, but we feel they
add up to a lot in the end,” Margot says.
Gwyneth is hopeful. “I believe that in order to change
things globally, we have to start with the things we care
about and that are important to us,” she says. “I have faith
in our students and in our University.”
“If St. Lawrence markets itself as a green institution, then it’s
going to bring in more students who are green-minded,” Gwyn-
eth says. “More students who care about environmental issues
will mean more change in that direction for the University.”
D vid Murphy, assistant professor of environmental studies, recently
brought students in his Renewable Energy course to Curran Renewable
Energy, a wood pellet fuel-maker in Massena. They took samples back
to their campus laboratory, where they measured the energy density
of different wood pellets. “This is a hands-on course; students get to
play around with the technology,” Murphy says. “We do a lot of critical
thinking about issues, and ask questions about current practices.”