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18

19

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

was paying

much attention,

sustainable

living practices

have crept

into our

daily lives—

at home, at

work and

at school.

T

B

REUSE

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

students themselves?

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

(sustainability) issues.”

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.”