For many entities on the UW-Madison campus—from departments and libraries to small offices—sustainability is high on the list of organizational goals. “Greening” a working space can save money, decrease environmental impact, and even make it more comfortable. The devil, however, is in the details. Gathering knowledge about best practices and training colleagues into putting those practices into place are tasks that require considerable time and dedication—which often means that they take a back seat to more urgent responsibilities.
Student interns at the Office of Sustainability serve as key facilitators in the transition to sustainable spaces on campus. Forming one half of the Office’s internship program, Green Office interns provide partners across campus with the resources they need to learn about sustainability, better understand the impacts of their practices, and create a more sustainable work environment. Among other locations, interns have worked with The Center for Leadership & Involvement (CfLI), UW Study Abroad – International Academic Programs, Morgridge Center for Public Service, College Library and WSUM 91.7 FM Madison Student Radio.
“What’s really great about the Green Office — and the Office of Sustainability in general — is that all avenues of interests are welcome to tailor their practices to make them more sustainable,” says Green Office team member Carolyn Hamburg. “We get to work with a variety of offices and departments to help them form connections with sustainability in their daily lives.”
The intern team collaborates with prospective partners by giving presentations and providing training to help them with their first level of Green Office certification. Once completed, partners can opt to receive further training and continue to expand their sustainability efforts toward higher degrees of certification. There are four levels offered:
- Seed Level educates employees about different waste collection practices on campus and provides the office with bins and clear signage.
- Sprout Level helps inform employees about how much energy is used in the office. The student interns engage the office in conservation by having them set goals for saving energy on a daily basis, such as by eliminating phantom energy by unplugging small appliances when they are not in use. The employees also learn to calculate the total watt-hours for their office using watt meters.
- Sapling Level looks at purchasing choices within the office and considers the 4Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rethink. The student interns then lead an activity where one item that is frequently purchased for the office is tracked from the manufacturing site to where it is distributed and sold.
- Tree Level focuses on the social pillar of sustainability by examining the connectedness of surrounding communities. To complete this final level, the office must develop a plan to become involved with another group or place in the campus or greater Madison community.
After completing the four levels of certification, a printed and digital logo is provided to the office along with recognition on the Office of Sustainability website.
Tim Lindstrom, Interim Student Programs Director, notes that there are currently over 16,000 faculty and staff at UW-Madison, who together could set the precedent for sustainability standards on campus.
“The University of Wisconsin-Madison has committed to sustainability, and our interns in the Green Office program work with numerous and diverse actors on our campus to ensure that we are practicing what we preach,” Lindstrom says. “The goal of the program is not to merely provide a checklist of practices. Rather, we wish to equip others with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that begin to create a cultural shift among the offices on our campus. In this way, those who participate in the Green Office program serve as leaders for those to come by ‘sustaining it forward’ and contributing to positive and lasting changes on our campus.”
Campus partners are encouraged to contact the Green Office team about initiating the certification process. Specific questions about the Green Office Certification Program or inquiries about starting the certification process can be addressed here: firstname.lastname@example.org.
By: Trina La Susa & Nathan Jandl