In June 2020, the Office of Sustainability (OS) undergraduate intern program will welcome its newest cohort of undergraduate student employees. Alongside several veteran interns who are returning for a second year, the new interns will spend the next 10 weeks in a “crash course” on sustainability. From visiting the Charter Street Heating & Cooling plant and the Dane County Landfill to digging up worms at the Farley Center, interns will receive an introduction to the many domains of sustainability, both on campus and in the community.
After spending the summer building their knowledge and skills, students will leverage what they have learned by consulting with campus partners. When the fall semester starts, they will collaborate on several teams to raise awareness and promote sustainability across campus.
Things were a little different when I joined the intern program in 2017, as there were only two student teams: Waste and Recycling, and Green Office. The former focused on waste audits and bin signage, while the latter targeted employee behaviors in the workplace.
The Office of Sustainability now boasts roughly fifteen members and six intern teams. For the spring semester, we’ll be running four “green certification” programs, which complement the work done by the Communications team and Green Allies Coalition. As we launch into the new decade, I wanted to reflect on the progress of our sustainability certifications.
Interested in applying for our intern program? We’re hiring for our next cohort; applications are due February 23, 2020!
As the flagship certification program for the Office of Sustainability, the Green Office program has undergone several iterations on the way to its current structure. Today, it comprises a guided three-step process that trains employees in more sustainable behaviors. An office begins at the Bronze level by studying how to reduce the impact of waste and recycling on campus. The Silver level involves sustainable energy and water habits. Finally, offices can complete the Gold level by learning about purchasing and the value of community engagement. At each level, participants can also opt to engage in additional opportunities. Whether it’s starting an office composting program, undergoing an energy audit with our interns, or volunteering in the community, participants are encouraged to deepen their connection to sustainability.
Over the past two years, our Green Office interns have engaged with 85 different offices and departments around campus. Many clients are still working their way through the program, but six different offices have been certified to date. This includes the DeLuca Biochemistry department at the Platinum level, and our very own Office of Sustainability at Gold. To become a certified Green Office, reach out to the Green Office interns.
Initiated by some eager students who had run a successful zero waste pilot program, the Green Events team now aims to reduce the impact of events across campus. Green Event interns collaborate with event planners to minimize waste, identify sustainable catering options, and support alternative transportation, regardless of the event focus or size.
The Green Events team has consulted with over 20 different events to improve sustainable practices, and has officially certified 10 events in total. Most notably, this team has partnered with the Nelson Institute Earth Day Conference to create a zero-waste conference. As defined by the sustainability industry, a zero-waste event has to achieve at least a 90% diversion rate from the landfill. In other words, this means that over 90% of the waste from the conference must be reused, recycled, or composted. In the first year of this partnership, the Earth Day conference succeeded with a 96% diversion rate. In 2019, the Green Events team helped to raise the rate to almost 99%—a tough number to top for the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day this year! If you plan to host an event on campus this semester, please view these tips.
Lab equipment can account for more than 50% of the energy use in a laboratory space, which is something the Green Labs team seeks to change. Labs can also produce significant amounts of waste in their operations. By shifting behaviors and exploring purchasing options, both research and academic laboratories can operate more effectively and sustainably.
As the first certified Green Lab, the RARC Animal Training Lab has taken steps to safely reuse cages and lids, introduce composting to their building, and participate in a building-wide lab equipment exchange program. Meanwhile, the USDA Breeding and Genetics Lab in the Horticulture department has committed to a lab energy audit, expanded their recycling streams, and invested in more sustainable lab equipment like refillable pipette tips that are shipped in bulk packaging.
The Green Labs team is currently working with six other labs to promote more sustainable practices. To learn more about the Green Labs process and find additional resources, visit the Green Labs page.
Greek life organizations generally include philanthropy, personal and professional development, and meaningful relationships as some of their core values. Members of our intern teams have also been part of Greek life, which has allowed our office to engage more meaningfully with the Greek community on campus. As a result of this overlap, the Green Greeks program now focuses on shifting the Greek culture at UW-Madison to incorporate sustainability into their organizational priorities.
Multiple chapters have committed to installing LED lighting, revamping their waste management systems, and implementing meatless meals at least once a week in their chapter houses. This past year, the Kappa Alpha Theta and Delta Gamma sororities were certified as Green Chapters for their efforts. To support clothing reuse and shopping local, Kappa Alpha Theta partnered with ReThreads Clothing to offer a discount to Greek members that wore their letters to the store. On top of community engagement, Kappa Alpha Theta has promoted responsible waste practices throughout the house, including composting and pairing each trash bin with a recycling bin. The Delta Gamma sorority has also exemplified responsible waste management, in addition to committing to review their HVAC system and pursuing composting in the future. The Green Greeks are also consulting with Alpha Xi Delta and conducting a walk-through of the Psi Upsilon house—the first fraternity to engage with this program.
By working with different sororities and fraternities, the Green Greeks hope to grow the program through word-of-mouth to support an overall culture shift. If you are interested in learning more, or becoming a Sustainability Ambassador for your Greek organization, please contact the Green Greeks team.
By: Ally Burg