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Earth Week Share Fair(Loop) at DePaul University 

Area colleges and universities are thinking beyond Earth Day

by Zhiyu Wang
April 23, 2013

Some area colleges and universities are going beyond the usual annual Earth Day events that took place over the weekend to encourage students to engage in sustainable activities year-round.

“The key to Earth Week, is putting on events that broadly engage students and build awareness,” said Rob Whittier, director of the Office of Sustainability at Northwestern University. It’s important for students to walk away with an actionable lesson, he said.

One such lesson is the annual green pledge that launched last month, Whittier said. Students can pledge to simple behaviors, such as commit to turning off lights or to use reusable water bottles. Whittier’s office will send students email reminders of their pledge commitments. Students also can subscribe to the annual green pledge’s Facebook page, Twitter posts and newsletter.

Whittier said the eco-rep program started a year ago is a successful green program. He said eco-rep’s serve in residence halls, residence houses, fraternities and sororitieswith the responsibility to lead sustainability related programming and educate their peers about sustainable living. The campus has an estimated 40 eco-reps, Whittier said.

DePaul University gave out flash drives at its Earth Day “Loop Share Fair” to encourage students to switch from paper transcripts to electronic transcripts, an effort that was started a couple of years ago. The number of students using paper transcripts has decreased from 100 percent to 49 percent.

“If just a couple of students decide to use the electronic version versus a paper version of their transcript, that immediately helps the environment,” said Summer Brown, executive director of the Institute for Business and Professional Ethics at DePaul University.

DePaul also supports the campus Urban Farming Organization, that encourages students and faculty to learn about urban agriculture. Gus Chagares, an environmental health and safety specialist at DePaul, said the organization has around 15-20 members who are actively involved and a larger number of people who volunteer irregularly.

Food grown at the campus garden is donated to the community. The group also holds open houses at the beginning of growing season and sells herbs and plants on campus for affordable prices in order to increase its influence.

Roosevelt University students commemorated Earth Day Monday by transferring soil and plants onto the school’s new roof garden on its Wabash Ave. building on its Chicago campus. Vegetables in the new roof system will be used in the school’s dining center.

Students also will be creating their own garden in the community garden started last year on Roosevelt’s Schaumburg campus. This year the community garden has expanded from 12 to 29 10-by-10-foot plots.

In addition, students at the school are encouraged to recycle not just plastic and paper, but also metal and E-waste, such as computers, throughout the year. Students are asked to drop off their E-waste from home at recycle boxes on campus instead of waiting for community recycling programs, Mathews said.

Students are the main organizers of green campaigns at Loyola University, said Aaron Durnbaugh, sustainability director at Loyola University. His office provides assistance when students have difficulties, he said. This year student government at Loyola University voted to provide $50,000 to a Green Initiative fund, a new grant for students to implement sustainable projects. Durnbaugh said the sustainability office will help them decide how the money is used.

Those student-led efforts have garnered accolades for Loyola in the past. The school was the only university in Illinois listed among 53 colleges and universities across the country as Overall College Sustainability Leader by the College Sustainability Report Card for 2011, the last year the report card was published. The publication was suspended in 2012 when its grant expired.

Other Earth Day celebrations on Illinois campuses included a Twitter contest at Illinois State University that required students to tweet @SustainISU about their green action and a special symposium to answer questions about genetic engineering of plants by the University of Illinois Agroecology and Sustainable Agriculture Program. That program will be 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Illini Union and is free and open to the public.