‘We’re not moving quickly enough’

Students say campus sustainability efforts are lacking

More stories from Ta'Leah Van Sistine

Life in the city
December 8, 2021

The composting sites in the Davies Student Center and water bottle-filling stations throughout university buildings give the impression that UW-Eau Claire is a sustainable campus.

Student leaders and members of sustainability organizations, however, argue that not enough is being done to create and improve campus sustainability initiatives.

“There’s a lot of opportunities here, but we’re not moving quickly enough,” Lauren Becker, the director of the Student Office of Sustainability, said.

Becker was a member of the Sustainability and Climate Action Task Force that gave Chancellor James C. Schmidt a list of recommendations in May 2020, regarding how UW-Eau Claire can expand its sustainability efforts. 

One recommendation was to model specific sustainability and climate action practices across campus and another was to establish a sustainability coordinator.

Becker said she isn’t speaking on behalf of the entire task force, but she personally believes there has been a lack of administrative oversight of the task force because there isn’t a sustainability coordinator.

She said there have been multiple people at UW-Eau Claire who have been hired for an administrative position and who’ve also been asked to take on the sustainability coordinator role.

Some of the coordinator’s duties would include creating and enforcing sustainability initiatives, but Becker said the sustainability efforts often then get pushed to the side because these individuals end up with two full-time jobs.

Now, almost a year after the Sustainability and Climate Action Task Force made their recommendations, Becker said the burden of advocating for campus sustainability efforts is still on students.

“You have Blugolds who give a damn,” Becker said. “They do the work that needs to be done because it needs to be done.”

Hanna Dockter, who is student supervisor for Students Encouraging Environmental Deeds, said sustainability setbacks from the COVID-19 pandemic are also concerning.

She said she appreciates that the university gave on-campus students reusable clamshells this year, so they could safely bring food from Hilltop Market to their dorm rooms.

However, she said she wishes UW-Eau Claire would have given students their own reusable silverware at the start of the fall semester to help decrease the waste students are producing.

Leah Woodward, a second-year English critical studies student, is involved with the UW-Divestment Coalition — a student organization that calls for UW schools to divest in fossil fuels.

Similar to Becker and Dockter, Woodward also thinks UW-Eau Claire hasn’t done enough to improve their sustainability efforts, as “There’s still no composting on upper campus and in the residence halls.”

Davies has several areas where people can compost items, but there are none on upper campus.

Now — a year since the Sustainability and Climate Action Task Force made its initial recommendations — Woodward said students are more worried about the university’s sustainability efforts because of the construction of the Sonnentag Complex.

The Complex is said to become the “largest indoor event venue in northwestern Wisconsin.”

“I’ve seen people worried about how that complex is going to fit into our climate goals,” Woodward said. “Is it going to be sustainably built or is it going to have solar panels?”

Even beyond the complex, Woodward said environmental and sustainability concerns should be topics that administrators and students, alike, think more about.

“The climate crisis is getting worse and worse every year,” Woodward said. “We have to think about that more and more.”

Van Sistine can be reached at [email protected]