New sustainability manager eager to make progress

Matthew Muchna effectively blends social politics with environmental consciousness as the new sustainability manager for NAU’s Office of Sustainability, March 29.

Matthew Muchna has recently been hired as the new sustainability manager for the NAU Office of Sustainability. Muchna’s hiring follows the resignation of the previous sustainability manager, Ellen Vaughn, who accepted a new position at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Vaughn announced her resignation in an email sent Sept. 9, 2018.

A self-described outdoorsman, Muchna attributed his interest in sustainability to his time spent outdoors.

“I rock climb, trail run and mountain bike,” Muchna said. “I love hiking. I love the canyon.”

Muchna said he began cultivating his love for nature long before he took on the role of sustainability manager. While studying to obtain a master’s degree at NAU, he started to take interest in local environmental issues, like the gentrifying effects of the Rio de Flag.

“I began to look at how the Rio de Flag, which cuts through downtown and Southside, poses local environmental justice issues,” Muchna said. “The river cuts through that neighborhood in a way that prevents flooding in the more affluent parts of town.”

Muchna eventually became involved with the nonprofit organization Friends of the Rio de Flag as a project manager. He also made major contributions to the Southside neighborhood plan.

“I focused on how to bring people together from all different backgrounds and neighborhoods,” Muchna said. “The Southside neighborhood is very unique because it houses both students and local residents. This was causing some tension, and I was interested in discovering ways that those community members could live in symbiosis.”

It was the relationship between locals and students that piqued Muchna’s interest in working at NAU. Muchna said he wanted to work with the university to create sustainable options for the community.

Since becoming the sustainability manager in December, Muchna has set many goals for both himself and the Office of Sustainability. His first goal was to understand the nature of cooperation between the departments on campus that work in unison to create a more sustainable future. Among these departments is the Green Jacks, a student-led environmentally focused club.

“I have noticed that the Green Jacks and other environmental groups on campus have been working more in unison since Muchna took over,” said sophomore Breanna Fimbres, co-chair of the Green Jacks.

Muchna also plans to update the university’s Climate Action Plan, which was created in 2010 and last updated in 2015.

“Another goal is to create a new Climate Action Plan to reach carbon neutrality,” Muchna said. “It’s something that, globally, is an urgent issue and something we need to quickly address on campus.”

According to the current Climate Action Plan, the university planned to reach carbon neutrality by 2020. Muchna said this goal now appears to be unobtainable.

“It was a really audacious goal,” Muchna said. “NAU relied on a lot of emerging technologies that never emerged, so we were unable to reach that goal.”

Muchna suggested that NAU has already made great progress toward a sustainable future and said he hopes for continued progress in the coming years.

“Even though we’ve had growing enrollment, we’ve kept our emissions the same for ten years,” Muchna said. “But we need to reduce, which requires investment.”

Muchna said he believes that one feasible investment the university could make is in biomass technology. He said biomass technology can take natural resources, like tree limbs, and create renewable energy out of them. Tree limbs that can’t be used by local lumber companies could be acquired and converted to energy at a very low cost.

“My goal is neutrality,” Muchna said. “It’s going to take a lot of collaboration, investment and effort to get there.”

Muchna claims that students, faculty and staff already have the proper mindset to achieve this goal. He hopes he can use the eco-friendly culture already present on campus to create a more sustainable community.

“NAU attracts sustainable-minded folks,” Muchna said. “I think we have a huge opportunity considering our culture of care toward the environment. If we can engage more of that culture, there’s no telling what we can accomplish. It is important to recognize and give credit to the sustainability efforts that are already occurring on campus.”

Junior Alison Mae Dean, co-chair of the Green Jacks, said Muchna is remarkably outgoing and dedicated to his cause.

“His personality is contagious,” Dean said. “He’s a go-getter.”

Dean also said that she is satisfied with Muchna as the new coordinator. She said he’s brought more organization to environmental efforts on campus.

Muchna encouraged students to educate themselves on the issues they are passionate about and to get involved in making positive change. He said students who take initiative can have tremendous influence on the community.

“If you are curious about it, pursue it,” Muchna said.

Through student involvement, an updated climate action plan and further investments in sustainability, Muchna said he’s confident that NAU will make great strides towards carbon neutrality.