The NAU Office of Sustainability works with various groups on campus to promote sustainable practices, whether it be through composting, recycling or lowering energy consumption. The 20 student workers who are involved with the office work hard to promote sustainability around campus.
The Office of Sustainability has six main programs. These include Green Jacks, the Green Fund, the Environmental Caucus and its action teams, the Coordinating Committee for Sustainability, various conservation programs and the Academic Sustainability Committee.
Green Jacks is the student sustainability club on NAU’s campus. Junior Breanna Fimbres is the Green Jacks chair. Fimbres, who studies geographical science and community planning, said students have the potential to make a big difference in sustainability.
“I’m the first student gateway for sustainability, and I know that you just have to get involved to make a change in our community,” Fimbres said.
The NAU Green Fund is a student organization within the Office of Sustainability that solicits proposals for projects regarding campus sustainability. The Office of Sustainability allows anyone to submit a proposal to the NAU Green Fund, as long as it adheres to the sustainability and education guidelines. The Green Fund receives its project budget from the Green Fee, a fee paid by all students each year. The Green Fund is the only organization within the Office of Sustainability to have a dedicated project budget, and community members are encouraged to submit project proposals year-round.
NAU project manager Andrew Iacona is the Office of Sustainability project manager. When former sustainability manager Ellen Vaughan left campus September 2018, the Office of Sustainability fell into disarray, Iacona said. In an attempt to get campus sustainability back on track, the planning, design and construction branches of NAU’s Facility Services put Iacona on a special assignment to support the incoming sustainability manager, Matthew Muchna.
Currently, Iacona and the Office of Sustainability are focused on creating a new, more implementable Climate Action Plan. Past plans were more aspirational, and therefore less effective, Iacona said. In addition, the office strives to create a better system for updating the plan in a timely manner.
“All of our past action plans have only been revisited every five years, but we are going to check up on this one every six months, if not sooner, and adjust accordingly,” Iacona said. “Carbon neutrality cannot be achieved overnight, so this will be a long-term, multi-year effort.”
The Environmental Caucus is a community environmental forum within the Office of Sustainability that meets monthly. It has five action teams, which include transport, energy, waste, landscape and environmental justice. The Office of Sustainability plans to create more programs in the future to include other areas affected by climate change. Caucus meetings are open to the public, and it will be one of the main oversight committees for the Climate Action Plan.
NAU’s Coordinating Committee for Sustainability is responsible for representing and communicating sustainability across campus. With monthly executive meetings, this group works to procure administrative support for the Office of Sustainability’s various initiatives.
“The Coordinating Committee for Sustainability, or CoCoSus, is our most important conduit of information to and from administration,” Iacona said. “Without them, we would not have the support needed to get our projects off the ground.”
The Office of Sustainability also supervises conservation programs, such as the Sustainable Ambassadors, the Energy Mentors and the Green Office Certification program.
The Sustainable Ambassador program is a student-focused group that gives students an opportunity to learn the fundamentals of sustainability. According to the Office of Sustainability, the program is designed to prepare students to take on sustainability challenges as individuals, community members and professionals.
“We are hoping to establish a badging process for the Sustainable Ambassador program to make it even more official,” Muchna said. Currently, students who complete the program become certified sustainable ambassadors and receive a certificate of completion.
Similar to the Sustainable Ambassadors, the Energy Mentors are staff and faculty members who encourage their coworkers to adopt more sustainable energy habits. These mentors act as a voice for sustainability on campus, promoting energy conservation in their departments and other shared spaces.
For staff members who want to work in a more sustainable environment, NAU offers a Green Office Certification Program. This program is focused on all offices on campus, whether it be one professor’s cubicle or an entire building. Student workers enter these offices to evaluate the sustainability level of the space and then suggest options to further minimize the office’s environmental impact, such as recycling or unplugging electronics when not in use.
The Academic Sustainability Committee is composed of faculty members who work alongside the Office of Sustainability to incorporate sustainability into student curricula. Although this committee is currently inactive, the Office of Sustainability is working to recruit new members.
In the coming months, Muchna said community input will be exceedingly valuable, and everyone is encouraged to attend public work sessions and climate action forums. The Office of Sustainability strives to obtain student and faculty input regarding all aspects of campus sustainability. Muchna said this input will be essential for creating a more engaging and effective Climate Action Plan.
Iacona said the Office of Sustainability encourages anyone and everyone to speak up and get involved with climate action. There are numerous opportunities for students and faculty to learn about and promote sustainability on campus. By getting involved with the Office of Sustainability, people can help NAU move toward a more sustainable future.