Sustainability program without manager

The greenhouse is one of NAU's many sustainability initiatives. However, with the Director of Sustainability leaving, the future of the position and sustainability projects around campus is unknown, Sept. 16.

As of Oct. 9, NAU Sustainability Manager Ellen Vaughan no longer works for NAU as she takes her career to University of California Santa Cruz as their new water and climate manager.

Vaughan has spent the past few years overseeing multiple aspects that go into sustainability, and formed a sustainability program that includes students and faculty, known as the Sustainable Citizen Program.

While her resignation is moving her toward a new school and job, many people at NAU who have worked with Vaughan are worried about her departure and what will be done with her open seat.

Caitlyn Burford, chair of the Environmental Caucus, shared these fears and worries concerning the future of NAU’s sustainability program.

“Over the last four years there’s been a lot of loss of positions related to sustainability on campus ... and what’s happen is they’ve sort of been lost and never been refilled, and so we’ve lost a lot of funding and support for people to do this as a part of their jobs. So as a result, people like me are asked to do it in our volunteer time, and there’s only so many times you can do that,” said Burford.

Burford praised Vaughn for all the work she has done over the past few years while fighting budget cuts and a lack of support, but worries that her absence will cause much of that work to come undone.

Emerald McCormick, a senior political science and environmental science double major, shared the same concerns and fears as Burford.

McCormick works as the Green Fund Chair and Conservation Manger in the Office of Sustainability, and is responsible for overseeing aspects, leading events, deciding the placement of recycling bins and more.

“I am concerned because Ellen was such a unique person, and she was just so special in that position and had the ability to inspire everyone around her to work on sustainability. So I’m worried that her influence is leaving,” said McCormick.

McCormick feared the centralized Office of Sustainability will be dissolved by NAU, leaving other departments to pick up the slack and nobody around to provide planning, direction and leadership.

“It worries me because I know everyone’s so busy on this campus, and I can’t imagine there being enough time for other employees to pick up the work Ellen was doing,” McCormick said.

While friends and coworkers are worried about her leaving, Vaughan isn’t concerned about her spot being left open.

She stated that her role not being filled wouldn’t be logical, as her job is so important to students and staff who have high expectations of sustainability.

“I’m not worried, NAU wouldn’t drop the ball on something as easy and essential as one full-time employee working on outreach,” said Vaughan.

She said working here has led her to meet amazing people, and it has made it one of her favorite aspects of being at NAU. She has met countless students and staff that inspired her everyday.

However, Vaughan also dealt with her fair deal of issues with working in the sustainability department, including many recent budget cuts.

“With state budget crunches, almost every department is taxed. There are so many priorities that we all have to juggle to get our job done with limited resources,” Vaughan said. “Regardless of resource constraints, I’ve worked with so many rock-star teams across campus whose supervisors have reached out to the Office of Sustainability. They have also used their own initiative to find easy, free ways to incorporate sustainability into their job descriptions and the culture of their departments and offices.”

Having overcome these challenges, she is also confident that the university will be able to meet its sustainability goals and maintain them for decades to come.

She said with the $10 Green Fund Fee to the Arizona Board of Regents, NAU will be able to hire an energy manager who will have resources to bring to NAU, such as conservation and education programs along with other projects.

NAU has not announced whether or not they intend to hire a new sustainability manager in Vaughan’s place.