Sustainable Ambitions: Sam Schiller


Sam Schiller's goal was to change the world — he just wasn't sure how.

Since his graduation from high school in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a multiethnic city just east of Cleveland, Schiller had wanted to pursue a career in social policy.

An environmental anthropology class at Northwestern gave that dream new direction. In that class, Schiller watched a film called The End of Suburbia, which shows that access to cheap fossil fuels fostered the development of modern society and its consequent problems.

"The film sent a frightening message, illustrating the consequences we will confront as the overuse of these fossil fuel resources accelerates global warming," Schiller says.

He started by making connections with other students and formed Grassroots Organization for Progress. The group negotiated with the University Budget Priorities Committee to include an environmental sustainability poll in a larger survey about what most concerned Northwestern students.

"The survey came back and revealed that students indicated that environmental sustainability was the second-highest priority," Schiller says.

Schiller's group proposed then proposed an outline of initiatives to UBPC that included suggestions for purchasing new Toyota Prius hybrid vehicles to replace SafeRide's fleet of Chevrolet cars and vans and updating University buildings with more energy-efficient infrastructure, including retrofitting older buildings with enhanced lighting and installing motion sensors on lights and low-flow plumbing fixtures in residence halls. They also proposed the creation of a sustainability committee and addition of a University staff member dedicated to these sustainability issues.

Less than a year later, nearly all of those objectives were achieved. The newly created Sustainability Working Group, made up of students, faculty and administrators, now helps coordinate environmental initiatives on campus, partnering with organizations such as Students for Ecological and Environmental Development and helping to launch the Group Residence for Environmental Engagement at Northwestern House, a new SEED-sponsored environmentally friendly residence housed in the former Transfer House on north campus.

Schiller also started Environmental Campus Outreach at Hillel, a Jewish group on campus. ECO collaborates with other environmentally conscious groups to hold firesides in each of the campus residences during the annual Green Cup resource conservation competition.

ECO members seek to bring environmental issues into many facets of life on campus. Notably, Schiller and ECO discovered that many theater groups on campus used a vast quantity of tape to hold wiring down during every theatrical production.

ECO petitioned the Associated Student Government to allocate funds to purchase reusable rubber mats to cover the wires, saving theater groups more than $1,000 annually. ECO has continued to work with the theater community, using revenue earned through its ink cartridge recycling program to establish a grant that funds environmentally friendly theater productions. The organization awarded three grants during spring quarter.

His environmental consciousness earned Schiller a Morris K. Udall Scholarship for students interested in careers in environmental policy. Schiller joined Wabashco, a renewable energy startup in Chicago, in April. He is interested in working through the private, public and nonprofit sectors to build a green, carbon-free economy.

— Fathima Khan (WCAS09)