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The State of Sustainability

On February 18, students gathered to learn about sustainability projects on campus. Representatives from sustainNU, the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN), and ASG shared the status of sustainability projects.

Kathia Benitez, sustainability director, discussed the new Lucid BuildingOS system being rolled out by sustainNU. The system will provide real-time monitoring of energy and water usage across all campus buildings.

Jeff Henderson, associate director of ISEN, discussed research and academic opportunities available for students, including the ISEN certificate and the development of a master’s in sustainability program.

Juan Zuniga, ASG vice president for sustainability, presented current projects, from Greek house composting to a student-organized energy audit of a campus building. And, Sarah Levesque, sustainability manager, Northwestern Dining, unveiled the new Wellness and Sustainability blog and discussed increased composting efforts in Norris.

Students engaged in an activity examining their lifestyle and identifying areas where they could be more sustainable. Many students recognized they could make changes by composting and eating less meat. Students also acknowledged the potential to reduce single-use plastic waste by carrying reusable items like utensils and a water bottle.

Junior Tess Russell said, “I realized that even though I’m studying environmental engineering and think about these things daily, sometimes even I can become blind to what I’m not doing sustainably. The event was a good reminder not to go on auto-pilot.”

Students engaged in a dialogue, asking questions about sustainability funding, energy efficiency projects, and the new dining service. In a feedback survey, attendees shared an appreciation for the transparency from the departments and the updates on projects but wanted to learn more about how to support programs like sustainNU.

The goal of the meeting was for students to prioritize sustainability in their lives and understand the connection to what Northwestern is doing.

“Sustainability at Northwestern is not a stand-alone effort. It is a collective mission. We all need to take responsibility and consider our actions. The goal of the self-reflective activity was to bring awareness to our behaviors and actions, and evaluate how we could respond differently to make an impact. The goal is for all to engage with our environment with a greater sense of personal accountability,” said Benitez.

Senior Emily Zaniker said, “It was helpful to have knowledgeable people answer my questions. Listening to other students talk about their sustainable practices helped me understand how I can be eco-friendlier in my day to day life.”

Learn more about Northwestern’s sustainability objectives in the Strategic Sustainability Plan.