Coalition building to create university-wide change
Two years ago, we formed the Rutgers Sustainability Coalition, a student-led group of representatives from about 20 student organizations working together to address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. We began bridging the gaps between the various groups around campus working in sustainability by facilitating partnerships, increasing collaboration, and sharing resources. The coalition served as a central organization through which other groups on campus could advertise upcoming events, recruit members and volunteers, and spread the message about their own initiatives. However, it soon became apparent that the coalition could be a force for greater change on campus. Over the past two years, we have helped host sustainability symposiums on all three Rutgers campuses, co-sponsored speakers and talks around the university, and have collaborated with faculty to develop a new Rutgers sustainability website. The information for the website is also being compiled to submit the first ever Rutgers University AASHE STARS report.
Our flagship initiative has been our proposal for the Rutgers Office of Sustainability and Engagement, developed in collaboration with the faculty-led Sustainability Committee. We pursued several avenues of advocacy, including reaching out to faculty and students, organizing sustainability symposiums, submitting our proposal to the Rutgers Foundation “Big Idea Challenge”, working with the University Senate, reaching out to the state, and meeting with our university chancellors and deans. This two years of work builds on two previous attempts to establish more environmentally focused Offices of Sustainability at Rutgers. The third time was the charm, and the Rutgers chancellors are now supporting the creation of the Rutgers Office of Sustainability and Engagement, to address all aspects of sustainability at Rutgers. The Rutgers Sustainability Coalition has been a model for interdisciplinary collaboration across campus, and has served as a place for student leaders from around the university to come together under a single banner and advocate for change.
Sustainability at Rutgers The 17 United Nations Sustainable Development goals give us the blueprint to address the world’s most pressing issues, from poverty and hunger to climate change, in order to protect our people and our planet, today, and well into the future. The UN SDGs approach problems of sustainability from an interdisciplinary and diverse perspective; therefore, in order to champion the SDGs and effect broad change, we need people from a myriad of backgrounds and levels of expertise. Rutgers University in New Jersey has the potential to make great contributions to global efforts in sustainability. It is home to 70,876 students from all over the world spread across 29 different schools and three cities. While we have made a lot of progress in sustainability, our efforts have been siloed at both the university and student levels. Historically, work in sustainability at Rutgers would be conducted individually and within single labs, and there was not a lot of communication between different groups on campus. This resulted in scenarios where one might begin a new initiative on campus only to discover months later that the same initiative was started in a different department or lab or student organization. As the land-grant university of New Jersey, Rutgers university has an obligation to work for the betterment of the greater New Jersey community: work that, by its very nature, will include sustainability. This sentiment has also been echoed in the University Strategic Plan. Yet, Rutgers stands as one of only two schools in the Big 10 without an Office of Sustainability to coordinate and direct sustainable work on campus.
The Rutgers Faculty Sustainability Committee In 2005, Rutgers University founded a faculty Sustainability Committee to work on making the campus greener and more environmentally conscious. As such, the vast majority of the committee’s work has revolved around energy usage, facilities, food and waste management, etc. Over the past decade or so, the Sustainability Committee has tried twice to found an Office of Sustainability at Rutgers. Because of the nature of their work, both proposals focused on solely on the environmental work the office could coordinate. Unfortunately, both attempts were unsuccessful and could not garner enough support from the administration. Then, in 2016, the faculty Sustainability Committee changed gear. They held the first RU Sustainable symposium, a coming together of faculty, students, and administrators to have a discussion about sustainability and future action plans on campus. The symposium recognized the need for increased communication and collaboration between the various departments and groups around the university, and from it was born the Rutgers Sustainability Coalition.
The Rutgers Sustainability Coalition We created the Rutgers Sustainability Coalition, a group of student representatives from about 20 student organizations, in the fall of 2017 to address the lack of coordination between student groups in social, economic and environmental sustainability. With the publication of the UN SDGs, we were provided a framework for the various initiatives on campus, and a banner to rally under. Additionally, the UN SDGs expanded sustainability to encompass issues beyond environmentalism, and as such, the coalition grew to include not just organizations like Students for Environmental Awareness, but also Engineers Without Borders and Enactus, a social entrepreneurship organization. The Coalition served as hub for student activity in sustainability. Through the Coalition, we were able to share information about the work we were doing, exchange contacts and resources, and even recruit each other as members of our projects. Even more importantly, the Coalition served as a center for interdisciplinary work in sustainability. By calling representatives from a variety of student organizations, the Coalition was able to enlist environmental scientists, microbiologists, engineers, business students, economists, and more. With our diverse and motivated membership, and our large pool of collective resources, we were able to use the Coalition as a platform for change around the university, specifically for change that we could not effect within our own individual organizations. We collaborated with the faculty Sustainability Committee to hold more sustainability symposiums and talks around campus. We collected information about ongoing initiatives on campus and helped design a new sustainability website for the university. The Coalition has also spearheaded the data collection for the first AASHE STARS report for Rutgers University. We have begun working with Rutgers Dining Services, the Rutgers Department of Transportation (because Rutgers has an extensive bus system), and University Facilities. Most importantly, we are spreading the message both on and off campus that Rutgers is doing innovative work in sustainability and has a stake in our collective future as a society. Our largest initiative so far has been our proposal for the Rutgers Office of Sustainability and Engagement, or ROSE. ROSE’s mission is to shape a culture of sustainability on campus that transforms our students and our communities to prepare them for the future. ROSE will also transform our campus facilities and university policies to more closely reflect Rutgers values and mission. ROSE’s facilitation of interdisciplinary collaboration and leveraging of outreach programs would broaden the impact of our research and initiatives, revolutionizing the future of New Jersey, the nation, and the world. Much like how the Coalition is working to bring together students across campus, ROSE would serve to bring together the entire university under the banner of sustainability. Leveraging the connections of our members, we were able to garner support from many of the major schools at Rutgers New Brunswick, and have since taken our proposal to the university administration. We succeeded in charging the University Senate to investigate the feasibility and implementation of an Office of Sustainability at Rutgers, and we have since presented our proposal to university chancellors, who are now in support of our work.
Future of the Coalition Rutgers is currently taking great strides in its commitment to sustainability. We signed on to the USA-UN SDSN and the Rutgers Business School signed on to the UN Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME). The University Structure and Governance committee of the Rutgers University Senate is researching to make recommendations regarding our proposal for ROSE. Many more initiatives are underway in our schools and offices, including at the Agricultural Extension Station, Facilities, and the Collaborative Center. However, our progress is diminished if we cannot effectively publicize our accomplishments, communicate and collaborate amongst ourselves, and leverage the incredibly diverse and qualified body we have at the university. The Rutgers Sustainability Coalition is working to address all these concerns and more. We are engaging students from across the university, and we are harnessing their passion and energy to bring about transformative change on campus.
The mission statement of the Rutgers Sustainability Coalition is to create a hub for student involvement at Rutgers that addresses the intersections and relationships between economic, social, and environmental sustainability as outlined by the the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. To accomplish this, we work to foster a culture of sustainability on campus through activism, collaboration, and education. We take a holistic approach to issues of sustainability, recognizing that problems today require interdisciplinary action and diverse perspectives.
As such, the coalition serves as a network for students working in sustainability, facilitating collaboration and increasing awareness and publicity for sustainable work on campus. Furthermore, throughout the year, the Coalition works on initiatives of various scales in support of our mission statement, such as:
Sustainability Website: Creating a university-wide sustainability website and creating a Google Map of sustainable infrastructure and sites on campus
AASHE STARS: Working on the first Rutgers submission to the AASHE STARS; this includes compiling necessary information for the report and working in conjunction with university facilities and administration
RU Sustainable/Symposiums: Organizing and hosting interdisciplinary Sustainability Symposiums at Rutgers campuses across NJ to bring together students, non-profits, business people, faculty members, administrators, and government officials around projects to support the UN SDGs
Rutgers Office of Sustainability and Engagement: Create the Rutgers Office of Sustainability and Engagement (ROSE) to provide a vision and direction for sustainability at Rutgers. Our proposal for ROSE breaks down the office into three main pillars, each with their own main objective: * Education: Develop sustainability-conscious students who are professionally, intellectually, and civically engaged * Collaboration: Encourage collaboration across Rutgers and local communities by building networks, facilitating interdisciplinary initiatives, and optimizing shared resources * Progress: Coordinate progress in Rutgers sustainability through strategic planning, university financial analyses, and communication of results from current sustainable initiatives
Overall, through our work on campus, we hope to create a culture of sustainability that will empower our students to be changemakers and that will persist with them for years after they have left Rutgers.
Since our start at the RU Sustainable Symposium of fall 2017, we have continued to meet every other week during the semester, and once a month during the summer. Initially we focused our efforts on creating a constitution and recruiting members. We recruited representatives from new clubs through email, social media, networking at events, and word of mouth. In our outreach we emphasized that we did not focus solely on environmental issues, but also social and economic aspects of sustainability, helping us to recruit a diverse group of representatives.
As we increased membership, we were able to develop a meeting structure that worked well for everyone and begin working on collaborative projects. The first twenty minutes of each meeting were spent on club updates and a short ice breaker question. The remainder of the time was spent working on strategic planning for the coalition itself or shared projects. We began collaborating with the faculty and staff members of the Rutgers Sustainability Committee, allowing us to take on key roles in creating content for the new university wide sustainability website and planning the RU Sustainable symposiums.
Moving into next year, we plan on increasing our student outreach and engagement by recruiting more members and member organizations, hosting more events on campus, and gearing our initiatives to reach and assist as many students as possible.
- University Sustainability Committee established 2005
- Two proposals by faculty since then
- RU Sustainable Symposiums started Spring 2016
- Fall 2017: Student-run Rutgers Sustainability Coalition Established
- Recruit members
- Created a constitution
- Became student liaisons to the faculty-run Rutgers Sustainability Committee
- Spring 2018
- Created a presentation of our ideas for the Rutgers University Office of Sustainability and Engagement
- Began meeting with deans
- Began community outreach through events like Rutgers Day
- Began co-hosting interdisciplinary art and science LASER Talks featuring topics in sustainability
- Summer 2018
- Worked on sustainability website content
- Fall 2018
- Launched university wide sustainability website
- Submitted “Big Idea” proposal to the Rutgers Foundation and university Chancellors, with 60+ Rutgers offices, centers, and student organizations signed on in support
- Passed resolutions of support in student governments
- Spring 2019
- Met with New Brunswick and Camden Chancellors
- Began reaching out to state officials
- Received word that ROSE would move forward through the Chancellor's’ office
The main purpose of the coalition is increase overall awareness of initiatives on campus, and so the coalition serves more to encourage collaboration between groups and as a recruiting ground for different sustainability organizations on campus. Encouraging collaboration between student organizations enabled them to pool funding for collaborative student-run events and save money. The coalition itself has operated successfully without a budget. Project work such as proposal writing and strategic planning did not require funding. RU Sustainable Symposiums were funded by Rutgers Global and the Rutgers Business School, ranging from ~$1,000 to ~$10,000 for a recent symposium that featured prize money. The website was funded for ~$10,000 through a company grant given to the faculty Sustainability Committee as part of a contract containing a sustainability clause. Funding options are still being explored for ROSE. Ideally, it will have diverse funding from a variety of sources such as the chancellor's’ office, individual schools, corporate and alumni donations, and grants. The coalition itself may continue to operate without its own direct stream of funding or apply for club status and some funding from student fees to support events and outreach campaigns.
Since our founding two years ago, the Rutgers Sustainability Coalition has held bi-weekly meetings throughout the school year and membership has grown to about 20 student organizations and over 25 active members.
We developed content for the new Rutgers Sustainability website, which launched successfully in Fall 2018. Our input ensured that the website featured progress and information related to social and economic sustainability in addition to environmental sustainability. We also developed the RU Sustainable symposiums into “hackathon” style events with project based discussion tables led by experts in non-profits, government, research and business. These discussion tables empower attendees to brainstorm solutions and contribute to real life projects, which they may choose to continue working on beyond the event.
The Rutgers University Senate accepted our charge to make recommendations on the creation of the Rutgers University Office of Sustainability and Engagement. We are now working closely with the University Structure and Governance committee to develop a report to be presented in December 2019. We had a successful meeting with the New Brunswick Chancellor, and while our submission to the Big Idea competition was not accepted by the Rutgers Foundation, it caught the attention of all of the University chancellors. We were ecstatic to hear that ROSE will move forward through the chancellor’s office. Our goals moving forward are to begin reaching out to donors and apply for grants, continue researching to write a strategic plan for ROSE, and revamp our student and community outreach. Our efforts moving forward will ensure that our administration moves forward with plans to create the Rutgers Office of Sustainability and Engagement while continuing to foster a culture of sustainability and collaboration at rutgers.
Sometimes, all it takes to start a movement is getting the right people in one room together. Our coalition grew out of an interdisciplinary event meant to do just that, and has since grown to include diverse student groups working in everything from engineering to corporate social responsibility to environmental justice. We learned that developing a shared vision and running one to two collaborative projects at a time helped keep representatives engaged and returning to meetings. Bringing together representatives of different clubs allowed us to pool our resources and use many different connections to reach our goals.
Through advocating for the Rutgers Office of Sustainability and Engagement, we learned it was best to have a plan a, b, c, etc. By empowering students to work on an official proposal, present to administrators, and work with student and university governing bodies simultaneously, we made progress much faster than relying on one course of action at a time. We also learned the importance of prior research. In meetings and in our proposal, we were able to reference key parts of the Rutgers University Strategic Plan and actions that other universities have taken, enhancing our argument and our credibility.
We believe that the Rutgers Sustainability Coalition can serve as a model for other universities in engaging students and making an impact on campus, all with minimal direct financial investment. The coalition is centered around bringing together existing forces on campus working in sustainability, and pooling our collective resources (both human and financial) towards our chosen goal. Our success hinges on our ability to bring together some of the highest-achieving students and largest champions for sustainability within the school in the same room and getting them to work together. Furthermore, the Sustainability Coalition presents a strong and unified voice to the rest of the university, the enhancing our ability to advocate for change on campus and making our message more impactful. We are fundamentally a grassroots movement, beginning on a small student scale and growing to effect change across the university, and that is what makes us unique. Overall, we found that coalition building among student organizations allowed us to empower ourselves to lead our university towards a more collaborative and sustainable future, featuring the upcoming Rutgers Office of Sustainability and Engagement.