Prior to 2020, Central Michigan University (CMU) lacked an Office of Sustainability, or any structures which ensured the pursuit of sustainability initiatives on campus and in the community. Two student leaders, Teresa Homsi and Eric Urbaniak, recognized this gap, then spent over a year to build the groundwork for an office of sustainability at CMU. This required innovation, cooperation, and institutional support- all of which ensured the success of these students. This project was supported through CMU Facilities Management, and the Office for Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, but only accomplished because of the dedication and perseverance of these students. Its name: Central Sustainability.
Now, after one year, CMU has an official sustainability website, sustainability walking tour, sustainability blog, sustainable living guide, sustainable purchasing policy, sustainability pledge, and many of the resources that students need to educate themselves about sustainability, and engage in sustainability projects in the community. Moving forward, Central Sustainability will be a permanent structure at the university for all students to engage with. This is a direct product of the work of Eric and Teresa, who created all of these resources and many more with little to no supervision.
In the Spring of 2020, the CMU Office for Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, along with CMU Facilities Management, hired students Teresa Homsi and Eric Urbaniak to work on the AASHE STARS 2.2 report for CMU. While working on the STARS reports, these students noted the lack of sustainability infrastructure at the University, and accordingly requested to maintain employment status to pursue sustainability initiatives. This request was granted, and they set out in hopes of building an official Office of Sustainability with institutional support.
At a surface level, the goals of this project were to establish an Office of Sustainability. Yet, on a deeper level, these students aspired to educate the community about the broad concept which is sustainability, and open the communities eyes to the various types of sustainability. This included environmental, social, economic, human, and cultural sustainability. With no prior institutional foundation for sustainability education, Eric and Teresa worked from the ground up to build a comprehensive website, and the programs necessary to begin making a widespread impact among students, staff, faculty, and community members.
As stated on the Central Sustainability website, “Central Sustainability supports interdisciplinary efforts toward creating greater sustainability and pursues projects that are environmentally and socially conscious. We care about all types of sustainability, including but not limited to environmental, human, cultural, social, community, and economic sustainability. Our hope is that CMU continues to develop and engage in global issues as a sustainable and diverse community.” This is where Teresa and Eric began, and this is the goal which they strived to achieve while developing the platform.
From the beginning of this project, it was clear that Central Sustainability was more than a case study. Nothing similar had been accomplished at CMU, nor did anything similar gain momentum on such a large scale. Eric and Teresa began building the Central Sustainability website through establishing the mission, and compiling all prior CMU sustainability research. Then, they listed and began to develop the programs necessary to educate others. This included developing a CMU sustainable living guide, which details the locations people can visit near campus and actions they can take to live a more socially and environmentally conscious life. Then, they developed a university sustainability tour, which students can take either alone or guided. This tour highlights the locations on campus which demonstrate social and environmental sustainability.
At this point, Central Sustainability began to grab the attention of CMU administration. Therefore, CMU Facilities Management, CMU Purchasing, and the Office for Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion tasked Eric and Teresa with authoring the universities first Sustainable Purchasing Guidelines. This was written during the summer of 2020, and signed by the CMU president and Board of Trustees in October of 2020. While this was in development, Eric and Teresa presented their work to the Student Government Association, Residence Hall Association, and to various student organizations in hopes of raising awareness for Central Sustainability. They then administered a sustainability knowledge survey to campus, which garnered over 500 responses to help Central Sustainability develop additional programming.
On a larger scale, the work of these students was then recognized by the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum, who invited Teresa and Eric to join the Michigan Campus Sustainability Collective- a working group of sustainability leaders in Michigan academia. This led to an invitation for Eric and Teresa to moderate an Environmental Justice panel at the Michigan Earth Day 50.5 Conference.
Moving forward, Central Sustainability took on a new role in the community, as it became the CMU hub for the Campus Race to Zero Waste, the spring 2021 CMU Earth Week Conference, and the CMU Ethnobotanical garden. All of these projects required immense collaboration with various parties, included but not limited to the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, Take Back the Tap, the Mt. Pleasant Citizens Climate Lobby, the CMU Sierra Club, the CMU Volunteer Center, and the CMU Center for International Ethics. Without Central Sustainability, CMU would have never pursued these projects, all of which were continually and currently led by Teresa Homsi and Eric Urbaniak.
- March 2020: Student hired to complete CMU STARS reports.
- May 2020: Students develop CMU Sustainable Living Guide.
- June 2020: Student develop CMU Sustainability Walking Tour.
- July 2020: Students begin authoring CMU Sustainable Purchasing Policy.
- August 2020: Central Sustainability website goes live.
- September 2020: Students guide first Sustainability Walking Tour, the first of five during the Fall of 2020. Students also develop CMU Sustainability Blog.
- October 2020: Students present work to the Student Government Association, Residence Hall Association, and Campus Ambassadors program. Students join the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum Campus Sustainability Collective, and consequently moderate Earth Day 50.5 conference panel, “Environmental Justice Actions for College Students.”
- November 2020: Students began planning for the 2021 Campus Race to Zero Waste by creating an educational Waste Audit video, and creating outreach and education plans.
- January 2021: Students complete the CMU AASHE STARS reports, earning CMU their first “gold” rating. This was accomplished because of the programs developed by Central Sustainability. Students develop the CMU Sustainability Pledge.
- February 2021: Students present at the CMU Diversity Symposium, and begin filming the first of five additional educational sustainability videos.
- March 2021: Students create Earth Week planning group with leaders from Take Back the Tap, Sierra Club, Student Government Association, Volunteer Center, and Center for International Ethics.
- April 2021: Students promote and host the 2021 CMU student Earth Week Conference.
Between CMU Facilities Management and the Office for Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, students Eric Urbaniak and Teresa Homsi were hired hourly for a combined total of 20 hours per week since March of 2020. Additionally, a total of $600 was spent on promotional signage as requested by Eric and Teresa, funded by the two departments mentioned above.
While this appears to be a substantial investment, it is an investment in the passions of two motivated students aspiring to make a difference on campus and beyond. This has proved to generate immense progress in sustainability at CMU, and empower the students involved to make an even greater difference. As stated above, this is no case study, but a detailed report of the two student leaders driving sustainability education and engagement at CMU.
Although it is in continuous development, Central Sustainability has just begun to guide sustainability at CMU, and in the community. The following are the statistical outcomes of several Central Sustainability Projects:
Educational Activity: Quantifiable Outcome:
Video: Composting Education 87 views Video: DIY Composting 424 views Video: Food Pantry Education 18 views Video: Electronics Recycling Education 25 views Video/Event: Public Waste Audit 256 views Video: Personal Waste Audit Education 208 views Sustainability Pledge 93 pledges Sustainability Walking Tours 95 student participants Earth Week Engagement ~200 participants/viewers Campus Race to Zero Waste Increase in University diversion rate by nearly 5%
Not only has Central Sustainability garnered the statistical proof that it should persist, but it has time and time demonstrated that its presence is necessary. Without the work of Eric and Teresa, CMU would lack the critical sustainability programming that is necessary to spark the passions of students, while inspiring and empowering others in the community. Through persistence and dedication, Eric and Teresa have established the permanent infrastructure that will enable sustainability to finally become sustainable at CMU.
The greatest lesson learned from this experience is that it is worthwhile to fund students who are passionate about making a difference in the community. With this funding, students will no longer seek external employment, and have more time to devote to professional development and their “why.” Now, Eric and Teresa are seen as sustainability leaders in the campus and community, and continually sparking interest and engagement from other students. Recently, a new student, Lindsey Gibb, has joined the sustainability team after taking a sustainability walking tour with Eric and Teresa. This is just one example of the benefits of helping students follow their passions. Sustainability is a worthwhile investment, and should be a priority.