Students establish new sustainability program

4 months ago
Ruth Varghese
Mercury Staff

UTD’s sustainability efforts have grown to incorporate a student educator component with the creation of EcoReps this semester.

In 2016, Thea Junt, the associate director of facilities management for energy conservation and sustainability, and Evan Paret, the administration project coordinator for facilities management, submitted the first comprehensive Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education Sustainable Tracking Assessment Rating System, or the AASHE STARS, report and received a bronze certification for UTD. Previously, only parts of the survey were reported. The AASHE STARS reports collect data from participating schools on their sustainability efforts.

One credit of the report is the student educators program, which UTD did not have when it first submitted its data. Now, EcoReps fulfills that requirement.

“It really is the next step forward to having a full sustainability program,” Junt said. “For UT Dallas, it’s the facilities side, we’re doing well, next it’s students. It seemed like a really natural step, to have more student involvement in sustainability.”

Emily Stinnett, an international political economy sophomore, wanted to start EcoReps at UTD after noticing different unsustainable measures on campus, such as when people throw trash in the recycling bins or leave the lights on in an empty room. She said UTD hints at an eco-friendly culture and needs to live up to it.

“One of our colors is Eco-Green. So I thought that was really funny that we could be more green,” Stinnett said. “And we’re only going to get bigger and so I think it’s really important that we have a student position on campus … that can help facilitate telling people about the sustainability measures that we’re already doing.”

Stinnett saw the success of EcoReps at other school and wanted to see that at UTD.

“This is our campus and we should take pride in how green it is and we should take pride in its cleanliness and all the things that it’s doing to be sustainable, and students want to be a part of this and we have a right to be a part of this,” she said.

A total of five students currently participate in the program, chosen through previous connections with Junt and word of mouth. The common thread among all of them is their passion for sustainability, Junt said. When EcoReps was formed, the student-workers had to educate themselves on helping the environment at UTD. 

“It’s looking at sustainability with a whole different set of eyes and being able to do new things,” Junt said.

Stinnett said she believes the student-workers will help the eco-friendly culture at UTD by clearing up misconceptions about recyclable materials. Among the projects they completed were creating shadow boxes featuring items that were and were not recyclable.

The EcoReps also created a green map of campus showing different environmental initiatives at UTD, including monarch waystations, electronic vehicle charging stations and the windmill. The map is available online and will be an update to the green tour map in the Visitor’s Center.

They’re also working on vermicomposting, where they bought worms to keep in bins filled with dirt and organic waste. They want to be able to teach those interested in the process how to take part.

“Vermicomposting is kind of a small scale composting. Composting is basically where you take food and organic waste … and you’re composting it into what becomes soil,” said Aasya Peera, an interdisciplinary studies senior and also an EcoRep.

EcoReps also hosted its own events during Earth Week, which were Recycling Walk the Walk, a movie screening of The Lorax and a booth at the Earth Fair. Junt said she believes students want sustainability and she wants to be able to find a way to make it happen.

“We are growing the future. The knowledge you get in college is going to serve you the rest of your life, and I want some of that to be to respect the earth, to be involved,” Junt said.