Two Years of Sustainability

“You work in the Office of Sustainability? That’s so cool!”

That was the response I got nearly every time I told someone my current employer at the University of Utah was the Office of Sustainability (OS). I had to admit, I couldn’t disagree.

The goals of the OS are huge. Carbon neutral campus by 2050, water neutral campus by 2020, Zero-Waste campus, sustainability integrated throughout the curriculum, seasonal, organic, local food throughout campus food service. Sometimes it seemed just too much for a permanent staff of four and a small but growing cohort of passionate, intelligent and talented students to tackle.

But what was our alternative? We are the Office of Sustainability, or as retired Professor of Biology, Dr. Fred Montague would refer to us, the Office of Lesser Destruction. We have to put our heads down, roll up our sleeves and try to make change in a massive organization mired in bureaucracy that is not always ready for change.

However, thankfully for us, the students are ready for change and they will drag us along with them, whether we’re ready or not. The Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund (SCIF), the Climate Action Plan, the Edible Campus Gardens, the Farmers Market, Recycle Rice-Eccles, the Undergraduate Certificate in Sustainability, the composting initiatives, the Green/Sustainability Floor, the ASUU Sustainability Board, the Sustainability Scholars in the Honors College, the Bennion Center’s Bend-in-the-River and Social Justice Gardens and all of other sustainability themed campus enhancements, groups and events can’t be ignored. It’s become a force to be reckoned with on this campus. Even the most recent strategic plan for the University of Utah lists sustainability as one of its seven core values. Talk about cool!

I feel proud to have been a part of such an incredible group of people and to have made a small difference for a couple of memorable years in helping to create a culture of sustainability at the University of Utah. It’s one of those jobs that just makes you feel excited to show up each Monday morning (unless it’s a powder day, of course!).

Working with students, faculty and staff to reduce energy use, push renewables, help conserve water, encourage less driving, grow and serve healthier foods and create community on campus is hardly something I’d call work.  Getting paid to encourage the development and confidence of young change agents almost seems like cheating death or taxes.

Although I’m now employed off campus, I’m eager to see the dedicated staff and students keep moving this vital work forward and am confident all of those seemingly daunting goals will be met with the energy of the OS staff and other dedicated members of the campus community. Carbon neutrality for a campus of 50,000 people? It is a huge goal, but with planning, work, dedication and the drive of the OS and their key partners across campus, I know it not only can happen, it will happen.

Everyone can help meet these goals and have fun. I encourage you all to get involved with sustainability efforts on campus. Ride your bike, grow a garden, turn off the lights and your computer. Participate in campus sustainability events and activities. I promise, you’ll meet fantastic people who share your desires and dreams.

If that’s not cool, I don’t know what is.

Ashley Patterson recently worked as the Outreach and Education Coordinator at the Office of Sustainability. She now works as the Executive Director at Wasatch Community Gardens.

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