Campus Sustainability Hero: Joan Gregory

By Laura Schmidt, Office of Sustainability

Joan Gregory wears a lot of hats. To glimpse into the life of Gregory means to watch her compartmentalize work at the University of Utah, participation as an environmental activist outside of her job, and her family life.

Joan and Laurie Gregory

Joan Gregory (left) and daughter Laurie

When she’s not working at the Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library, serving on the President’s Sustainability Advisory Board (PSAB), or striving for carbon neutrality on campus through working with Health Sciences Green Teams, Gregory is an engaged citizen in Salt Lake City and the world at large. She is a member of Peaceful Uprising and serves as co-coordinator of Environmental Ministry at First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City. She has also participated in protests in Washington D.C. against mountain top removal, in Salt Lake City for Tim DeChristopher’s sentencing, and against the approved tar sands project in Utah. Each of these roles requires her to do a different job, and it becomes clear within minutes of meeting her, that this woman embodies the ideas and actions of sustainability.

Gregory has been an advocate for sustainability on campus for many years, working behind the scenes to foster sustainable practices on campus. In collaboration with others, she has helped the campus libraries become more sustainable by “rethinking everything we do in light of sustainability principles and the six-Rs:… rethink, reduce, reuse, recycle, repurchase/recover, and rejoice.”

In the 1990s, Gregory was instrumental in the formation of some of the earliest green teams on campus. After a course developed by the Northwest Earth Institute (NWEI), entitled “Voluntary Simplicity,” Gregory became aware of her unsustainable ways of living. She and her family changed their planetary impact; they began recycling, composting, and switching their light bulbs from incandescent to compact fluorescent ones. But these actions were not enough for Joan; she needed to do more.

“I couldn’t stop there,” Gregory said, once the truth was exposed about our unsustainable ways of life, “there was no turning back.” So, she started discussion groups at the libraries and worked with her colleagues to make sustainable changes in their everyday practice, which eventually led to the formation of Green Teams. Green Teams, Gregory explains, were established “to get departments to have teams of people who are changing the culture in their own buildings and departments, and then hopefully influencing culture around campus to change.” Gregory and Karren Nichols, administrative and sustainability coordinator for the Marriott Library, will present ways libraries can support campus green teams at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Conference in Nashville this October.

To Gregory, sustainability means creating a present and future that are livable for everyone. She states that despite efforts on campus, in this country, or on the planet, our species is not yet living sustainably. “We’re still not on a path to assuring a livable future for the next generation,” she says. Gregory, speaking with a sense of urgency, asks the people of the world to consider some really hard questions. How do we ”sustain sustainability in a culture where sustainability isn’t yet the culture?” she asks.

Gregory says that we need to take care of the Earth, the buildings, and the people. She argues, “If we have a culture like that, on our campus, in our homes, in whatever we do, then we have a chance of reaching a sustainable, livable future.” Society must slow down because continual growth will lead to a burn out, she states. “We need to create a world where economics, energy, and social justice are all represented in the decision-making process.”

Gregory has a few suggestions for how we change the culture on campus, too. Students, faculty, and staff can use their voices, she says. Gregory believes that individuals have a lot of power, and each person has to “realize how important our individual roles are as citizens, and as people.”

Joan Gregory, librarian, environmentalist, and mother, wants to remind us all that we can allow ourselves to not only be students, faculty, or staff members but also to be a part of the whole university, citizens of Salt Lake, and people of the planet.

Laura Schmidt is a master’s student in Environmental Humanities. She is a graduate assistant in the Office of Sustainability.

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