Turning Proposal into Practice

Heidi Gasser | Reporter

Campus Sustainability month is in October, and Bowling Green State University staff and students are preparing to celebrate. Everyone can expect to learn more about the university’s efforts to go green. 

The Office of Sustainability operates within Campus Operations and has established three primary goals to achieve the Climate Action Plan. This plan promises to make BGSU carbon neutral by 2040. 

They plan to reduce emissions in transportation efforts to decrease waste production and improve resource conservation. Outreach and education make up another focus, suitable for an educational institution. 

The sustainability director position was created in the fall of 2008 to spearhead action addressing growing climate concerns on campus. Dr. Nicholas Hennessy currently holds the position. He said that these specific goals surrounding the Climate Action Plan are very common among other colleges making moves toward environmental sustainability. 

“For us, reducing emissions was imperative because when you reduce your emissions, you reduce your carbon footprint, and that was a big thing for us. Our former President Dr. Mazey (CHECK) was interested in having us sign up with the president’s climate commitment. We joined hundreds of other schools pledging that we would reduce our carbon footprint and be carbon neutral. We chose the date of 2040 to accomplish that,” Hennessy said. 

The Office of Sustainability partnered with the Student Green Initiatives Fund and has worked to fund various projects to reduce emissions. Some take the form of transportation innovations. BGSU has transitioned campus shuttles to natural gas fuel, cutting the carbon footprint by 24%. Electric bike accessibility and green roof bike racks have been implemented additionally to further encourage low-emission travel. 

Hennessy pointed out that although transportation is thought to be the main source of harmful emissions, trash and other energy waste can be equally detrimental. Conserving resources is crucial to most green projects, he said.

“Reducing waste for an institution like us is also related to reducing emissions, there’s a lot of crossover there, but as an institution as big as us, we produce a lot of waste. And from a sustainability standpoint, it just makes sense that you can reduce your carbon footprint by reducing that waste,” Hennessy said. 

Last year, the university reached a conservation goal of having all outdoor lighting become LED. Everything west of Mercer Road has been transitioned to the more energy-efficient alternative. A new set goal for lighting east of Mercer to be redone has been set as well. BGSU has put equal emphasis onto material conservation with the campus-wide recycling program. Wherever there is a landfill trash can, Hennessy said, their will be a recycling option close by. These projects have been a success in the long run, as the university’s climate footprint has decreased noticeably since the beginning of the sustainability campaign.

“The total amount of carbon emissions has gone down since we started measuring it. Sometimes in very slow amounts, and sometimes in much larger,” Hennessy said. 

Hennessy is looking ahead to a future filled with opportunities for a greener campus, and dedicated students. 

“I don’t think that there’s any school that’s pursuing sustainability that wouldn’t list education and outreach as a goal because we’re a college, we’re a university, so it’s incumbent on us to try to educate our community about being sustainable, and taking that out into their communities, into their jobs, into the world.” Hennessy said. 

The director values his role in serving BGSU in sustainability. “You couldn’t find a better fit for ‘a public institution for the public good’ than sustainability,” Hennessy said. 

The Student Green Initiatives Fund launched around the same time BGSU started acknowledging sustainability concerns, with the intention to help students lead climate action on campus. Carly Hitchcock is the Fund representative in BGSU’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG). 

Hitchcock is a third year Political Science, Philosophy, Economic and Law student, and has worked closely with Hennessy and USG to make the Green Fund’s proposals come to life. Hitchcock wants more students to know that they can take an active role in shaping their university, as many are not aware that anyone can submit and execute their ideas.

 As an advisor to the Green Fund, Hennessy noted its circular nature, facilitated by student ideas and student funds. Students are automatically opted into a $5 semesterly fee that goes toward new projects. 

“The committee that makes these decisions is student based. You’ve got money coming from students to fund an idea started by students. And the projects are going to be approved by students. Then, to top it off, the applications are coming from students,” Hennessy said. 

The Green Fund is responsible for popular refillable water bottle stands, they worked on composting through dining services and are currently working on constructing an outdoor classroom. 

The process of turning these proposals into practice is meant to encourage collaboration and strategy from the innovative students that want to see their ideas set into motion. Students are not even required to be environmental science majors to participate. 

“Even though I do not have that environmental knowledge, class or education, I think that I bring my own unique perspective,” Hitchcock said. 

Any BGSU student is open to submitting a proposal. Hitchcock advocates for all students who are willing and able to participate. 

“It will get approved once it’s green, it’s thorough, the information is accurate; we’re sure this is gonna be sustainable,” Hennessy said.