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Q&A: The new director of the Office of Sustainability on going from an engaged student to a leader of UA’s environmental initiatives

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Courtesy Trevor Ledbetter | The Daily Wildcat

The new Director for the Office of Sustainability and University of Arizona alumnus, Trevor Ledbetter.

The Daily Wildcat spoke with the new Director for the Office of Sustainability and University of Arizona alumnus Trevor Ledbetter and asked him about his new position, what the future holds for sustainability at the UA and what students can do to make a change. The interview has been edited slightly for clarity.

Daily Wildcat: When did you become the director of the Office of Sustainability?

Trevor Ledbetter: Officially, I started as the Director for the Office of Sustainability in July. Before that I was working as the Sustainability Program Manager in our Office of Business Affairs.

DW: What made you realized that you wanted to go into sustainability?

TL: It kind of just pulled me in. I never aspired to be the director of sustainability here, but through a series of events, it just kind of happened. I became heavily involved in Students for Sustainability in my undergraduate for three years. I was an ecology and evolutionary biology and environmental sciences major, and I graduated May 2017. 

DW: What was your experience like going almost directly from a UA student to a high leadership role?

TL: I was heavily involved in SFS. Interestingly, when I first applied to be in SFS my sophomore year, I actually was rejected, and so I applied again the next year and was accepted. After my third year, I was a co-director for the program. Myself and my two fellow co-directors started talking with the administration about our concerns regarding sustainability. It kind of elevated me to where I am now. 

DW: How are you working with student organizations?

TL: I’m very much trying to take the most holistic scope possible. I really want to interact with every different group on campus. From a student’s perspective, I have worked very heavily with SFS. Once we get through the strategic planning phase, I plan to engage more holistically with the different student clubs and student groups that aren’t as institutionalized. Also, we are just talking with a variety of different academic groups on campus as well as getting involved and building a relationship with the Institute of the Environment. We very much value the student engagement with what we do in sustainability on campus. I came out of a student group myself.

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DW: What do you do as the as the Director for the Office of Sustainability?

TL: We currently have a variety of different initiatives and projects going on, but my job is to drive forward and work towards institutionalization of sustainability, which very much means: How do we be more sustainable in our operations? How do we be more sustainable in all of the things that we do? And beyond what we do with greenhouse gases, water, energy, all of that fun stuff? How do we create a culture of sustainability? What does sustainability look like in the classroom? How do we integrate that into what we expect of our students? Also, we are taking a very holistic view of how we interact with the community in which we sit. The university isn’t just this bubble that doesn’t interact with the Tucson community. It’s very much a part of the Tucson community. So how do we leverage with the different resources that we have, whether it’s our students, our research or just the body power that we have here? And how do we leverage that for the benefit of Tucson?

DW: What administrative changes has the Office of Sustainability been making?

TL: The Office of Sustainability, over the summer, with the transition of my leadership and others, moved from Student Affairs to Business Affairs, taking on a more business-affairs-centric approach. We’re really trying to take a comprehensive view. Business affairs operations were really lacking before the transition. 

DW: What are some of the biggest challenges that the Office of Sustainability faces?

TL: Right now, it’s just the sheer number of things that we have going on, which isn’t a bad thing. The Office of Sustainability currently consists of just myself and the sustainability program manager, Lauren White. We have multiple very large projects going on, like the strategic planning. 

DW: What are some of the projects you are currently focusing on the most in the Office of Sustainability?

TL: We are working very heavily toward entering the university into membership with the Tucson Emerging 2030 District; we are working on two agrivoltaics projects, which will go on top of ENR2, which are a green roof and solar panels; and we are looking at large-scale, renewable-energy purchasing for the UA, as well as other various smaller projects. We are trying to do everything. We currently own two initiatives in the strategic planning process, both working towards the institutionalization of sustainability on campus. So operationally, we are looking at reducing our energy use, water use, greenhouse gas footprint, applying better practices with regards to purchasing how and where we get our food and setting goals for all of these. On the non-operational side, we are looking at building a culture of sustainability, engaging with students on different projects and building sustainability into our curriculum. 

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DW: What other sustainable operations and development are being directly worked on right now to, for example, reduce emissions?

TL: Right now, the biggest thing we are working on is large-scale renewable energy and what that looks like for the university. I’ve been working with James Buizer, faculty member of the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, and we have gotten UA to be invited and accepted an invitation to be a part of the University Climate Change Coalition run by Second Nature. Also, we are now one of 18 institutions throughout North America that is working towards leveraging our research enterprise for the benefit of place-based solutions and climate adaptation.

DW: Can you break that down a little bit?

TL: We are going to be working more with the community in which we sit: Tucson. So, we will be working more closely with the city of Tucson and Pima County, as well as different organizations throughout the community, to really look at what it means for us to lower our carbon emissions, transition to a lower-carbon economy and to also deal with the effects of climate change. It’ll be hotter here, we’ll have less water, so we look at how we can use the research that the university has to benefit not only ourselves but also all these other institutions around North America. We’ve been going through a consultation process for the past few months looking at what those solutions look like for the UA. So that’s like us entering into a contract to put a whole lot of solar power on campus, off-campus and then mitigating a large chunk of our greenhouse gas footprint. Eventually that could look like a ton of solar power on campus. We can’t do wind in Arizona, because we don’t have a lot of wind.

DW: What can students do to get more involved in sustainability?

TL: The biggest thing is just to engage with all of the different groups that we already have on campus. The Office of Sustainability is always looking to engage with students. SFS is always looking for new members, too, and they have many ways that they work towards sustainability and help students put their ideas into practice. Also, incorporating sustainability into what you do on a daily basis, like learning how and what to recycle.


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