Students for Sustainability kicked off their weeklong celebration of Earth Day on Monday night with a screening of “WALL-E” on the UA Mall.
Students for Sustainability is an on-campus organization run through student government, dedicated to promoting sustainable practices. They have scheduled a week full of events in honor of Earth Day, which is on Friday, April 22.
These events include yoga on the UA Mall, craft making, an environmental summit and a climate change panel centered on Indigenous voices. On Friday night, there will be a celebration of environmental art at the Center for Creative Photography, called Earth Day in the Arts District. The week will finish up with a neighborhood clean-up on Saturday to put these ideas into action. Further details on this week’s schedule can be found on Students for Sustainability’s Instagram.
The three co-directors of Students for Sustainability are seniors Marissa Lee, Chelsea Mendoza and Jeri Wilcox. They are eager to get the student body involved in environmental activism this week and beyond.
For Wilcox, an environmental and marine science student, Earth Day celebrations are a testament to the progress that environmentalists have made since the holiday’s beginning in 1970.
“I think it’s a really awesome representation of the environmental movement,” Wilcox said. “It’s just a wonderful reminder every year to have this day, this national holiday, that is devoted to environmentalism.”
Mendoza, an environmental science student, also spoke about the importance of the holiday. For her, Earth Day is a great way to start conversations and engage with people who may not be thinking about the environment year-round.
“It’s to celebrate the Earth and remember our commitment to protecting it,” Mendoza said. “I’m most excited to see all the people that we don’t usually get involved with sustainability being attracted to these events and being excited to celebrate Earth Day.”
Students for Sustainability has been working nearly the whole school year to put these events together. They’ve attracted attention for the line of Earth Day merchandise they’re giving away during the week, including hoodies, t-shirts and hats. These items were designed by a UA student and were made with the help of a local print company to be as sustainable as possible.
“It’s exciting to see all of our work come to fruition,” Lee said.
Students for Sustainability prides itself on taking legitimate actions to improve campus, far beyond one week in April. They’ve undertaken successful projects like putting solar panels on the Environmental and Natural Resources 2 Building, establishing the Campus Sustainability Fund and installing LED lights in older buildings.
“It’s about institutionalizing sustainability from an environmental justice focus,” Mendoza said.
Earth Week is the perfect time to work on implementing such projects. That’s why Wilcox is excited to get the attention of students that aren’t involved in the sustainability movement and encourage them to participate in the neighborhood clean-up, where they can see their environmental impact first-hand.
“It’s just really exciting to see the outreach that we’re able to have on campus and just get people excited about sustainability,” Wilcox said.
Of course, students can always be doing more to support the environmental movement, even without joining an organization. Wilcox pointed out that many college students aren’t aware of how much waste is in their lives and should be more aware of their consumption habits.
“I would really love to see a mindset change on campus,” Wilcox said.
Students for Sustainability also want to see changes on an institutional level, especially in terms of the contracts our school has with large companies known for their poor environmental track records. For any students concerned about these issues, Students for Sustainability has several different committees, dealing with topics like gardening and water conservation.
“What I want students to get out of this is that we are a resource on campus to be able to make a change, to be able to shift that direction that we’re currently going in,” Mendoza said.
Making change isn’t always a fast or easy process. However, Students for Sustainability is always looking for new members and there are lots of opportunities for students to join committees and lead projects.
“If you really want to see something happen, don’t wait for anybody else to do it,” Wilcox said.
The three co-directors are experienced with realizing their vision and really believe in getting things done — not just talking about it. As leaders, they hope to empower others and leave a legacy of accomplishment, showing that students do have the power to make progress.
This work will continue after Lee, Mendoza and Wilcox graduate, for them and the leaders that take their place here. All three want to continue to pursue sustainability-related goals in their lives.
“Regardless of what my career is, I will find something community-based,” Lee said. “It’s always going to be related to environmentalism.”
Students for Sustainability is far from the only way for UA students to get involved. Other on-campus organizations include UAZ Divest, which is partnered with Students for Sustainability for some of their events this week but also has its own plans as well.
Member and former vice president of UAZ Divest Peyton Smith spoke highly of the UA’s sustainability committee.
“Something I’d really like students to take away from Earth Week is how dedicated student groups on campus are to environmental issues and making positive change,” Smith said.
UAZ Divest is not affiliated with ASUA and is geared around the goals of getting the university to divest from fossil fuels and prohibit future investments in that industry. The organization is meeting with the UA Foundation’s Investment Committee this week to deliver their pitch for divestment, a goal they’ve been working on for two years.
For Smith, an environmental studies student, she mainly wants to see students showing up more and being active in the community. And she wants to see the university make good on its promises of sustainability.
“We just really want the university to be able to hold itself accountable so that students don’t have to,” Smith said.
Smith is graduating this semester and wants to pursue a career in environmental education or communication, but the work here at the UA will continue.
“Join Divest,” Smith said. “Even if we do reach our goal, we’re not going anywhere.”
Organizations like UAZ Divest and Students for Sustainability often work in tandem to achieve their goals of a more sustainable school, and anyone can join their cause.
“Don’t overthink it,” Mendoza said. “Just starting somewhere is the best thing that you can do.”
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