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'Build on this momentum:' ISU has a plan to be more sustainable

Illinois State University Quad.
Illinois State University/Facebook
The Quad at Illinois State University.

Illinois State University already recycles, tries to reduce food waste, and is swapping out lighting fixtures for lower energy LED fixtures. Elisabeth Reed, the director of ISU's Office of Sustainability and member of the Presidential Sustainability Council, said ISU's first Sustainability Strategic Plan offers a road map to do a lot more.

"Those are really wonderful things that we're doing for our campus. And in many ways, the strategic plan highlights some of those projects that are already happening and allows for those to even grow," said Reed. "Food waste is a great program. But it's behind the scenes, a lot of our students aren't aware that we do that. A lot of our faculty that don't necessarily eat in the dining centers are not aware of that. We want to showcase what dining is doing with food waste, and then there are other opportunities to grow that program across campus and be composting in all departments and within our residence halls and other places, too."

Reed believes it's feasible for a university-sized institution to be carbon neutral, adding other institutions can light the way. ISU has been doing some conservation measures for years, but is ranked at the bronze level by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

Above that is silver, gold and platinum. Reed said silver is well within reach in the next three to five years. Southern Illinois University already is at silver. The University of Illinois is rated gold. Only a few institutions in the country are at platinum. Reed said there are some big wins available that won't take much more effort.

"Food waste, reducing energy in different ways, we're doing that in remarkable ways. How can we even push that even further growing? Those programs already exist. We've got so many passionate invested staff and faculty here that I fully believe we'll be able to expand on those efforts," said Reed.

Some might come at a cost, such as placing solar or green roofs. She said there would be payback in retention and recruitment because students already are asking for those things.

'We have solar in limited places on campus, we have a sustainable and renewable energy major on campus that have some small solar panels over Turner Hall," she said. "Those are more for studying, a laboratory in many ways. Our Horticulture Center is our most sustainable place on campus, and it has solar and a wind turbine as well. We have picnic tables on campus that are charging stations for laptops and phones, and those are charged by solar panels in small places.

"But that is something that we really could see as a recruitment tool. I would love to see solar on every roof. But I want to be as realistic as we can with our goals and getting it on several roofs would be wonderful, especially in high traffic and high visibility places, generating energy as well. So starting anywhere is great."

The student sustainability committee has $180,000 to fund different sustainability projects throughout each academic year.

"We have always been a sustainable campus in many ways. When we look at Jesse Fell and our Fell Arboretum, the green team that started many years ago before the Office of Sustainability, the sustainability office itself has been around for 11 years. We've been in the game and now it's time to really build on this momentum that we have with the plan and really take some some further action," said Reed.

Some recent court decisions have undercut the Biden administration's green agenda, but Reed said that does not directly bear on university efforts.

"Yes, certainly that's frustrating to see that because one of the most important things of our time is fighting climate change. But what I see here as our biggest impact that we can have is to educate our students, we can create a sustainable campus for them, providing the best resources and all the education, and then they graduate and they take this off into wherever they go," she Reed.

"Wherever they might live, they maybe demand some of the things that they learned about here at ISU."

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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