Apr 092012
Authors: Stephanie Knisley

Our idea seemed simple enough –– turn solid paper towel waste in bathrooms across CSU’s campus into compostable material for Fort Collins’ gardens. An enormous amount of paper towels are used and discarded from this campus every year. Those paper towels are rotting in Fort Collins landfills. With so many well-intentioned people interested in sustainability at CSU, it should be easy to start a student-led initiative that would divert all this waste, right? Not really.

A ragtag team of students came together in the fall of 2011 when a physics Ph.D. student brought the idea to Graduate Student Council. The group initially included members of the CSU Graduate Student Council and Net Impact. Meetings bounced us from one sustainability coordinator to the next at CSU — from the Lory Student Center to Housing & Dining Services, from ASCSU to Facilities, from Ron Sega’s Office of Sustainability to the finance director of the College of Business.

Each contact shared valuable information and advice, but with each lead we found ourselves down another trail, further from the original path we had been seeking. While some thought composting paper towels was a good idea, most felt it was unfeasible as it would cost too much to collect the waste. On-campus composting facilities were already at capacity and proving unprofitable. The data necessary to build a business plan was unavailable or complicated to garner. It would be too difficult to change student and staff behavior. When the group pivoted to suggest that bathrooms go paperless via electric hand-dryers on campus, it faced even more criticism regarding cost and behavior adaptation.

As our team of composting enthusiasts continued on this journey, bigger questions about campus sustainability loomed large in our minds: Why is this so hard? Why aren’t more of these “green” groups working together to implement projects? On a self-proclaimed “green” campus, why is it so difficult to find support for a project that would help CSU achieve net-zero? The STARS report shows that CSU is a leading green campus nationally, but it hasn’t felt that way. We started to question, “Is CSU really a ‘green’ campus?”

The simple answer is, “Yes, but…”

While our composting project might not have the muscle it needs to win the race this year, there are people working on building the infrastructure needed to get projects like this off the ground. Housing and Dining has great sustainability programs in place and appears to be more progressive than the rest of campus in its sustainability efforts. Ron Sega’s Office of Sustainability has an intern working on organizing CSU green efforts and determining the need for further investment in sustainability initiatives at the campus-wide level.

Since this composting project started last semester, the CSU sustainability website has made vast improvements in its content that seeks to connect like-minded greens across campus. ASCSU has a handful of sustainability positions that are making a tangible difference in biking and recycling issues on campus. TrueGreen is working with the Student Sustainability Center to get more funds for green projects, internships and centralized sustainability planning for CSU.

The reality is that there is a plethora of exciting “green” activity happening on this campus, but communication and student involvement are sorely lacking amongst these initiatives. We need a ground-swell of support from CSU undergrads, grad students and staff in order to enact collective, action-oriented sustainability efforts. We need support from you to help make projects like paper towel composting, zero-waste events in the Lory Student Center and elimination of plastic bottles a reality.

It’s time to seriously get involved in making our campus community more sustainable. Let’s stop talking about it and take action –– CSU needs you on this one. Check out http://green.colostate.edu or contact your student representative to get involved in the green initiatives happening at CSU.

Stephanie Knisley is a graduate student in the College of Business.

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