Sustainable Campus Works for a Renewable FSU Future

FSU Solar Umbrellas

At the heart of Florida State University, centered between two Starbucks locations, students and professionals alike are hard at work to promote sustainability on our campus.

From its formation nearly six years ago, FSU’s Sustainable Campus has succeeded under the ambitious direction of Elizabeth Swiman in implementing more than a dozen programs, forming a solid foundation in the lives of students who may yet be unaware of it.

Of all the programs she oversees, Swiman’s personal favorite is the Food Recovery Network. The FRN collects unwanted food from on-campus dining establishments such as Einstein’s, POD Market and The Figg, which is then donated to local food pantries and homeless shelters such as The Kearney Center. In just the two years since its implementation, the FRN has diverted more than 11,000 pounds of consumable food from being wasted. The Seminole Organic Garden also, in part, produces fresh food for these organizations by contributing to the FRN. As a metaphor for the sustainable growth students undergo when working together, the garden is completely tended to by volunteers behind the Flying High Circus Tent. As such, a main purpose of the garden is to teach students the ins and outs of growing their own food and to be proud of what they can produce.

“Remember, you can’t break it,” says Swiman as an encouragement for people to take the opportunity to learn these skills now.

These opportunities for practice lie at the core of what makes Sustainable Campus so directly valuable to FSU students. Garnet and Gold Goes Green, which collects recyclables from tailgaters before home football games, allows students to practice good recycling habits. ReCycle Bike, a program that distributes rental bikes for the school year, allows students to practice green modes of travel. Sustainable Campus also provides opportunities for students to practice leading conservation and sustainability efforts.

Swiman says that the best part of having student coordinators is that they get to make programs their own. These leaders learn of the barriers that impede progress, and what it takes to make change happen. With this exposure, program coordinators practice better project management and creative problem solving during the messy middle-ground of project implementation to get to the “promised land” that is fruition.

Swiman says that it can be challenging to work with the erratic schedules of her student coordinators, but that is a part of the growing process that is constantly taking place in Sustainable Campus. Interests change, schedules tweak and priorities shift, but momentum has not been slowed.

This year, a new communications coordinator was hired to integrate the messages of sustainability and recycling across campus. And just a few weeks ago, Sustainable Campus was included the university’s new strategic plan to incorporate sustainable living practices into all FSU activities. The plan was organized by an advisory board and is composed of four initiatives for climate action, waste minimization, resource stewardship and education for sustainability. But with so many programs to juggle, the most critical goal of the short term is to keep the momentum going. Student involvement has been remained constant, so now the question is how to start inching into other aspects of campus life such as research. Now that they are a part of the strategic plan, Sustainable Campus can start moving in the direction of these long-term goals.

“There’ll be new committees to form and a lot of work to do, but we have a really good outline and framework for what direction we want to go into,” says Swiman.

For students, sustainable living may seem difficult or intimidating to approach consistently in their busy lives. However, Jacob Everette, the student coordinator of involvement and general sustainability, says it can be as simple as recycling your Starbucks cups. The Junior Computer Criminology major believes that even if you don’t actively study environmental science, you can still contribute to global sustainability by habitually turning off lights when you leave a room, using reusable water bottles or educating yourself on the issues.

With the promotion of this education in mind, Sustainable Campus hosted a screening last week of Before the Flood, a new documentary on climate change by Academy Award winning filmmaker, Fisher Stevens and Leonardo DiCaprio. After seeing the film for the first time, Everette was inspired to cut beef from his diet and became even more aware of the environmental degradation worldwide such as the tar sands in Canada. What struck him the most was DiCaprio’s observation that people see films like these, agree that action should be taken, but then the issues are treated as fiction and it was just another movie.

“We’re on a timer. But at this rate, we’re not going to realize it until it’s too late,” says Everette.

Despite the perceived neglect of climate action in the United States, Everette still has hope that our country will rise to the occasion – even in the wake of Donald Trump’s election on November 8. Trump may not be an advocate for climate change, but as Everette puts it, the president does not have the final word on issues like these and the power does rest with the people. In other words, if enough people stand up to call attention to something, the president will have to address it.

“Donald Trump being elected is definitely an obstacle in the world of climate change, but it is an obstacle that we can overcome,” he says. “It is a setback, but it doesn’t mean the movement is over.”

And the movement is only just getting started with FSU’s Sustainable Campus. With long-term goals recently set, the organization is about to gain some real, concrete traction in their efforts to promote sustainability on campus and in the lives of everyone at our university. With so many programs offering book discussions, food donations, gardening opportunities, recycling collections, bike rentals and more, Sustainable Campus has something to offer to everyone.

“Get dirty, get involved. If it’s important to you, and it’s part of your value system, then do something about it. Just go do it,” Swiman says.