Engaging Students in Making Sustainability a Reality – Babson College

Screen Shot 2014-08-24 at 9.02.08 AMStudents are an incredible resource for schools moving forward with responsible management and sustainability on campus. Finding ways to get them actively engaged in not just supporting, but actively creating and implementing innovative sustainability projects on campus can bring about a range of positive impacts.

At Babson College in the US a group of students are selected each year to help the school move forward with its sustainability goals on campus and in the curriculum. I recently spoke with Michael Chmura about how they engage students as interns in bringing their sustainability policies and principles to life.

Briefly describe Babson’s approach to sustainability and responsible management.
Babson’s approach to sustainability and responsible management in academics and operations is defined by the integration of three factors—Social, Environmental and Economic Responsibility, and Sustainability (SEERS)—into our curriculum, as core principles of Entrepreneurial Thought and Action, and as part of our commitment as a founding PRME Champions institution, and to climate neutrality by 2050 through our 2009 signing of the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment

What is the Sustainability Office Intern Programme?
Our student interns work in the Sustainability Office on a diverse set of projects, ranging from project development to communications and outreach. Interns act as peer educators through presentations to first year seminar courses, write our monthly newsletter, produce our social media, manage compost collection projects, conduct waste audits, educate about sustainable foods, and organise campus-wide sustainability events.

How does the programme work in practice?
Our students are hired through the common student leadership application used for all on-campus jobs. The position is paid and generally takes 6-8 hours per week. Students are selected based on their leadership ability, professionalism, and enthusiasm. Prior knowledge of sustainability is not required. The Sustainability Office staff meets every Friday to review project progress and assignments, and to plan future initiatives.

What are some of the projects that the interns work on?
Our students organised our annual move-out recycling event called “Slash the Trash,” to divert reusable goods to charity shops and collect recyclables during the end of year move-out from the residence halls. This programme has increased in size every year, from 3 tons last year to 5 tons this past May. Some of our students created a module on sustainability for teaching in the first year seminar course. Another project involved students analysing the residence hall collection system, and doing trials of different methods of collecting recyclables to improve diversion rates. The interns have also been involved in researching how apparel is purchased on campus by departments and found sustainable alternatives for purchasing.

What have been some of the challenges? Successes?
Both our move-out recycling programme and first year seminar module continue to be implemented every year. Our first year of “Slash the Trash” led to an overall waste reduction of nearly 29% of the waste associated with end-of-the-year student move out, and increased the move out recycling rate by 12.63 tons.

Challenges continue to be increasing individual behaviour in recycling rates throughout the year. We hope to remove barriers to recycling through targeted education programmes and better-designed waste diversion stations in our campus centre.

What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?
Paying students, even a modest hourly rate, makes your position competitive with other campus jobs, and provides a level of accountability and responsibility. It also teaches students that you can get paid for something you are passionate about and that they can look for similar jobs beyond their time at Babson.

What’s next for the interns?
We are focused on engaging more of our campus community through direct outreach in offices and residence halls. Our goal is to make sustainable living a social norm at Babson – and our continued work with students’ residential life is essential in reaching that goal.

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