Sustainability 2020 Challenge

October 22, 2015
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For this week’s challenge, we had the opportunity to apply our efforts to support one of the organizations here on SLU’s campus. Representatives from the Center for Sustainability asked us to create and pitch an idea on how to help them in their efforts to reduce the energy consumption of SLU by 20% by the year 2020. They asked us to create an innovation that would involve the everyday behavior of students. They also asked for the innovation to address economic, environmental and social considerations. This topic is important and timely for two reasons. One, sustainability aligns with the Jesuit mission of the university and the call to action regarding the environment in Pope Francis’ most recent encyclical. Secondly, it is “Campus Sustainability Month” on SLU’s campus. This week, I worked on the challenge with a student I had not met before. He was a freshman mechanical engineer student, while I am a senior in the public health program. Together, we had a broad perspective of experiences to approach the challenge.

For this challenge, we had 45 minutes to prepare a 90 second pitch. We began the challenge by going over the instructions again to ensure that we would create a solution that was pertinent to the task at hand. The main factors we wanted to address were the everyday life of the student and the issues of economic, environmental and social considerations. Then, we brainstormed on what interactions students have with energy on any given day. We thought about issues relating to residence halls; like the energy associated with AC, lights, TV’s and mini-fridges. Then we thought about the dining halls, classrooms, library and the student center. This brainstorming yielded many ideas like regulating lights and AC units, or minimizing power usage in classrooms. However, when we referred back to the goals of the challenge, it was evident that these types of innovations and changes take place as policy on an institutional level, and it isolates students from making everyday decisions to be more sustainable. Regulation of AC, new lights, or new equipment to generate power simply does not involve behavior. When the representatives from the Center for Sustainability first addressed us, they asked, “What is something special going on this month?” Someone, jokingly, said Halloween. No one knew that it was actually campus sustainability month. Seemingly, students should know about a major PR event such as an entire month dedicated to sustainability, especially three weeks into that month. Me and my teammate, picked up on this severe disconnect between policy and student behavior. This reinforced our notion that our solution would not involve another terminal idea like bikes, or recycling. Instead, we wanted to capitalize on the existing policies and structures that the Center for Sustainability has already created.To summarize, there is a disconnect between the actions of the Center and the actions of the students during their everyday life.

To address this, we modified a public health theory of how to change behavior in relation to sustainability. This theory posits that there is a timeline of behavior which starts at a phase were people are not even aware of the issue at hand. Then, people become aware of the issue. They may not act upon that information, but they contemplate how that information may impact them. Then actions are influenced. Eventually, habits will form and the positive behavior will be maintained over time. It is clear that many students at SLU are still in a stage of unawareness about the problem and the solutions the Center has developed, as evidenced by the lack of knowledge about campus sustainability month. To move along the student population from unawareness to action and eventually long term change, we wanted to implement education programs. One of our specific ideas was to create a SLU101 seminar so that new students entering SLU would be introduced to the energy consumption at SLU and about the resources they have to be better stewards of their environment. A second idea was to create Buzzfeed-like articles to publish in Newslink. An example could be, “20 ways to stay warmer this winter season at SLU,” and it could highlight energy efficient behaviors. These educational resources would help inform students on ways they can actively participate in sustainability efforts. It will also create a culture of awareness around sustainability. I liken what the actions our framework suggests to the recent campaigns surround sexual assault on campuses nationwide. Many of these interventions target educating students about sexual assault prevalence, confronting societal norms and providing resources for students if they encounter or work to prevent sexual assault. Again, these are aimed at creating a mindset and addressing behavior, which our team thinks is necessary if the Center wants to achieve its goal of reducing energy consumption.

Our idea was extremely cost effective as it pertained to optimizing the current environment of systems through educating the populous in order to change everyday behavior. This framework also directly involves the social component of perceptions and attitudes towards sustainability. Even though we were not named the winners of this challenge, I thoroughly enjoyed the process of incorporating my experiences in public health, the experiences of my teammate as a new SLU student and the goals of the Center for Sustainability. It is always exciting to see how concepts learned in class can have real world implications, even if they are in different fields of study. I look forward to exploring these intersections in the weeks to come at future Weekly Innovation challenges.

Winning Reflection - Ted Stewart-Hester

  • Nov 28th, 5:22am

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