Issues related to sustainability get a lot of attention around Earth Day, but for Ellen Vaughan, fostering a culture of sustainability is a year-round occupation. As sustainability manager, facilitating improvements in recycling, water and energy use is part of Vaughan’s job description, and she is quick to point out NAU’s growing list of successes.
“In this arid region we’ve got to pay attention to our water use, so that is why it is impressive to have exceeded our goal and reduced water use by 30 percent,” said Vaughan, referring to earlier goals set out in the university’s Sustainability Action Plan. Overall use remained flat despite additional buildings and significant enrollment growth.
About two years ago, before Vaughan came to the university, she was looking for a job in a community like NAU, where it would be possible to showcase sustainability efforts in waste minimization, recycling, resource use and transportation, providing solid examples of effective sustainable living.
Ongoing improvements require behavior changes among students, faculty and staff. Sustainability coordinator Nick Koressel oversees NAU’s Energy Mentors program, which just reached a milestone of 100 volunteers.
“The energy mentors do a two-hour training session to become change agents within their offices, encouraging coworkers to turn off lights and unplug devices to reduce energy usage,” Koressel said.
Eco Reps, a Residence Life program, is part of a nationwide effort within residential communities. Eco Rep Alana Weber said she has witnessed substantial behavioral changes in the dorms during her three years as an undergraduate.
“The recycling pilot program on campus has increased student and faculty awareness of what is recyclable, giving rise to a campus culture of sustainability,” Weber said. Other efforts include increased residence hall signage that she said instigates five-minute showers and turning off lights.
As the campus leader of these efforts, Vaughan’s analysis incorporates the three pillars of sustainability: social equity, environmental stewardship and economic prosperity.
Vaughan is encouraged by NAU’s ethos and the way faculty members weave environmental curriculum throughout their courses, even in non-related fields. “There are tons of opportunities for students to learn about the issues throughout their four years here, and they graduate with a better understanding of what the issues are and how they can be part of the solution in the future,” Vaughan said.
Visit the Green NAU website to learn about NAU’s many sustainability programs or to find out about becoming an energy mentor.