GVSU was named top performer by the National Sustainability Group

GVL / Sheila Babbitt

GVL / Sheila Babbitt

Rachel Matuszewski

During the spring, Grand Valley State University was recognized as a top performer in the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) 2018 Sustainable Campus Index. The university was ranked fourth out of 17 for waste minimization and 10th for well-being and work for master’s level universities. 

The Office of Sustainability answers questions for Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System program by AASHE. Their thorough assessment requires the ten groups from the Campus Sustainability Advisory to help improve sustainability on campus. Their areas of focus include building and landscaping, community engagement, energy and water management, finance, food systems, health and wellness, student affairs, transportation, waste management and sustainability education and research.

“We’ve been delighted to improve our score—over the years it’s gone up every year we’ve done it.” Campus Sustainability Coordinator Yumi Jakobcic said. “It’s a great way for all of us to get in the same room and talk about ways we can collaborate to make something bigger happen.”

Last year, the Office of Sustainability utilized the expertise of GVSU graduate student Samuel Afoakwa, who has worked to bring a recycling program to the University of Ghana, where he studied as an undergraduate student. 

“Myself and two other friends started this volunteer group of plastic recycling,” Afoakwa said. “It was really a challenge at first because we didn’t get full support from our school. We ended up sending proposals to private companies to help us fund recycling bins, which was a struggle because we didn’t have money and we were student volunteers.”

Though the team struggled, they succeeded. 

 “After so many rejections we were able to get about 14 recycling bins and now it has increased to 300. The school has cared for it and now we have a department set up for recycling on campus,” Afoakwa said.

Afoakwa has been involved in many of the eco-friendly changes GVSU has implemented. He partnered with the Green Team—students who help others sort trash into the correct bins, and created a promotional video for Recycle Mania last semester. They were ranked seventh nationally. Afoakwa accredits GVSU’s success in the competition to getting the word out to the student body. Afoakwa will also be continuing the Zero Waste football games for three out of six games this season with the help of volunteers. There will also be a sustainability week from October 1st – 6th.

The Office of Sustainability and Campus Sustainability Advisory Council hopes to leave the gold award behind as they strive for platinum, the highest form of recognition by AASHE. Jakobcic also presents another opportunity for growth in terms of recycling. 

“America has been outsourcing their recycling, so other countries like Asia are no longer accepting recycling.” Jakobcic said. “We have a challenge in West Michigan and America that our recycling prices are going up because we have to figure out how to deal with our recycling problem ourselves here in this country. It’s a great opportunity in our everyday lives to instead of thinking about producing a waste and recycling it, thinking about how we can eliminate that waste in the first place.” 

Jakobcic says buying in bulk instead of individually wrapped things, using your reusable water bottles instead of recycling plastic ones is the way to go.Trying to eliminate waste at the source is a great opportunity (that could help us) move forward.