Student Senate outlines sustainability goals


GVL / Marc Green

Lucas Swartzendruber, Staff Reporter

Student Senator Gavin Marlowe presented a proposal during Student Senate’s Oct. 17 general assembly meeting. He sought to reinstate the Sustainability Subcommittee while sharing sustainability goals for Grand Valley State University to pursue in upcoming years.

“I really started the Sustainability Subcommittee because there was an interest in sustainability for Student Senate to focus on that as one of our pillars,” Marlowe said.

At the beginning of fall 2019, Student Senate conducted strategic planning meetings to discuss ways to change campus, with sustainability as one of four themes. Sustainability goals were brainstormed during these sessions and the ideas from the meetings were condensed for the Sustainability Subcommittee.

The subcommittee was present to Student Senate last year. However, the previous senator who led it did not return this year. Once the Sustainability Subcommittee was reinstated by Marlowe, he and Student Senator McKenzie Gamage became co-chairs in the body. 

Gamage said the subcommittee meets bi-weekly, describing it as a cross-committee collaboration since student senators from other committees can join. Here, members engage in sustainability projects. 

Gamage said she is organizing a summit that will spread the sustainability conversation across GVSU next semester, with the goal to bring together ideas of how different organizations handle sustainability. Marlowe said the Office of Sustainability Practices and student-run organizations would be helpful at the summit.

“I am so excited that they have this new subcommittee,” said Office of Sustainability Practices Director Yumiko Jakobcic. “I’m looking forward to working closely with them as much as they would welcome me.”

Jakobcic said the Sustainability Office helps educate students about sustainability. She cited the Energy Competition as a program supported by her department, which allows student residential halls on campus to compete to accomplish the highest reduction in energy usage. The Sustainability Office, Jakobcic said, also works with student groups, informing them about current sustainability practices and actions to take for making a difference.

GVSU carries out various sustainable programs throughout the community. Jakobcic said the university is fortunate to have composting because it further reduces waste. Campus Dining recently switched to compostable straws, which are noticeably colored green. Additionally, the Sustainable Agriculture Project (SAP) allows for students to participate in local food production, with volunteers from GVSU’s Farm Club and visits from different classes. Marlowe himself was able to grow radishes there. 

Gamage said she thinks the university does a great job already on sustainability, even receiving awards. Nonetheless, she emphasized improvement.

“It’s more about keeping our momentum and keeping up the good work and furthering our sustainability practices,” Gamage said.

The Oct. 17 Sustainability Subcommittee proposal categorizes goals under two timeframes for completion. Some two-year goals include reducing paper waste by promoting digital communication, phasing out single-use plastics and reopening the Padnos Greenhouse, given it currently functions as storage space.

Other goals are designated for accomplishment within five years to a decade. One objective deals with shifting entirely to electric busing, since sustainability involves seeking alternative energy while shifting away from fossil fuels. Another goal challenges GVSU to become carbon zero before 2030 through complete reliance on solar panels and other alternative energy sources.

Jakobcic said she appreciated the Sustainability Subcommittee for shooting for the stars with such goals as going carbon-zero by 2030. However, she noted there are logistical challenges. Funding projects like these can be difficult, as Jakobcic said it is challenging when being mindful of spending student tuition dollars.

“It’s hard to make huge infrastructure changes without putting some money upfront,” Jakobcic said.

For students interested in sustainability goals, the subcommittee encourages feedback and participation. Gamage said students can attend Student Senate general meetings for public comment. Students can also reach out to the Sustainability Office or attend Sustainability Subcommittee meetings where they can share any concerns or ideas. 

Aside from reducing waste and promoting alternative energy, Gamage emphasized her hope for the sustainability goals.

“As far as goals, I would just like people to be more aware of the environmental impact that every human being has,” Gamage said.