New sustainability award honors green efforts

Rebekah Alvey

The ground is a bright shade of green, the cherry blossom trees are in bloom and students are taking their studying outside: all signs of spring’s arrival. This spring, the sustainability department is working to keep WKU a beautiful and sustainable place through its Green Squirrel of Approval certification program.

The program has an online submission form where different departments can find out how sustainable they are being and receive a rating.

Sustainability Coordinator Christian Ryan said it is a way to educate and raise awareness on ways departments can be more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Ryan explained by going through the process and reading the questions they are learning about different things they can do. Ryan said she has already gotten feedback from some departments that want to raise their rating by implementing more sustainable procedures.

After the submission is filled out, which takes approximately 15 minutes, the rating is provided immediately. The system is based on an acorn rating, with a maximum of four acorns

Ryan said they have had 14 submissions already. Most have received a rating of two or three acorns. Ryan said there’s room for departments to learn and improve.

Sophomore Savannah Molyneaux, president of the SGA sustainability committee, said she hopes to see all future buildings constructed in an environmental and sustainability conscious way.

“We want them to be the most energy efficient, sustainable and use the least waste,” Molyneaux said.

After the launch last week, the first groups to participate were the President’s office and Student Government Association. Office of Research Integrity, the WKU Store, Theatre and Dance and the Provost and Academic Affairs department followed.

When generating the questions, Ryan said they worked with many other departments like transportation, dining and waste management to find how they related to campus sustainability. They also tested questions on these groups to ensure it was accurate and fun, Ryan said.

From this collaboration came a wide range of questions. The submission asks questions on topics departments may not think of with sustainability, like if they use local providers for catering, or if they use transportation in their department, do they use eco-friendly cars or vehicles.

Each department is sent a photo of its Green Squirrel of Approval rating to share on social media or put on their website.

“It’s remarkable that just participating in something positive for our campus is incentive enough,” Ryan said.

Ryan said the program ties into the WKU spirit of publicly making an effort to do better.

The idea of a Green Office Certification isn’t unique to WKU; however,  the idea of a squirrel and the details are different than other campuses. Ryan said she often looks to other campuses for ideas on sustainability because there are rarely original ideas.

Ryan said this is something she has been working for since she started in her position. Looking to the future, Ryan said she hopes to get physical window decals for departments to display.

Ryan said she also hopes to expand the program to residence halls. Molyneaux said SGA has teamed with the Residence Hall Association task force,  which is committed to sustainability.

Molyneaux said it’s important to connect with the different groups working toward the goal of sustainability to make more progress. Students need to be thinking about the daily things they can do to sustain resources, she said.

Ryan said it was important to start with the departments because students seem to be the most aware of sustainability practices and through the program will hopefully see best practices being modeled.

“After years of thinking about it, it’s exciting to see it coming together,” Ryan said.

Reporter Rebekah Alvey can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected]