Emily Peters and other students carefully planted 400 milkweeds at the UW-Whitewater Nature Preserve last spring.
They made sure they gave the young plants enough space to thrive so monarch butterflies, whose numbers have plummeted since the mid-1990s, can lay eggs on them.
“We focused on doing it right the first time,” Peters said of herself and other interns in the UW-Whitewater sustainability office.
Another student, Ashley Ann Roscoe, is revamping signs and trail markers in the preserve.
“We’re trying to get people out there and to educate them about the great land we have here,” Roscoe said.
She also has helped in the campus garden and has monitored the health of area waterways.
Both UW-Whitewater students are proud of their environmental work.
But they also are proud of sustainability and environmental efforts across campus.
“A lot is going on overall,” Peters said.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education took notice.
The agency named UW-Whitewater a Green Ribbon School, one of only five colleges nationwide to get the designation this year.
The award recognizes campus efforts to improve the environment and the health and wellness of people and to offer environmental and sustainability education across many departments.
“The award is meant to honor people across campus,” said Wes Enterline, director of the university’s sustainability office.
Some efforts, including the planting of milkweed and other native perennials for pollinators, are easy to recognize.
Others to reduce waste, greenhouse gases, and water and energy use are less noticeable.
Enterline outlined a few of the efforts. They include:
- Offering a shuttle between UW-Whitewater and UW-Whitewater at Rock County for about 100 students who live in dorms in Whitewater but take classes at the Rock County campus in Janesville.
- Making it easier for students to use recycling and waste bins with uniform labeling.
- Reducing the use of herbicides to benefit public health and pollinators while lowering costs.
- Reducing food waste and teaching students about vegan or vegetarian meals that have low impact on the environment.
- Growing a campus garden, which helps promote local eating and helps students become familiar with different vegetables.
- Encouraging outdoor physical activity, especially on the trails of the university’s 100-acre nature preserve.
- Offering environmental and sustainability education across departments and academic disciplines.
“Students looking for careers in sustainability can look at Whitewater, often known as a business or education school,” Enterline said.
All students who pass through UW-Whitewater take classes that address social and environmental concerns, preparing them for issues in the future, he explained.
Enterline views sustainability as striving to meet the needs of the present without affecting the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
“This includes protecting and conserving natural resources, like clean air and water,” Enterline said. “It also means making sure we are being efficient with money and seeking a return on investment for new projects and programs.”
His office opens doors for student interns, who are involved in a variety of projects touching on climate, transportation, waste and recycling and environmental outreach. Some students take on independent studies looking at water use, energy consumption and green-building standards.
Students also have helped the university take part in recognition and certification programs, including the Green Ribbon School award.
Enterline’s goal is to get students involved in all campus sustainability projects.
A modest start
More than a decade ago, Eric Compas put his students, who included Enterline, to work assessing greenhouse-gas emissions at the university.
Students also explored efforts to make the campus more sustainable.
With the support of the administration, one of the pivotal things that came out of their effort was the creation of a sustainability office.
In May 2008, shortly after graduating, Enterline became the first director.
“Wes graduated, and we rounded up some money to get him hired,” said Compas, a professor in the department of geography, geology and environmental science.
Along with hiring Enterline, the university started a council to talk about sustainability on campus and a faculty fellow to promote sustainability in the curriculum.
“We created something called the Savanna Project, which trains faculty to incorporate sustainability in their classes—from art to business to education,” Compas said. “The goal was to institutionalize sustainability so it was not just something people talked about one day a year. Instead, it was something everyone on campus talked about and was involved in.”
Compas was pleased when UW-Whitewater received the Green Ribbon School recognition for its work.
“Awards tend to go to campuses doing the flashy things,” he said. “What we are doing on campus is deep systemic change, and it is good to be rewarded for that.”
Anna Marie Lux is a human interest columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264 or email amarielux@gazettextra .com.