The Wesleyan Sustainability Office released a progress report to mark the end of the first implementation period of the five-year Sustainability Action Plan (SAP), which the office launched in April 2016. The report, which the office released in Nov. 2018, marked the advancement of 112 actions established to reach sustainability goals in the original plan, including improvement in areas of transportation, energy use, and water management.
Each of the goals outlined in the 2016 plan was dedicated to a “responsible party,” which was, in most cases, staff members. The responsible party coordinated with an implementation liaison, who held the party responsible and communicated with the Sustainability Office at monthly intervals.
“While the progress report might not seem like a huge accomplishment to someone who hasn’t been involved, it really represents about five years of work,” Sustainability Director Jennifer Kleindienst said. “We came up with ideas for what we wanted to do, we developed a plan and a timeline, and now, here’s our first check-in. We’ve made progress on nearly every item that we set out to make progress on…We’re very much on the right track to accomplish the vast majority of the Sustainability Action Plan.”
Sustainability Office assistant Mika Yaakoba-Zohar ’19 collected information from the implementation liaisons and wrote the content of the progress report.
“Approaching sustainability is two-pronged,” Yaakoba-Zohar said. “There’s the behavioral, which is what students can do to change their habits, and there’s working to change the system. Really that’s the fundamental problem here, and recycling a water bottle isn’t really going to make a big difference. Any time someone asks ‘What can we do?’ I encourage them to think of that in those two ways.”
Under the leadership of Kleindienst, the SAP was created in 2016 to build a framework for Wesleyan to move toward an environmentally sustainable future. The plan contained goals directly related to campus operation and management, as well as goals that would encourage a culture of campus sustainability, in and out of the classroom.
“We were trying, most of all, to be practical, because I’ve seen many different plans, not just at Wesleyan but in community work and past jobs,” Kleindienst said. “If you have a great founding plan but you set unrealistic targets, you’ll have a plant that does not succeed. It was trying to find things that move us to the next level and really try to push sustainability, in all of its dimensions, forward.”
Yaakoba-Zohar designed the progress report, which is 43 pages shorter than the SAP, to be more approachable to students.
“If I was just a student and not a worker for the Sustainability Office, I definitely wouldn’t have known the vast majority of efforts that the Sustainability Office does, in general, to promote sustainability on campus,” Yaakoba-Zohar said. “It’s really an advertising problem and something I tried to address fall semester in my position. The assistant is supposed to look big picture.”
To make the progress report more accessible, Yaakoba-Zohar avoided scientific jargon, instead of using bullets and graphics to highlight the progress the SAP has made in a variety of campus areas. The report emphasizes projects such as Waste Not’s collection of approximately 22,000 pounds of donations and the third floor of North College’s achievement of obtaining Green Office Certification, which is a Wesleyan-based certification run through the Sustainability Office that encourages academic and administrative buildings to engage in sustainable practices.
The highlights also include the University’s bike share program, which was implemented last fall but ended after Spin, the host company of the bike share, abruptly ended the program in July and transitioned to electric scooters on other campuses.
“The biggest thing that I’ve learned is there’s a lot of change and turmoil in the ‘bike-share’ industry, because it’s still very new, and companies are starting and stopping and being bought out,” Sustainability Director Jennifer Kleindienst said. “Things are changing very quickly, and I want to make sure that if Wesleyan decided to do a bike-share again, the company that we choose has been around long enough and is stable because we don’t want to end up with another scenario like what happened with Spin. If that happened a second time, I don’t think there would be a third time.”
One of the categories which did not see much progress in the SAP was incorporating sustainability in the curriculum, but this will soon see progress with the resumption of the Sustainability Across the Curriculum program this fall. After the program’s year-long hiatus due to low faculty enrollment in the workshops, Kleindienst said that there will be an emphasis on integrating sustainability into already existing courses across a variety of disciplines, such as economics and anthropology.
“There are no limits to courses at Wesleyan that could include sustainability, and through the Sustainability Across the Curriculum program, faculty can learn from their peers and can work in a structured workshop environment to integrate sustainability into their courses and doing it in a way that it really complements the subject matter,” Kleindienst said.
Yaakoba-Zohar said that while she encourages students to educate themselves about starting practices like composting that they can use in Wesleyan and beyond, she also encourages students to educate themselves about current environmental issues.
“Educating yourself in general is huge, firstly about the signs of climate change and how real and scary it is, but also about who it is affecting most, which is people of color in low-income communities, and educating yourself about how to show up for those communities and standing in solidarity with them about these issues,” Yaakoba-Zohar said.
“So much of this work with promoting sustainability is about awareness,” she added. “You just have to plug it in people’s consciousness a little bit.”
Now that the SAP has entered its second implementation period, which will run until 2021, Kleindienst said she is hopeful the SAP will be attainable.
“I was a little bit worried that when I looked at the list for the full five-year plan that there wouldn’t be time to work on the items, but I really feel positive that we’ve been able to make so much progress already on the various strategies,” Kleindienst said. “There were a couple of strategies in the two to five year period that, when I pulled up the document, I saw that we had already completed those because they were the kinds of things that ended up being faster than we thought they would be. I’m just excited that people are still really engaged in this plan and I think there’s a lot of opportunity for forward momentum.”