There is an increasing trend among people and organizations to focus on issues of sustainability. As a result, there are often conflicting ideas or confusion about what it really means to act in ways that protect the environment.
Missy Nergard sticks with a textbook definition, which can be summarized as making sure environmental resources are protected for current and future generations. To do so means focusing on entire processes, not merely end results.
That’s exactly what Nergard does at Illinois State, where she serves as director of sustainability. She actively involves students in projects across disciplines, working to fulfill one of the priorities established in Educating Illinois 2013-2018: Individualized Attention, Shared Aspirations. The University’s strategic plan calls for action that promotes an environmentally sustainable campus.
For some that means obvious action, such as keeping furniture abandoned by students at the end of the school year off the trash curb or composting food waste from the residence hall dining centers. Nergard paints a much broader picture, noting that both examples again focus on the end of a process without necessarily touching the starting point.
Her goal as director involves helping students see sustainability as issues of environmental systems that interact with business and social systems. She focuses on efficiencies at the University level, engaging students who are eager to acquire a skill set that positions them as a job candidate with a competitive advantage.
They can achieve that goal by completing a renewable energy major or a minor in business environment and sustainability. Corporate interest is huge and growing, but there is wide involvement on campus beyond College of Business students. Many who work with Nergard are interested in the projects she finds that create a bridge between campus and the community. Students play an active role in deciding what work can and should be undertaken on campus.
“We look across the board, from supply chain management to corporate responsibilities and fair trade issues,” Nergard said, noting that the University provides an annual budget of $180,000 in a Student Sustainability Fund. She oversees the money, which is dispersed after a committee formed through the Student Government Association determines what projects should be pursued.
A Reggie Ride bike-share program is one that gained approval and was restarted during this spring semester. Thirty new bikes were purchased as a way to provide free, sustainable campus transportation for the ISU community.
Another is a green roof project that allows students experience in creating and cultivating a garden plot suitable for a rooftop. Nergard noted that green roofs are increasingly mandatory in larger metropolitan areas such as Chicago. They are desired as a way to mediate building heat, help clean the air, and ease the stress on storm systems during rainy seasons.
Nergard is equally excited about ongoing work with bee hives in the Sugar Grove Nature Center south of campus near Funks Grove. In a public/private venture, bees are housed so that honey can be gathered, processed, and sold. The project is both educational for students and practical for the area, as honey produced locally mitigates allergy concerns.
From working to have ISU’s Weibring Golf Club certified through the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program to supporting the University’s solar car team and bringing in speakers, students are passionate and engaged in campus sustainability efforts. They are living what they learn, leaving the University empowered to literally protect and nurture their world.