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Office of Sustainability Director Elisabeth Reed.

Campus models social responsibility

Efforts to improve sustainability extend far beyond the laboratory at Illinois State, due in large part to the efforts of Elisabeth Reed, director of the Office of Sustainability.

Her role empowers her to be an educator on issues such as recycling and composting, which is about more than making garden soil from coffee grounds and banana peels.

Reed also teaches about sustainability, defining it as making small changes that will impact generations to come. That’s exactly what is happening across campus —from refillable water stations to a free clothing repair service and recycling household items students discard.

Reed surveyed students, faculty and staff about sustainability, drawing more than 1,700 responses. The top suggestion was reducing single-use plastic. Progress is already apparent as, for example, Hancock Stadium uses straws made from corm.

Campus dining centers offer compostable takeout containers and tray-less dining. Leftovers are composted and taken by an organic waste facility that annually turns about 140 tons from ISU into soil. Some returns to campus for landscaping projects.

“It’s a really great Redbird story. Students put their plates on a conveyor belt, the leftovers go into this composting facility, and it comes back here into the earth,” said Reed, who has the goal of placing compost bins alongside recycling containers.

Another project on her list is to expand Pass-it-On, which began more than 20 years ago by Sociology Professor Emerita Mary Campbell. University Housing Services sets up collection bins and Army ROTC provides manpower to deliver to donation centers items students discard when the semester ends. As many as four truckloads a day are collected during a week.

A new project Reed is planning for this spring is similar to the little free libraries that promote book exchanges, only these will hold school supplies. The Student Sustainability Committee is working with the Engineering Technology Club to build donation boxes. The Renewable Energy Society will unveil in the fall a grill powered by solar panels, and Fix-It Friday continues to grow. Students provide free sewing repairs to keep clothing out of landfills. More than 600 items have been mended in the three years since the program began.

Students are also showing their civic concern by desiring locally sourced foods. Event, Management, Dining, and Hospitality staff increasingly rely on Illinois farmers to provide rice, flour and lettuce. Reed is working with Students for Fair Trade to offer products that can’t be sourced locally.

“We would love to be the first state school in Illinois to be certified fair trade. It’s all about education,” said Reed, who acts on her conviction that “learning should be happening in every corner of our campus.”

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