Drew University is a much greener place today than when I was an undergrad a decade ago– and I’m not just talking about more trees. Since hiring a full-time sustainability coordinator in 2008, the “university in the forest” has entered the President’s Climate Commitment to go carbon neutral by 2035; it turned the Environmental Studies minor into a major, and recently won the Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award for its campus reforestation initiative.
In my four years as a student, it seemed the discourse on sustainability was relegated to a small group of environmental science students and Earth House residents. “Greenies” from the Drew Environmental Action League gathered at the annual Fern Fest reforestation during Earth Week. The conversation about sustainability was not pervasive.
The work of Tina Notas, Drew’s sustainability coordinator, and the creation of a sustainability committee, helped spread the love. Drew built a new “green” dorm, McLendon Hall; it took on new transportation initiatives like ZipCars, bikes on campus and the MAD Shuttle; it re-vamped recycling programs and implemented energy-saving projects and the Eat Green campaign in the dining hall.
While the campus is still dotted with inefficient, old buildings (the beautiful ones that inspire, for me, a great sense of nostalgia), the minds here are forward-looking. I feel great pride seeing how my alma mater looks inward to improve itself and works outside its walls to foster change.
Last week I attended the Madison Green forum — touted as the most comprehensive green brainstorming session to date in the borough — in the LEED-designated student center, where more than 150 residents, municipal leaders and volunteers gathered. The town came together in response to community feedback about the need for “greening” homes and businesses, preserving natural spaces and addressing transportation issues. Drew was a natural partner.
I’d been to more than one of these kinds of events as a reporter for the Daily Record’s Grassroots section, but this time I attended in a new role: as a University employee. Three months after I made the difficult decision to leave my newspaper job and venture into the evermore-stable world of higher ed (cough, cough), I realize I am treading familiar paths.
From the outside, the job of a community journalist who covers the environment couldn’t have less in common with a fundraiser in academia, but the university has a way of bringing together worlds and skill sets; I’m encouraged to let my non-linear career inform the way I do my job.
Though I landed in journalism unintentionally and my stint was relatively short-lived (I went from working and studying in the international realm to hyper-local involvements), it became a huge part of who I am and changed the way I think and live. I make entirely different lifestyle choices as a direct result of having covered the local sustainability movement.
The best part of these two worlds coming together is working with familiar faces: the change agents and subjects of my stories for the past few years. These people, in neighboring communities like Morristown and Chatham, have made huge strides forward.
I’m in a new role that ultimately aims for the same goal: meeting the challenges of today without compromising the needs of the future. At the risk of sounding entirely un-academic, I’m going to quote Wikipedia’s concise definition of sustainability, because it fits: “It’s the capacity to endure.”