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Sustainability Projects Modeled, but Not Slated to be Enacted

Interns in Indiana University’s Office of Sustainability say they’re heading for greener pastures, campuses and buildings after completing their summer-long internships. They recently presented their work at a public symposium, giving recommendations for campus improvements. But translating their ideas into actual university policy will likely be a challenge.

More than 50% of the IU’s Office of Sustainability budget goes to pay 18 interns. Those interns, like Melissa Greulich, spent months researching areas of sustainability before making suggestions and recommendations for improvements on campus. Greulich worked on a recycling feasibility study that started with the idea that students should be able to take recyclables from their homes to a drop spot on campus. But that changed due to responses in a student survey that found the recycling program already available on campus aren’t being used by most students.

“It’s kind of frustrating because you don’t see like immediate results,” Greulich said. “And I’ve actually been working on my project since January. But the good thing about my project is I feel like I’ve met with so many people with the IU recycling program that I’ve kind of, you know, gotten these ideas in their heads.”

Greulich said when her internship ends this summer it’ll be up to university officials to translate her ideas into IU policy. Sustainability Advisory Board Co-chair Michael Hamburger said the need for distributed responsibility is one of the challenges of sustainability.

“The office is really just one person right now, the director of sustainability, and he’s not empowered to enforce any university actions,” Hamburger said. “But frankly, there’s a very rapid movement taking place on this campus and around the county that is energizing and supporting these activities and they’re being implemented by more and more parts of our institution. A lot of things are happening on their own. The office of sustainability is a way to provide centralized support.”

Hamburger said most interns were partnered with the university departments involved in sustainable plans in their particular area of emphasis. He said it’s up to them now to carry that through, saying that these initiatives could take some time to come about.

“One of the students last summer who worked on a local food project was disappointed at first to discover that you can’t turn all the food in all the dining halls to local food, but she worked with the purchasing department to come up with a contract that would allow the halls of residence to purchase for the first time local apples and serve the local apples in the dining halls,” Hamburger said. “So, these are incremental changes maybe not so obvious to all visitors but they’re ones that are gradually moving us to a more sustainable campus.”

Future plans call for fewer interns, but for the sustainability office to add full-time staff.

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