NMU EcoReps, a peer-to-peer educator program that focuses on environmentalism, social equity and economic vitality, made such an impressive debut in its first year that it ended the semester with Student Organization of the Year honors. Members also addressed the NMU Board of Trustees in May, lobbying for a $5 student opt-out fee for a proposed GreenFund that would support student sustainability initiatives. They were pleasantly shocked when the board voted on the spot to contribute $20,000 per semester to the organization’s operation for 2018-19 while exploring the viability of implementing a fee.
Much of the group’s success can be attributed to its leadership. Georgia Harrison (BS ’18) and environmental science major Olivia Walcott established NMU EcoReps after attending the 2017 Association for the Advancement for Sustainability in Higher Education conference. They represent the passionate, energetic and highly capable NMU students and recent alumni who have helped to drive sustainability efforts on campus.
EcoReps launched a Sustainability Workshop Series, with topics ranging from Leave No Trace practices to composting. It also hosted Sustainability Week in March. Activities included a recycled art display, social sustainability panel discussion, gender fair and a documentary on the impact of clothing production and pricing. A clothing swap was followed by Fix it Friday, which offered quick sewing repairs of apparel, backpacks and stuffed animals to reduce waste.
“We also held a ‘Turn Down the Lights’ campaign that week and worked with Facilities to dim corridor lights in several campus buildings,” said Harrison. “In addition to raising awareness about energy usage, the effort saved about $700. That would equate to $36,000 per year. And we were told the 5,600 kilowatt hours avoided during that period would be enough to run NMU's Heating Plant for about three days.”
EcoReps also volunteered for the second-annual Zero Waste Challenge coordinated by the NMU Sustainability Advisory Council. Attendees were encouraged to visit informational displays and to sort their trash at zero waste stations throughout the Berry Events Center. Ninety-three percent of the waste generated at a December Wildcat hockey game was diverted from the landfill through composting or recycling in partnership with the Marquette County Solid Waste Management Authority.
EcoReps members told the NMU Board of Trustees that about 76 percent of students who voted in the ASNMU election this spring registered support for the proposed GreenFund in a non-binding online poll.
“These funds are pretty standard within our region and across peer institutions,” said Walcott. “Most schools charge $1 per credit hour per semester or $10-$15. We wanted to start smaller. The GreenFund would allow EcoReps to run student sustainability programming and complete projects. We could bring in speakers, develop a rain garden to decrease runoff from heavy precipitation events and maybe install solar panels that could charge students’ phones and laptops. It would also be possible to establish a mini-grant process to fund certain activities students want to coordinate.”
NMU EcoReps is included in a larger feature story on campus sustainability efforts in the upcoming issue of “Northern Magazine.” The summer edition revolves around a sustainability theme, with stories ranging from NMU partnerships with local food growers/suppliers to related alumni businesses and activities.