The Western community’s push to sow seeds of sustainability is growing, and in more than a metaphorical way.
Ten faculty, staff and students were feted this week as campus sustainability champions, based on glowing nominations from their peers.
After the ceremony, the Green Award and WISE competition winners and other attendees took home 200 packets of wildflower seeds – including asters and oxeye daisies and other species native to the region – to improve native pollinator habitats beyond campus.
“We thought the seed packets would be a great way to mark our community commitment to sustainability,” said Jessica Cordes, Western’s sustainability engagement coordinator, noting Western has been designated a bee-friendly campus. “It’s the perfect time of year right now, while it’s still cool, to sow native seeds that will germinate in the spring.”
The seeds were gathered by the Thames Talbot Land Trust, a local group whose mission is to protect, restore and nurture natural environments.
At the core of the university’s Towards Western at 150 strategic plan is working towards a more sustainable future, through campus policies and investments, buildings with low carbon footprints, and teaching and research with global impact.
“What Western has put into its sustainability programs has been amazing,” said Western Technology (WTS) staffer Donna Sasges, one of this year’s Green award winners. “It makes us feel we have support when we take initiatives.”
This is the 15th annual celebration of Green Award winners, who represent the best of grassroots environmental change-makers at Western. In addition to Sasges, the other winners are: biology professor Nina Zitani; and a student team of Brian Yang, Allison Pert, Brittany Lau, Grace Farrow and Rebecca Streef.
The WISE (Western Ideas for Sustainability and the Environment) competition is a student challenge for innovative and practical ideas that have a positive impact on campus: sisters Samantha and Grace Tse won first place in the competition, and Ayumi Lam was awarded the second prize.
Green award winners
Donna Sasges has been a driving force in organizing and promoting the green composting program at WTS for about eight years. She co-ordinates volunteer schedules for each floor to manage the disposal receptacles, ensures there are always supplies available for the program, and actively promotes the initiative across the department.
“It just makes sense, doing our little part. It’s definitely teamwork and everyone pitches in,” Sasges said.
“The really great thing about these large green bins is that not only can you put in food scraps, but also biodegradable paper products, paper towels and napkins… It’s a lot of ‘waste’ that’s not waste. It’s not going into the garbage and, instead, is going into the organics bin to feed the earth.”
Students Brian Yang, Brittany Lau, Allison Pert, Grace Farrow and Rebecca Streef are members of the Western Sustainability Leaders Program team. This team is composed of student advocates who take action. They have led a number of initiatives that include sharing information about careers in sustainability; teaching students how to save seeds and to garden (in-person); offering career advice for environmentalists; collaborating with other individuals and organizations on a sustainable-fashion webinar; hosting a sustainability fair featuring environmental groups on campus and a bike-to-campus initiative.
They have worked with student groups to improve sorting for waste, food and recycling streams; and their leadership has helped students shop locally, discover and support campus biodiversity, and celebrate holidays more sustainably.
Nina Zitani, is a biology professor, curator of Western Zoological Collections, and founder and creator of Western’s Biodiversity Gallery. An indefatigable supporter of biodiversity through education, research and personal example, Zitani is described as an inspiring champion of ecological responsibility and sustainability.
She equips students and community members with knowledge and motivation to rethink and rebuild their relationship with land, water, plants and fungi. Her research includes discovering and naming 15 new insect species in Costa Rica, where she has led several cohorts of fieldwork students to a first-hand understanding of biodiversity and climate change.
She is an accomplished nature photographer and is passionate about collaborating with faculty members, staff and students who write, create art and conduct science that promotes ecology and sustainability.
WISE student competition winners
Samantha and Grace Tse: The students’ project promotes reducing students’ carbon footprint by incentivizing walking and other physical exercise. The two students recommend social media challenges that can motivate more people to exercise for more minutes each day. Participating students would become eligible for prizes, such as heating packs in the winter, by tagging themselves and others as they walk. Cost of the program would be negligible, their proposal said, while the benefits to personal health and the environment would be considerable.
Ayumi Lam: The student’s proposal includes a WayToWestern app that would track the distance walked or cycled to the university. It would use a reward-based system that would also calculate both the money saved on gas and the CO2 emissions saved by walking or cycling instead of driving. An in-app map would log the route and distance travelled, along with Western’s accessible paths for walking and cycling, and places on campus for bike parking and showers.