A Billiken can sport more colors than just blue or white, as proved by the recent success of SLU’s sustainability initiative.
Green Billikens, a club focused on promoting sustainability around campus, leads this initiative by advocating for green practices and educating the student body about the environment. By putting on fun and engaging events like SLUstainability week, RecycleMania, the Green Game, E-waste drive and Shredmania, they spread awareness about the importance of leading a sustainable life.
The success of this group inspired further efforts geared towards sustainability, including the founding of SGA’s newest addition, the Sustainability Committee (SusCo for short), by recent graduate Douglas Fritz. Now, thanks to the combined efforts of both Green Billikens and the SusCo, SLU has committed to purchasing 125 million kilowatts of renewable energy certificates, which will be used to power the entire main campus.
This development builds upon previous initiatives to introduce renewable energy to campus. Last year, SLU successfully offset all electricity consumed in residence halls with renewable energy from local wind farms. With SLU being the first institution in Missouri to make this level of commitment to green practices, the achievement garnered national attention from the EPA as we attained Green Power Partnership status. Student support fueled the accomplishment, with over 80 percent of the student body voting in favor of the conversion to a renewable energy system for residence halls—even if it meant paying a higher price.
While Fritz is proud of the enthusiasm of SLU students to make campus more sustainable, he recognizes the importance of even more drastic change. “It means we have achieved the bare-minimum in reducing our carbon footprint from electricity, but that there is a lot more to do. Our mission calls us to be for and with others in the service of humanity. We are bound by that mission to do more than just the bare minimum for our future, the future of our institution and the future of our planet.”
Laura Beilsmith, a senior studying public health, is another leader for the initiative. She currently serves as the president of Green Billikens and is a member of the SusCo.
She is also proud of the efforts of her fellow Billikens. “You’re paying a little bit more to invest in making more renewable energy so its more robust in the future” noting how important it is that “the campus is really into the idea of making it more environmentally sustainable.”
The Sustainability Initiative as a whole was spearheaded by students in response to the Magis Operational Excellence program, which was launched by SLU in February 2016. This program resulted in the elimination of several organizations, academic programs, and other positions in response to the crushing deficit at the time. One of the organizations cut was the Office of Sustainability, which was the lifeblood of SLU’s sustainability efforts.
Fritz comments that, “since the University felt that sustainability was not a strategic priority, the students would have to lead by example to show them why it should be. Thus, SusCo and this initiative/survey was born”.
The success of these student-led efforts speak to the impact we can have on the environment through our own individual actions and choices.
Beilsmith advised: “If I were to say one thing about sustainability, I’d say that being aware is really important. So reading those really sad news articles about how the polar bears are dying, forcing yourself to read those kind of things to really understand what’s going on, and then understanding that the coffee cup that you just tried throwing in the recycling bin actually can’t be recycled. Understanding how those things work and just being aware of what you’re doing that you could improve is really important.”
Beilsmith is hopeful that through further education and promotion of the mission of Green Billikens and SGA’s Sustainability Committee, that fellow Billikens will become inspired to continue to push themselves and SLU to not only practice, but even produce green energy.
“This is a step in the right direction, but it is not the end goal. The end goal would be to have a wind farm here on campus, and to make our own renewable energy, and to actually be self-sufficient in that way” she said.