Students push for sustainability office at BYU

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A group of BYU students is calling for greater collaboration between students and administration in sustainability efforts on campus.

The movement is known as the BYU Student Sustainability Initiative, or BYU SSI, and is not officially affiliated with BYU. The founders are environmental science seniors Derrek Wilson and Allie Tuttle and they are assisted by plant and wildlife sciences professor Ben Abbott.

The founders of BYU SSI, from left, Allie Tuttle, Ben Abbott and Derrek Wilson. (Erika Magaoay)

According to Wilson, the goal of BYU SSI is to help the university be more environmentally friendly on an institutional level and to improve campus culture. He said BYU SSI leadership believes this can best happen through the creation of a student-led sustainability office and committee at BYU, which would allow for more focused and collaborative sustainability efforts and provide resources for students.

“When I talk to students about this idea, so often they say, ‘Where do I go to find people who are doing stuff like this?’ Nobody knows where other students are who care about the environment at BYU,” Wilson said. “If there’s a centralized office, then they can go there. They can get involved with the student board; they can get involved with projects and have fun and gain leadership experience.”

The BYU SSI logo. The organization was founded in January 2019 to help improve campus sustainability and student culture. (Allie Tuttle)

Tuttle said this office would be run by a student-led committee, creating opportunities for experiential learning and fulfilling BYU’s Aims, including improving the ecological environment.

The committee would also include a non-student sustainability coordinator. 

“Currently that (role) doesn’t exist on its own,” Wilson said. “It’s put under somebody else’s responsibility, so it doesn’t get much attention.”

Wilson and Tuttle have approached BYU administration, including Student Life Vice President Julie Franklin and Steven Sandberg, assistant to the president and general counsel. Both individuals expressed support but were unsure how to implement the proposal.

“It’s mostly people telling us they don’t know where it could fit within the university structure,” Wilson said.

BYU SSI has not yet been successful in securing administrative change within the university. According to Wilson, administration must understand that this issue is important to students for change to happen. He said the reason BYU didn’t sell caffeine products on campus before 2017 was because administration didn’t know students wanted it.

“If we tell administration what we want and across campus if students are supportive of this, then I think that will be the biggest factor in changing their minds,” he said.

For this purpose, Wilson and Tuttle have started an Office of Sustainability Petition.

“I think that will be the most powerful, direct action that students can take right now,” Wilson said.

Wilson presented the petition to students attending the environmental lecture series in the Kennedy Center on Wednesday, Feb. 12, and plans to do this every week. BYU SSI is aiming for 1,000 signatures by March 15.

Derrek Wilson, Emilee Severe and David Dominguez look on as a student signs the petition after the Kennedy Center’s environmental lecture on Wednesday. (Erika Magaoay)

Among the students who signed the petition was advertising major Juan Garcia. “I don’t know much about the environment, or what effects what, but I know the air in Utah is pretty bad,” he said.

University of Utah and Utah Valley University both have sustainability boards, and Utah State University has a sustainability council that provides grants that allow students to receive funding for campus projects. Wilson said that unlike other universities, BYU’s student body representatives cannot affect fees or allocate funds to different places.

“Nothing that we do here will be the same as other universities,” he said. “But we can still have an impact and use our voice as students collectively to have broader changes on campus and push the administration.”

A lot of people don’t know BYU already exercises significant sustainability practices, according to Wilson. A lot of the food waste from the Cannon Center and clippings from the grounds crew are currently composted, and he said the university also makes energy conservation efforts.

“One of our goals is trying to get more of that stuff available to students,” Tuttle said. “Our biggest thing is we want to get the students involved.”

BYU SSI leads a variety of projects to unite students in sustainability efforts. The projects serve to inform students of the initiative, teach and encourage sustainability and show the administration that they are serious, said Tuttle. 

Last fall BYU SSI held an alternative transportation fair, which included a bus in Brigham Square and representatives from the BYU Bike Committee, Utah Transit Authority and Spin Electric Scooters.

“We just wanted to let people know that you don’t need a car to get to campus and around Provo,” Tuttle said. 

Recently the group assisted Y-Serve’s refugee projects by collecting plastic bags to be made into mats. Tuttle and other BYU SSI members placed donation boxes in the Cannon Center and Heritage Halls.

BYU SSI is holding a “Tour de Bins” where students can improve BYU’s recycling system by finding better recycling bin locations on campus. The group is working with BYU recycling to make the changes effective and long lasting. Volunteers who come can assist in identifying high-traffic areas that could use different kinds of recycling bins.

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