The forum involved students and faculty from across the BYU campus and was the fifth sustainability discussion held by the Sustainability Office since it opened in 2021.
Artwork from their art show was featured at the front of the room during the forum. The art will be included in a student-led climate change exhibit in the Bean Life Science Museum in Fall 2022.
Steve Hafen gave the opening remarks at the event as the administration vice president and chief financial officer of BYU. He said the Sustainability Office wants to elevate their focus and momentum.
“We should tell people what we’re doing to get the support and synergy we need to keep moving forward,” he said.
Hafen said sustainability at BYU is fully endorsed by BYU and President Kevin J Worthen. He shared the definition of sustainability created by the office: “As beneficiaries of God’s creations, we have a divine stewardship to care for one another and the Earth; in doing so, we meet the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
After the introduction, a video was played highlighting the importance of sustainability.
The keynote speaker, George Handley, shared some of his personal experiences with appreciating and caring for the environment. Handley is a BYU humanities professor and the author of several books about environmentalism.
His love for nature started in his own backyard in Connecticut, where he played in the creek and forest as a young child, Handley said. He encouraged attendees to recognize where they learned to love the earth and to make wherever they live their home.
Handley then shared Doctrine and Covenants 59:18-20.
“This is the most significant development in our time and religion regarding eco-theology. There is a need for stewardship that is clearly articulated,” Handley said.
Handley teared up talking about the younger generation who would inherit the earth, including his own children.
Following Handley’s remarks, a five-student panel shared their experiences and ideas about sustainability. Four students were environmental science and sustainability majors and one was a political science major.
“We need to bring up environmental issues in conversations and be open to what others have to say,” sophomore Katie Lawrence from Utah said.
Political science major Sunni Begay, who is Native American, described her culture’s view on the earth and can how it could help the sustainability movement at BYU.
“In Navajo and Native American culture, we acknowledge that the land doesn’t belong to anyone, it is not owned by anyone. We live in harmony with the earth and recognize that it gives to us, and we try to give back when we can,” Begay said.
Other students talked about how they got involved in sustainability on campus and how they’ve contributed to the initiative at BYU.
Elisabeth Currit, an environmental science and sustainability major from Texas, shared how she became vice president of the Environmental Science Sustainability Club.
She said she wants students to know about the resources and aspects of sustainability BYU already participates in.
To conclude the event, business professor Rob Christensen and engineering professor Andrew South invited the guests to write down ideas about sustainability at BYU. A microphone was then passed around for people to voice their opinions.
Among other suggestions, students proposed planting native flowers on campus to save water, creating classes to educate students about sustainability and providing compost bins on campus for easy access to students.
“I signed up for cross-listed courses and that’s how I got my minor in environmental science. We should integrate sustainability in courses people are interested in already to help more students get involved,” interdisciplinary humanities student Katie Hatfield said.
Even after the event ended, the room continued to be filled with students and faculty talking about ways to improve sustainability at BYU.
“I love sustainability because it involves people,” said Nathan Thompson, an environmental science major from Idaho. “In the end it comes down to changing people’s perception and willingness to act.”