By Caitlin Lynch, UNR Student and Intern for Envirolution
Envirolution recently had the opportunity to sit down with Steven McNeece, the Director of Sustainability for the Associated Students of the University of Nevada (ASUN). McNeece is an environmental science major in his senior year at the university. Last year, ASUN created the position that McNeece currently holds as Director of Sustainability on the Executive Board. His duties include overseeing the Sustainable Nevada Initiative Fund (SNIF), presiding on the ASUN Executive Board,and creating and improving sustainable activities on campus.
The University of Nevada has been doing more for sustainability in the last three years. Previous ASUN President Boone was the first ASUN president to put emphasis on sustainability on campus. Sustainability on campus has become a more important consideration for prospective students when choosing a school. Accountability for the environment and clean energy are issues that attract students. Certain aspects of sustainability have also become much more popularized among college students. Roughly 70% of prospective students express interest in the sustainability efforts of their prospective schools, according to McNeece. Due to this important impression on students, McNeece wants to address current issues in sustainability, as well as creating new programs that will help promote sustainability.
One focus for McNeece comes from student waste, especially those living on and around campus. “Our recycling program is mostly paper based, but many students have old clickers, laptops, calculators, and phones that need to be recycled,” McNeece said. E-waste is a worldwide issue. Only 8% of Americans in 2014 recycled their old cell phones, and that number is even lower with other smaller electronics, such as calculators, iPods, and batteries (University of California, Los Angeles). Providing a location for students to dispense of their electronic products and batteries could reduce the amount of that which ends up in a landfill every year. Electronics can be recycled to reuse the valuable products they provide, such as gold and lithium.
E-waste is not the only issue students face when deciding what to do with their belongings; large appliance and furniture waste also poses a problem, especially in the residence halls. “Most students move every August to a new home,” McNeece said. “You’ll start seeing couches all over the streets and lots. There are also smaller furniture items from the residence halls. We need to try to target those days of move out and help with the recycling process.”
Though e-waste and furniture waste is a huge issue that McNeece wants to tackle this year on campus, he believes UNR and its students are doing well in the fields of food and landscape waste. Since 2015, the University has completed over $350 million of construction projects on campus, and has planned and ongoing projects of roughly $100 million. Maintenance is also happening everywhere around campus every day to keep buildings and walkways safe. McNeece believes maintenance and construction teams have done well in making sure their waste finds a good home. The dining areas on campus also have an effective method for using food waste. “[The university] has a composting contract,” says McNeece, “they are also very good at composting landscaping waste such as tree branches, and construction waste.”
Steve also wants to continue the cycle of obtaining fresh greens and beef straight from the University Farm on Valley Road. The University Farm is run by the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology, and Natural Resources. Keeping resources local is a great way to reduce waste and pollution from transport.
In terms of what he plans to do to reduce ASUN’s waste at events, students are a huge indicator of what’s trendy in helping the environment. ASUN recently voted to eliminate use of plastic water bottles at all events, purchasing two large mobile water filling stations. Steve believes students really care about eliminating water bottle waste. “I definitely think the students, this year especially, are almost eliminating plastic water bottle use with Hydroflasks™ and reusable bottles,” says McNeece. “In addition, [ASUN] will hand out Nevada ASUN tin reusable water bottles for free at events. Last year we implemented an initiative to get refill water stations at more buildings on campus, so students have plenty of places to use their bottles.”
McNeece also has his own ideas that he wants to bring to the table to help students become more sustainable in their day-to-day lives. One possibility is a campus-wide bikeshare program that can also be implemented in popular downtown areas. Students often don’t have space for a bike or don’t want to invest in a bike that might get stolen or break. With a bikeshare, students don’t have to worry about any of that and can still travel between locations quickly and efficiently. McNeece also wants to improve recycling and composting on campus to make it more accessible in the residence halls and libraries where students spend a lot of their time.
Although McNeece is the first to fill the position of Director of Sustainability, he is not alone in the endeavor to make campus greener. “I can go to the senate meetings and tell them what I’m doing. I can convey to thirty different student leaders my thoughts, and they can give me their thoughts as well,” said McNeece. “This gives us a full brainstorm of ideas from the entire senate instead of one person trying to figure it out themselves.” The most difficult part of creating practices that are more sustainable isn’t coming up with the ideas, it’s the planning and funding. Many projects are large-scale and may not be implemented for several years, or could be rolled out over the course of several years with different student governments. McNeece says it will just take patience and planning.
As for students who want to get involved in making campus more sustainable, McNeece has some words of advice. “You can join clubs, such as Environment Club,” says McNeece. “You could also apply for Sustainable Nevada Initiative Fund, which can give you the opportunity to impact our campus community for the better.” The Sustainable Nevada Initiative Fund (SNIF) allows students or groups of any discipline or standing within the university to submit a proposed sustainability project. Selected individuals or groups can receive funding to help implement their project. SNIF is a great way to manage a sustainability project, impact the community, and receive credit for the work. In addition to joining clubs or applying for SNIF, students can always go to the senate meetings in the Joe Crowley Student Union on campus. They hold meetings every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., where students or any member of the community is welcome to share their thoughts or concerns. McNeece hopes that all members of the community will support sustainability on campus and try to be active participants in making the campus community greener.
Steven’s Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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About the Author:
Caitlin Lynch is a senior at the University of Nevada, Reno studying Wildlife Ecology and Conservation. She is a member of the UNR Student Ambassadors who recruit students to the university and she works on campus as a campus escort officer. Caitlin worked with Envirolution for a year as their social media intern creating articles and posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds.