Environmental groups, sustainNU seek to expand communication and collaboration


Illustration by Pavan Acharya

Environmental student organizations are aiming to extend a green thumb to all students.

Russell Leung, Senior Staffer

Northwestern has almost 20 different environmental student organizations and while each club is independent, Associate Director of Sustainability Julie Cahillane said she saw the potential for these groups to work together on larger initiatives and events.

In that spirit, Cahillane and sustainNU, along with NU’s Institute for Sustainability and Energy, invited more than 10 environment and sustainability student groups to a Jan. 23 meeting. Cahillane said while the purpose of the informal meeting was to acquaint the representatives, she hopes it will spark lasting partnerships.

“The last couple of years, there’s been fewer opportunities for engagement and collaboration with limited events and health and safety protocols,” Cahillane said. “It was time to have an opportunity for a face-to-face meeting and conversations with the groups that we often work with.”

The collaboration, currently called Sustainability and Environmentalism Oriented Organizations, is still in its early stages. The member clubs haven’t met a second time since then, though they communicate in a Slack channel. But student representatives said they are excited about the possibilities of collaboration.

Cats Who Compost education chair and Weinberg sophomore Quinn Correa said the January gathering allowed her organization to talk to groups they haven’t worked with before, like In Our Nature, an environmental publication.

“Part of our meeting initially … was to actually clarify what the meaning or purpose of all of us meeting there was,” Correa said. “This opened up new opportunities for us to build connections.”

Many of the invited groups had worked together in the past. According to Weinberg junior and Campus Kitchen President Sean Pascoe, his group often collaborates with CWC and Wild Roots. The three groups are co-hosting the Snowstainability Ball later this month, which will incorporate sustainable practices like composting and vegetarian food.

Weinberg senior and Wild Roots President Molly Schneck said she hopes SEOO will facilitate sustainability advocacy partnerships between student organizations and the University. 

“I would like for things at Northwestern to take less time,” Schneck said. “I think that’s my main goal for Wild Roots, being a part of this coalition and creating a stronger unified front in terms of sustainability.” 

Callihane said sustainNU has worked with the University on improving infrastructural sustainability on campus, such as implementing efficient lighting and posting educational content on reducing waste. But direct student appeals to the administration can be just as powerful as sustainNU proposals, she said.

Many SEOO representatives also want to include more student groups in their work, even if they aren’t directly focused on sustainability. 

Weinberg junior Alexandre Brunet, communications chair for Outdoors Club, said environmental groups should put on programming that attracts non-members, similar to initiatives like the campus bird safety petition that garnered support from a wide variety of students.

“If we can find a way to make environmental and sustainability initiatives that are not super requiring (of) a time commitment, then you might be able to achieve a little more,” Brunet said.

Associated Student Government is another organization aiming to involve students in sustainability efforts.

ASG’s Sustainability Committee is hosting a “Green Week” in April in which different environmental organizations will host activities, like gardening classes and food waste challenges. Participating groups include SEOO members like Wild Roots and Cats Who Compost, but Weinberg sophomore and SusComm co-Chair Alexis Schwartz said the goal is to work with as many clubs as possible.

“Sustainability is in everything,” Schwartz said. “Sustainability and environmentalism intersect with every facet of our life. That means it intersects with every student group on campus, any event that happens, any meeting that happens.”

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @rjleung7

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