Taking Small Steps Toward Environmental Stewardship

Environmental stewardship can often feel like a daunting task. There are so many different pieces to the puzzle that is sustainable living and trying to make change all by oneself is an uphill battle. Fortunately, an organization exists that works to coordinate student efforts and ensure the sustainability of the Hope College community. Enter: Hope Advocates for Sustainability. 

As described by program director Michelle Gibbs, Hope Advocates for Sustainability, or HAS, is a student led organization that encourages environmentally sustainable lifestyles. There are seven paid intern positions, each with their own focus. One student may focus on reducing the energy expenditure of cottages and apartments, while another may assess the viability of green transportation on campus. The whole team meets weekly to work on sustainability projects, which range from informative events to assessments of Hope’s carbon footprint.

Devin White (‘24) is a student intern for HAS. His primary focus is conservation, with an emphasis on waterways in and around the Holland area. One of his projects has been raising awareness surrounding storm drains. During the winter they become clogged with snow, leading to water contamination and flooding. Devin also mentions the difficulties with “people dumping things they shouldn’t down there.” 

Last year, HAS took action to raise awareness for this issue. Devin and his fellow interns stenciled a number of the stormwater drains across campus. Their message encouraged students to “Dump No Waste” with a reminder that everything drains into Lake Macatawa. HAS also makes yearly rounds, leaving information on cottage doors about how to maintain storm drains to prevent flooding.

However, the greatest challenge facing Hope Advocates for Sustainability is not storm drains or energy consumption, but rather student turnover. “As a college, you just have a revolving door of students coming in,” says Gibbs, “so it’s a constant education.” The way college is structured gives HAS only four years to educate students and create a community of sustainability on campus. By the time a student knows enough to make good sustainable decisions, they are already moving on to the next walk of life.

The task of informing students about sustainability presents its own challenges. “The projects we do internally [are] a lot easier,” says Devin, “…but with a lot of events our goal is to spread awareness… sometimes I think it’s hard to do that in a manner that people want to come.” Events centered around things like climate change and social justice can drive students away by feeling too similar to a lecture. These events do not get the attention they need because they are not engaging, and those who do attend are often already familiar with the information. 

One solution that HAS has found is making their meetings more interactive. On America Recycles day, for example, HAS set up a table in the BSC where they showed students a collection of items that could or couldn’t be recycled. The students were then challenged to sort the two piles, correctly testing their own knowledge of recycling, and given small prizes based upon their accuracy. This event provided HAS an opportunity to talk about waste management, while also adding an interactive component to get students engaged. 

HAS intern Dallas Fisher (‘25), poses with a few examples of recyclable items. Dallas also produces a weekly podcast, “Voices of Sustainability.” 

HAS intern Dallas Fisher poses with a few examples of recyclable items. Dallas also produces a weekly podcast, Voices of Sustainability.

The biggest message that HAS wants to emphasize is that there are numerous ways to get involved. Applications for intern positions will be sent out this spring, and any students with an interest in environmental sustainability are encouraged to apply. HAS also has an Instagram which posts weekly tips for sustainability, as well as a monthly newsletter detailing their projects and events. Another way to get engaged is through Green Hope, a student club that partners with HAS to create informational events for students. 

Gibbs affirms that voting with money is also important because “as stores or companies see what people are buying, they’re going to put more of those kinds of products out there.” When a student buys food from a local or organic producer, they support that method of agriculture. More demand means that more people will farm that way, as opposed to using methods that are proven to be less sustainable. Similarly, students should choose to support leaders and politicians who have interest in protecting the environment. Political activism matters, even on a small scale. The first step could be as easy as asking your residential life director to get recycling bins for your hall. 

Finally, Gibbs encourages students to start with small changes within their life. Environmental stewardship can feel daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. “Try something new,” she says. “Try eating no meat one day a week… try walking to class [everyday], don’t drive your car.” Students can make a big change by taking inventory of their day-to-day routine and finding one thing to improve upon, such as packing groceries in reusable shopping bags instead of single-use plastics. “Not everyone can buy an electric vehicle right away, get rid of all of your clothing, change all of the food,” says Gibbs, “but as you have the opportunity, make those small changes one at a time as much as you can.”

'Taking Small Steps Toward Environmental Stewardship' has no comments

Be the first to comment this post!

Would you like to share your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published.