A 16-foot wide and 8-foot high fortress of hay rests inside a compost tube. As the internal temperature rises, the energy is converted into enough power to heat an entire building for a year.
Sustainability practices like this are taking college campuses across Washington state by storm and are the reason about 500 people gathered on Western Washington University's campus for the first Washington Higher Education Sustainability Conference.
The conference ended on Friday, Feb. 7, in the Viking Union Multipurpose Room with no less enthusiasm from attendees than when the conference began on Thursday, Feb. 6.
The two-day conference included breakout sessions, workshops, a student summit and keynote speeches. Discussions focused on topics such as food distribution, low-flow toilets and sustainability labs in residence halls.
Seth Vidana, the manager at the Office of Sustainability at Western, led the advisory team for the conference and had officials from all across the state help build the first sustainability conference from the ground up.
Vidana proposed creating an office of sustainability at Western for his thesis statement as a Western graduate student. The university ended up creating the office, and about seven years later, Western’s sustainability office has made an impact around campus, he said.
“A lot of what sustainability is, is about changing norms,” Vidana said. “We are changing those norms for people to be aware of their actions and what the impact is on the environment, the impact is on other people on the planet and the impact is on our economy."
Emma Strutton, an environmental studies major, is involved with Students for Renewable Energy on Western’s campus and volunteered at the conference.
“I jumped at the opportunity to learn more about everything, [such as] how students and teachers are collaborating to be more sustainable,” Strutton said.
Strutton’s favorite speech focused on filling students with hope and warning younger generations about the natural disasters and environmental repercussions.
Collin Smith, a student at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., came to the conference to network with other divestment activists and to talk about pushing schools in Washington away from investments in fossil fuel companies.
Smith also facilitated a round-table discussion on divestment.
“We talked about some of the issues around divestment…[such as] how to square the financial and ethical narratives around divestment, and then how divestment can reach out to a broader sphere of environmental activism,” Smith said.
Sharon Goodman, from Evergreen State College in Olympia, zeroed in on some of the sustainability practices at Evergreen.
The college has an on-campus “free store,” where students can donate items such as books, clothes and kitchen supplies, and other students can pick those items up for free, she said.
The store was created to decrease the amount of reusable items students normally throw away by making them available to other students who may be interested.
The presidents’ panel — which was the last event of the conference on Friday, Feb. 7 — involved five higher education presidents, including Western President Bruce Shepard.
The presidents discussed their involvement in campus sustainability, how they support the visions of their students and staff and about expanding knowledge of sustainability as a society.
Shepard spoke on the importance of listening and supporting the students and staff of Western on their visions of sustainability and working to keep those visions alive. The first WAHESC brought together scholars, students, staff and interested members of the community to promote campus and community-wide sustainability practices.