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Bemidji State University Sustainability Office

| By Emily Bouse |

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Bemidji State University (BSU)’s north woods campus on the lake serves as a visible reminder of the value and importance of preserving the natural world. Many of BSU’s students work to stay in tune with and care for the cherished north woods, as well as for the conservation of the environment as a whole.

Sustainability and environmental stewardship are promoted as two of the signature themes at BSU, and employees of the Sustainability Office located in the Lower Hobson Union work to advocate for and enact these ideas. The Sustainability Office is a place where, through local action and global awareness, the university’s environmental efforts come together; where students and faculty who are passionate about the environment aim to make BSU a more ecologically sustainable campus.

SustainabilityOfficeThe Student Senate supports the University’s environmental stewardship theme by approving the Student Green Fee- a $5 contribution per student, per semester enacted fall of 2008. This fee generates $35-40,000 per year and is used to provide funding for student-led sustainability projects and green energy throughout campus. Some of these projects include the Solar Transpired Air unit (attached over the fresh air intake vent in the Lower Union) that provides heat for our buildings, “energy dashboards” (located at Linden and Deputy Hall and outside the Sustainability Office)- interactive touch screens that show us how much energy our buildings are consuming, installation of more energy-efficient lighting on campus, and providing bus stop shelters and bikes for rental, to name a few.

One current Green Fee-funded project, according to Erika Bailey-Johnson, includes planning the construction of a campus greenhouse. In progress are plans on how to implement solar panels to generate energy, plans to grow food for use in the Campus Dining Hall, and plans to make reusable to-go containers available for use in the union. Students from Environment Club promoted this idea in December 2013, with booths near the food court highlighting the total number of containers that end up in the trash over a two-day span. In those two days, the club found that 272 pounds of containers were thrown away.

Some BSU community members, including Student Senate representatives Michael Hanson, Jenna Long and Josh Hatton hold the belief that students, faculty and staff should promote leadership in environmental conservation. These representatives believe that the Green Fee is indeed a priority. Issues they feel are important to address through this fee include student-led initiatives promoting green practices on campus, environmental education, limiting of bottled water and water filtration projects.

However, not all of Student Senate is in full support of the Green Fee. Dan Rekuski, a junior and Student Senate Representative stated he opposed the fee because “none of the projects enacted through it had a significant impact on the environment,” and the Sustainability Office’s projects and the Green Fee contribute to the rising cost of a college education.

The Sustainability Office does offer “free” perks to BSU students, including the Free Store. Located within the Sustainability Office, the Free Store is a student-led initiative that accepts student and staff donations. Among donations are clothes, kitchen supplies and school supplies- available for anyone to take and use.

A new aspect to the free store was inspired by a field trip taken by Bailey-Johnson and one of her People and the Environment classes. At Bemidji’s Goodwill store, students were told the business lacked an outlet for their surplus supplies, so most of it gets thrown away. This gave Bailey-Johnson the idea to contact Goodwill headquarters and set up a system in which the surplus supplies are sent to our campus Free Store. Through this arrangement, the Free Store has accumulated almost 300 pounds of inventory since Thanksgiving. Sustainability Office employees hope to connect with a venue in town that can serve as a Free Store for the Bemidji area and extend their conservation effort to the community.

The Sustainability Office has other plans for involvement on-campus. An annual energy conservation competition between residence halls in February, called “Do It in the Dark” draws energy conservation to attention. BSU will also be participating in Campus Conservation Nationals this school year.