Text from Fall ’06 Article on ETF

George Mason University ’s Environmental Task Force wants to see the GMU community take its place among the ranks of those who are living, working and learning sustainably.

The task force, made up of representatives from facilities management, dining services, transportation, university relations, university life, faculty and students, was formed last fall to explore ways to establish environmental stewardship as a campus goal and instill a green sensibility in every facet of GMU’s activities.

Professor Susie Crate, a co-founder of the task force, says the most important objective of the task force is to hire a sustainability coordinator who will define the goals of the GMU effort and coordinate planning and projects to reach those goals. According to Brent Ingram, who represents the Provost’s office on the task force, there is support for such a position once the task force completes some necessary bureaucratic groundwork.

Introducing sustainability into the curriculum is another major goal of the task force. Crate and task force co-founder Professor Dave Kuebrich will be hosting a workshop for 20 faculty in January on how to include sustainability issues in their classes. They are also working to identify classes that already have sustainability content. “A big part of the work of the task force is changing the culture” to make sustainability a part of everyday life, says Crate. More classes with green content will further this goal.

In the meantime, the task force is working on several projects that will give it some much-needed exposure. Michael Galvin of Dining Services and Alyssa Karton of University Life soon will be introducing reusable mugs, emblazoned with the task force’s logo, to the Johnson Center. The mugs will be sold full of the purchaser’s choice of beverage, with refills available at a discount.

A native species planting project, headed by Professor Andrew Wingfield, Michael Galvin and Megan Draheim, a task force student representative, has been approved and a spot designated for it diagonally across from the facilities building. The plants will be supplied by Earth Sangha, a Buddhist environmental non-profit organization devoted to conserving native plants in their natural habitats.

Students are getting in on the sustainability action, too. Dickenson Hall has a green floor where some of the residents are part of a green living learning community. According to resident and task force member Kristen Culp, the members of the green floor have had their first meeting to plan on- and off-campus activities. They are working to bring in speakers and films to further illuminate the green lifestyle for the general campus population. These students are also involved in the native species garden project.

One obstacle to initiating any type of campus-wide program at Mason is the far-flung student population. It’s difficult to develop a sense of unity and cohesion among a group that includes a large number of non-traditional students, commuter students and students who work full time, have families and attend classes part-time. According to Crate, most successful university greening programs are at schools that have a more traditional student body. This point was echoed by Draheim. “Many students are on campus only one day a week” and aren’t always aware of the larger issues, she said.

However, Crate sees the role of the task force as a means to unite the campus community around the theme of sustainability through action in the areas of curriculum, facilities and services. Crucial to this effort is the need to make every member of the university population embrace their unique role in the sustainability of the planet. As Crate points out, “humans have a huge capacity to live lightly upon the earth.”

The Environmental Task Force evolved rather quickly as Crate and Kuebrich learned about sustainability efforts at other universities. In particular, Crate studied the program at State University of New York at Buffalo, which supports a highly effective Environmental Task Force that has been active since 1999. Crate realized that one key to effective campus programs was official support. She knew the GMU task force would need the same support to “gain recognition, develop momentum and make some tangible progress.” She made a presentation to a receptive group of deans and department directors at their monthly meeting in November 2005 and the task force was established.

George Mason’s destiny is to flourish, but according to Ingram, those advocating “sustainability at Mason in the coming few years [must] confront some problems that do not have easy solutions.” With vision, leadership and hard work, the Environmental Task Force will find solutions and lead GMU into a green future.