UT student organization leads charge for campus sustainability

Sachit Saksena

The Campus Environmental Center is a group of students dedicated to keeping our earth happy and habitable — starting right here on campus. 

This week, the center is bringing speakers, performers and experts to promote environmental awareness with a carnival on Friday, but, for the CEC, environmental sustainability doesn’t end with Earth Day. From promoting recycling to cleaning West Campus, the CEC is active throughout the year. 

During this year’s Earth Week, the CEC is holding food waste documentary screenings, panels on “green” transportation and a huge Earth Day Carnival, this Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

The Earth Day Carnival will feature over 24 student organizations and UT departments promoting their specific initiatives. According to the co-directors, the CEC is teaming up with architecture professor, Sarah Gamble, to feature an art installation made of water bottles symbolizing how people misconceive the amount of plastic waste. 

“Students can get involved by coming to our Earth Day Carnival, volunteering with CEC, sending innovative ideas to us and getting involved with our different projects,” urban geography junior Marcela Montemayor said. “Most importantly, students can remember to be ‘green’ as often as they can in their day-to-day lives.”

Montemayor, along with environmental science sophomore Gabrielle Stedman, serve as co-directors of the Office of Sustainability-sponsored student organization. 

“Of course, there are different organizations that do their own specific sustainability projects, but we interact with these groups and campus administration in a broader way,” Montemayor said. “We have seven current running projects, but we constantly encourage a culture of sustainable living on UT campus.”

These projects are all geared toward encouraging students to be self-sustainable, according to the co-directors. Environmentally motivated students can even access two fully functioning farms, each with different goals.

“One of these farms is a community farming area, where students can rent a plot to grow their own produce and harvest it whenever they feel like it,” Montemayor said. “We also have the micro-farm that is more production-based — students grow, produce and sell to local farmer’s markets.”

CEC also interacts directly with students and organizations with their initiatives called GreenEvents and GreenGreeks, free consulting services that help student organizations reduce waste from large events on campus. Two of the largest events they have helped with are Texas THON and UT Holi.

CEC also interacts with faculty through GreenOffices, a project focused on certifying offices around campus based on how sustainable they are. 

“Faculty can earn certification based on how they commute, how much they print and how they use water, among other things,” Montemayor said.Other initiatives have gained traction in the UT community. The Orange Bike Project — a community bike shop started by the CEC — was adopted by UT Parking and Transportation Services, and the UT tree nursery, which started as a CEC initiative to replant trees after the Bastrop fires, was adopted by Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. 

Among all these initiatives, there is an underlying project that focuses on collecting data from campus to provide insight on how students approach sustainability. The program, called ZeroWaste, informs the CEC on how they can improve when promoting sustainability to a wide variety of audiences.

“The Office of Sustainability and CEC gather data on how much UT students are educated on what you can recycle and what you can compost, among other things,” Montemayor said. “We also collect data on how UT students feel about accessibility to recycle bins, compost bins and other tools.”

The CEC’s projects have done well, according to Montemayor. 

“We’ve had projects start in the CEC that were so successful that they rolled out as permanent programs in other departments and institutions at UT and in Austin,” Montemayor said.