My parents weren’t hippies. People often assume that about me when we meet. “Hi! My name is Summer. Oh, you like the flowers in my hair? Thanks! I made them myself.” I can see where they get it. But no – I grew up conventionally in a suburb of Fort Worth called Keller, Texas. Now, I live in Fayetteville as a junior at the University of Arkansas. I’m president of the Student Sustainability Club and I am working closely with many people to turn the SSC into an official Turning Green Chapter.
What do you do when you don’t know where to start?
Originally known as the Student Sustainability Council, the founding students graduated a good few years ago and the group fell into inactivity. Last fall, a couple interns in the Office for Sustainability were tasked with revitalizing the club. I was voted into presidency in Spring, 2015.
I was excited about my new leadership role and ready to bring eco-friendliness to the University of Arkansas but I secretly had no idea where to begin. Sustainability is a fantastically broad issue – it is one of the only interdisciplinary minors offered at the U of A and it affects every facet of our daily lives.
Sustainability extends into every portion of our lives, affects every choice and is affected by them in return, from how we talk about clothing to what food we have for breakfast…
That’s an intimidating thing to think about when you’re coming up with ideas for a club meeting.
I knew I was passionate about living sustainably and bringing what I call “green awareness” to my fellow students but I didn’t know where to start.
The Conscious College Road Tour comes to U of A
In April of 2015, one of my fellow interns asked me to help out with an event he was coordinating for the next week. I would have been way more excited about it at the time had I known how awesome it would be.
Every year, the Conscious College Road Tour (a Turning Green program) visits universities all over the country bringing informational presentations, workshops, a Town Hall Meeting, Chipotle for dinner, and LOTS of free eco-friendly product samples to engage college students. This year, they came to Arkansas for the first time.
I had an absolute blast volunteering. We set up themed tables in the Union with info boards, conscious products and samples. We taught people about sustainability issues while they moved from one station to the next. I met Ms. Judi, the Turning Green (TG) founder and Executive Director. TG, a California-based non-profit is committed to educating and empowering students to live sustainably.
While I had been struggling for months with how to best bring these countless global issues to campus, Turning Green already had it figured out. They knew which themes to emphasize, they had solid research on all the topics, and they had everything easily accessible to busy university students. The Student Sustainability Club still needed direction, but at least now I knew where to find it.
The Makings of a Turning Green Chapter
So I got involved! I volunteered for the CCRT main event then led a focus group at the workshop that night (catered by Chipotle – a recurring theme with Turning Green events). I interned remotely for them during the summer, conducting research, creating infographics, working with other interns to develop programs and outreach to continue the CCRT and other events.
Most importantly, I learned about Turning Green Chapters. These are exactly what I was looking for – a historically successful way to bring sustainability to college campuses with a massive library of digital, informational and networking resources to help ensure that the Chapter thrives.
I had finally found direction for the Student Sustainability Club.
I read all the descriptions, filled out the paperwork, jumped through the hoops, and got us registered as a local chapter of an internationally recognized organization. Then we got down to business.
Turning the U of A Green – what we do now
As an official TG Chapter, the club officers and I work closely with Turning Green and their awesome partners to engage students and the community. They provide us with ideas on how to structure club meetings, flyers and sign-up sheets and PowerPoints and food to bring to meetings, and great programs to focus on as club activities.
Project Green Challenge is like the full-court press of raising sustainability awareness on campus
PGC is a 30-day, eco-lifestyle challenge in October that Turning Green hosts on a digital platform. High school and college students from around the world invited and then emailed daily challenges throughout the month of October focused on sustainability-related themes such as Biodiversity, Zero Waste, Fashion, and Non-GMO. As students complete the activities, they earn points towards daily prizes (related to the themes). At the end of the month, up to 16 of the top participants are flown on an all-expense paid trip to San Fran for the Turning Green Challenge Finals, an eco-summit extraordinaire. From the 16 finalists, one PGC Champion is chosen and wins the $12,000 grand prize of eco-friendly products and services. Last year’s champion was Ana Zabala from Colegio Rochester in Bogota, Colombia.
Out of 50 states, Arkansas was the only one not to have a single student participate in PGC 2014. We decided to change that.
In our partnership with Turning Green, the SSC at the University of Arkansas is bringing Project Green Challenge, Chapter meetings and sustainability initiatives to our state. We have already had a huge response from the campus community during the first week of classes. Our first meeting as an official TG Chapter is this week. This year is going to be EPIC for us.
My name is Summer and I like to wear flowers in my hair. But that’s not what makes me eco-friendly and it’s definitely not what makes me sustainable. It is what we do in our daily lives that make us conventional or conscious residents of the Earth. Founding a Turning Green Chapter and bringing ecoliteracy, environmentalism, social justice and sustainability to the University of Arkansas – it’s the least I can do for our collective future. I hope that it is as sustainable and beautiful as possible for many generations to come, in Fayetteville, in the Ozarks, in Arkansas and on Earth.