Environmental efforts earns university a Bronze Award for sustainability

A few years ago, a group of concerned students began a journey to make Sonoma State University a more sustainable campus. Fast forward two years later and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education is recognizing the efforts started by those students by granting the university a Bronze Award for sustainability.

Claudia Sisomphou, the current Senator of Sustainability at Sonoma State, was only a freshman when she and other students formed a group that was looking into ways to make the university more sustainable. 

Over the past two years, with the group never reaching more than a dozen students, the collective reached out to a variety of departments and programs on campus to try to gather necessary information that is needed by AASHE Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System.

“Looking back at the whole journey to this bronze award is almost nostalgic,” said Sisomphou, a now third-year environmental studies and planning major, “I don’t think any of us were aware of just how much work we were actually doing.”

Allison Jenks, Kara Kelly and Dustin DeMatteo, all now alumni of Sonoma State, were co-founders of the group. According to Sisomphou the group’s current members did not receive more than one unit, if any, of internship credits.

“To me it is really important to highlight that the students that worked on this project did this because it was something that mattered to them,” said Sisomphou. “This achievement proves to the student body that if we want to see something completed that is important to us, like this report, we have the power and ability to do it.”

Geology professor Dr. Jeff Baldwin acted as the faculty adviser to the group. Baldwin sees this accomplishment as a reward for a lot of time and effort put in by willing students.

“It took 700 man hours on the part of unpaid students simply because it is important to them,” said Baldwin, who is known to ride his bike to work most days and include sustainability as part of his geography curriculum. “For the university to get a bronze from a student run group on its first try is incredible.”

Sonoma State is now among the eight out of 23 campuses in the California University System that has received a STARS reward, receiving 37.5 points on the STARS system with 45 points needed for a silver rating. California State University Sacramento and Northridge received Gold ratings earlier this year. 

STARS is a self-reporting system that allows for higher education institutions to measure their sustainability performance. Costing about $900 to submit the final report, with a bronze award Sonoma State will be featured in the annual STARS Sustainable Campus Index which covers different areas for evaluation from sustainability research on campus to the air quality of buildings and more.

“I think the hardest part of the process was really just staying motivated,” said Sisomphou. “In order to complete this report we had to reach out to a variety of departments and programs on campus for data and information and there were many weeks that went by where we would not get responses to our emails because no one on campus really knew what we were doing.”

Campus facilities have been recognized in past years for their environmental efforts such as the university’s Recreation Center receiving a Green Business Certificate from the Bay Area Business Program of Sonoma County. The award recognized the Recreation Center for compliance in reserving its resources.

Campus culinary services has noted on the university website their efforts to be sustainable by using trayless dining, recycling used fryer oil and using a composting program that was started in the spring of 2012.

“I am really honored to have the opportunity to bring light to these broad topics that fall under the umbrella of sustainability,” said Sisomphou, “Every person that was involved in the completion of the report could not be more excited to see how this STARS award will support the progression of sustainability at SSU.”