Honor Our Earth with the Office of Sustainability

Written by Erin Michel, Graduate Assistant for the Graduate School

This Friday is Earth Day, a time when many of us are reminded to be grateful for the wonders of our natural world. It’s also a good chance to reflect on our role in protecting and sustaining the environment and to evaluate our own practices accordingly. As busy graduate students, it can be difficult to know how we can help or where to start, but luckily, The Office of Sustainability exists to unify the Bearcat nation in taking care of our community and our world. 

Three students stand outside holding shovels.

Volunteers helping to prep the garden for the winter.

A woman in a white tank top poses, smiling, outside.

Alexus Wimbish, Graduate Assistant for the Office of Sustainability.

Alexus Wimbish, DAAP master’s student in community planning, serves as the graduate assistant for the Office of Sustainability. Her role involves planning, coordinating, and hosting a range of year-round sustainability programming as well as a lot of “behind-the-scenes" work for the office. “I’m always doing ten things at once,” she tells me with a laugh. “I’m a touch point for all things related to sustainability at the university.”  

It makes sense that Alexus’ role is so varied, because the Office of Sustainability itself is involved in an impressive wide range of projects on every level of the university. It serves as a bridge between the students, faculty, administration, and departments such as Facilities Management and Central Utilities. And while student body programming might be the most visible aspect of their work, UC Sustainability operates on a far deeper level. For instance, in 2018 the Office of Sustainability partnered with UC Utilities to coordinate and finalize an energy purchasing agreement with American Electric Power to ensure that 100% of the university’s energy supply comes from renewable wind turbine sources, and according to Alexus, this is true even for the Clermont and Blue Ash campuses. As Alexus points out, sustainability is an issue that affects everyone at every level in a multitude of ways, so an interdisciplinary approach makes sense. “We’re all about partnerships at UC Sustainability,” says Alexus, “because sustainability [itself] doesn’t just focus on one issue."

Two students in green shirts recycle materials.

Advocates helping to divert waste from the landfill during move-in.

Ongoing Uptown Campus sustainability programming includes Athletics & Special Event Recycling, UC Gardens (which provides volunteer opportunities, environmental education for UC daycare children, and a supply of fresh produce to Bearcat Pantry) and the UC Bike Kitchen. The Bike Kitchen is a free service that offers bicycle repairs, bike maintenance and safety workshops, and a bike share program to the whole UC community. “They are absolute bike professionals,” says Alexus. “They’ll figure out a way to fix any issues, and I really commend them for that.” Additionally, the Office of Sustainability offers yearly Sustainability Awards that serve to incentivize environmentally-minded activism, innovation, and research—categories include students, staff, faculty, and research awards, and an awards ceremony takes place each year in April. Other ongoing programs include PACES (Presidential Advisory Council on Environment and Sustainability), which is open to all members of the Bearcat community, and the Environmental Literacy Certificate of Achievement program. The program, which is free to all UC students, allows students a formal route to professional recognition of their engagement in sustainability through participation in UC Sustainability educational lectures, film screenings, discussions, and other events. “It’s really great for people like grad students who are pretty tied up with their studies and maybe not a ton of room for flexibility in their credits,” says Alexus.  

Bikes in front of a building.

The annual Bike Show, hosted by UC Bike Mechanics.

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Alexus believes that sustainability is important for everyone, even us busy graduate students, and points out that many people don’t realize how interconnected and far-reaching sustainability is in our lives. “Sustainability is a component of public health and personal health,” she tells me. “Coming back to school, yes, it’s a huge investment into your career and to your education, but you also have to invest in yourself at the same time. One of the ways you can do that is through sustainable practices.” Alexus lists taking walks, sourcing local sustainable produce, and eating low on the food chain as examples of ways to help your personal health and your environment at the same time. Sustainability can be as simple as a mindset, too. “Really, just appreciating all of the resources that the Earth provides us [is sustainable],” she says. And the little things you can do matter—even though it’s true that reversing climate change will necessitate substantial and widespread action on a level that goes beyond individual contributions, Alexus points out that individuals have the power to change group mindsets. “There’s a little bit of an art to sustainability, right? A social art and a social science […] that’s the kind of mindset that I take when I read anecdotes online about the catastrophe of climate change,” she tells me. “I do acknowledge that it’s really happening, but I also acknowledge that these small communities like the UC community, the Cincinnati community, Hamilton County... the small changes in mindset that we make contribute to something that’s greater than these corporations.” 

The Office of Sustainability has wrapped up its spring programming after an exciting array of Earth Week events that ended Friday April 15, but Alexus encourages students to keep an eye on the office’s CampusLink, Facebook, Twitter, and  Instagram pages for future events and opportunities. She is particularly excited for this fall’s Sustainability Summit, a weekend-long retreat at Hueston Woods that has been cancelled for several years due to the pandemic but is slated to return in September 2022 (more information to come during the summer). Participants will get the chance to stay in cabins and engage in a series of fun activities, discussions and food. “It’s a weekend of connection and fostering a culture of sustainability within the university,” says Alexus. “All of the ideas that students come up with at the summit are brought back to the university and sent to the Office of Sustainability.” So, in addition to a weekend of fun and connection with nature, the Summit is a chance for students to make their own impact on sustainability at UC.  

Although the Office of Sustainability has already wrapped up its’ Earth Week festivities, consider attending the Womens Center’s Earth Activism lunch and learn on Wednesday, April 20, to hear from Indigenous Earth activist Glory Ames. And even more importantly, remember to continue practicing sustainability every day and every week. Earth Day is an important reminder to reconnect with nature, but sustainability is necessary year-round. Connect with the UC’s Office of Sustainability today to learn about ways you can volunteer, engage with others, learn about our natural world, and give back to the Bearcat community. In the words of Ernest Hemingway, “The Earth is a fine place, and worth fighting for.” 

A group of students sit in the bed of a pickup truck.

Daniel Hart, Sustainability Coordinator, with a group of sustainability advocates.