Last spring, Rebecca Evans joined Ithaca College as Campus Sustainability Coordinator in the Office of Energy Management and Sustainability. Evans holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in environmental studies, and most recently served as an assistant project manager for Environic Foundation International, working on an initiative dedicated to making the Richmond, Virginia, region more sustainable.
Why did you decide to take this position at Ithaca College?
When I was an undergrad, I was aware that Ithaca College had a history of sustainability and being a very green institution, and that’s something I wanted to be a part of. The nonprofit I was working at dealt primarily with professional certificates and undergraduate and graduate classes that focused on the greater umbrella of sustainability — the financial, social and environmental impacts. They teach all over the world and are an incredible organization, but ultimately I knew I wanted to end up working directly in higher education.
What are your goals for this position?
I’d really like to re-engage the IC community in the dialogue surrounding sustainability. There’s been a lot of frustration with our office, with the turnover we’ve had, and I want to let the community know we’re here for you, we’re all in this together. And I’d really like to see students redefine how they’re thinking about sustainability — that it’s not just about recycling and turning off lights, that there are aspects of culture and inclusivity and diversity that fall under the bigger umbrella of sustainability and human health, the sorts of things they aren’t usually thinking about. Sustainability is more than just energy management.
How do you get the different parts of the campus community to become engaged?
There are always going to be people who aren’t interested, but I would like everyone to be part of this conversation because it really does affect everyone. So it’s a matter of finding different ways to frame the conversation so that it fits in with their own concerns. It could be a financial issue: It saves you money to not have the lights on so much, and when you recycle you’re not having to buy trash tags as often. If you’re a family person, you should be thinking about how it affects your children, and your children’s children. In higher education, we automatically assume that people care about sustainability, and that’s not always the case. Luckily, In Ithaca we’re very fortunate that for the most part people are conscious of the need for environmental stewardship. I think there are still people we will struggle to get in touch with, so over the summer we’ve been spending time in the office figuring out better ways to reach students, faculty and staff to let them know what we’re doing and why it matters.
I worked a lot with the Eco-Reps [student ambassadors who promote sustainable behaviors on campus] as I started near the end of the spring semester, and I’m really excited to begin working with them again in the fall. As peers, they can be a big help in getting students engaged and making a difference.
At summer orientation we were very involved with the info fair for new students. We gave out a new brochure that gives a tour of all the sustainable aspects of campus, had information about alternative transportation, and let them play with some fun energy monitors that show how much energy your mobile devices are sucking up. We are also trying to figure out a good way to integrate sustainability with the First Year Residential Experience, so that it’s a handoff from orientation. We want to get students thinking about the expectations that we put on them when they come to Ithaca College: We expect you to turn out the lights, we expect you to use a reusable water bottle, etc. These are little, inexpensive lifestyle changes that hopefully will carry through the four years that they’re here and beyond.
Certainly the curriculum is something I would like to see sustainability better integrated into here, even outside of environmental sciences and natural sciences. It would be great to incorporate it into majors like music and into art, and to get different programs working together on these issues. That is something I’d like to see and would be happy to help facilitate.
What would you like people to most know about you?
I’d really like them to know that I’m here as a resource. If someone has an idea, I don’t care who you are — you can be an incoming freshman in your first week or a faculty member who has been here for 25 years. If you have an idea or you want to get something off the ground and you think that I can help, please reach out to me. I am easily excited by projects, and the chances of me wanting to help are really high.
We’re working on some projects now that should be kicking off pretty soon, including sustainability competitions between Ithaca College and neighboring institutions. We’re putting together some focus groups of students, faculty and staff with a shared interest in helping the IC community reach our goal of climate neutrality by 2050.
I would also like outside organizations in the community and beyond to look to Ithaca College as a sustainability leader, and a reference they can point to for doing similar work in their own homes and offices. It would be great if we can be that example in the wider community.