This week’s interview is with Maggie Souder who works as the Sustainability Coordinator at the University of California, San Diego. Continue reading to learn more about Maggie’s work promoting sustainability at UCSD, the advice she has for others in her position who are just getting started, campus sustainability efforts and the different ways she is incorporating the social dimensions of sustainability into her work.
What campus sustainability initiatives are you working on at the moment?
One of our key projects is the update of our 2008 Climate Action Plan (CAP). We are working to determine campus progress on the goals identified in the original plan. To this end, we are using the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s (AASHE) Sustainable Tracking Assessment and Rating System (STARS). The results of STARS will one of the tools provided to our CAP Stakeholder Focus Groups to determine next steps, new goals, and funding opportunities. Our new “UC San Diego Sustainable Food Services Plan” has just been completed and now we are setting up to develop a new comprehensive solid waste contract to help us move toward our “zero waste to landfill by 2020” goal. These are just a few of our many projects. More information about our various initiatives is available at our sustainability 2.0 website.
How did you get started in campus sustainability?
I spent much of my early career working at UC Riverside in fields related to protecting and cleaning up the environment (hazardous waste management, hazardous materials safety and compliance, environmental remediation, etc.). When I was first introduced to the field of sustainability, I was quite taken with the idea that as a society, we can and should develop and share ways to protect and preserve the environment now, as opposed to trying to repair what we have already compromised. I began working on sustainability at UC Riverside while still the environmental compliance and hazardous materials manager, and eventually accepted a position in which sustainability was my sole role.
What campus sustainability success are you most proud of?
I am very proud of the creation of the UC San Diego Sustainability Resource Center (the SRC is located in the Price Center at the heart of the UC San Diego campus and opened in fall 2009). I especially like working on projects in which the teamwork and passion of talented people make the “unlikely” a reality. In this particular case, we accomplished a beautiful, showcase facility on a bare-bones budget by finding community partners. It was really hard work, but with an amazing result.
What advice would you give to others in your position who are just getting started?
Networking is very important. Get as much experience as you can – even if it means volunteering. When you have opportunities to learn from people who are already in the field, ask questions and respect what they have to say. You won’t always agree with everyone about everything, but by combining the diversity and breadth of what you learn you will develop a broad framework for your own successful strategies.
In what area(s) do you see the biggest room for growth in the campus sustainability field?
This is a tough question because it has so many possible answers. It is likely that some of the technical and operational advances will have the greatest financial impact. However, one of the greatest challenges we face is engaging the community at large in order to achieve widespread behavioral change. I see a huge need to develop easy to use tools for the everyday person and then successfully educate, inform, and engage every target audience to become sustainability participants.
How are you incorporating the social dimensions of sustainability into your work?
Two examples are the new campus Fair Trade policy and our new campus Sustainable Food services Plan, both of which I believe will have significant social impacts. We work closely with our students, who are super champions for social change. It is important enough that the Student Sustainability Collective (SSC) has created a position for a student director in charge of civil and human rights.
How are you tracking your progress toward sustainability?
At the moment we are working to complete the STARS survey. We also have a campus group called the Sustainable Operations and Environmental Work Group comprised of program stakeholders, mostly at the operational level. This group reports to the Climate Solutions Work Group (CSWG), which consists of vice chancellors, deans, and directors. The CSWG also has graduate and undergraduate student representation.
Is there a particular insight (learning experience or “ah-ha” moment) you have had working on campus sustainability?
Probably the most important lesson I have learned is to present a large variety of methods and tools for individuals (or departments) to use to create their sustainability solutions. This allows people to become involved at their own pace, which builds ownership. It has been my experience that once a person has one or more small successes, they are much more willing to get increasingly involved and ultimately become sustainability champions.
How are your sustainability efforts funded?
Our permanent funding comes from the Assistant Vice Chancellor for Auxiliary & Plant Services, a unit of Resource Management and Planning. We also apply for and receive grant and partnership funds for many of our projects.
In what ways are students involved in your work?
Students contribute ideas, passion, drive, and so much more. We have over 60 student organizations on campus that do sustainability-related work. Of these, over 13 focus primarily on sustainability. In addition to providing the drive and ideas necessary to keep sustainability moving forward and creating rapid change, many students also intern on research and operations projects. We work to find the internships that best match the student. Our students contribute so much to the success of campus programs. For example, students help us certify our LEED EBOM and CI projects and are helping us complete the STARS survey.
How are you approaching the issues around carbon offsets and or renewable energy credits (RECs)?
UC San Diego is a member of the Chicago Climate Exchange and so is uniquely positioned to learn the ins and outs of carbon trading. Ideally, UC San Diego will avoid the need to purchase offset or RECs by maximizing campus energy efficiencies and on-site renewable energy generation.
How do you like to spend your free time?
I love the beach and spend as much time as possible in the water. I also rock climb, slackline, ride my horse and work in my small, organic garden. I volunteer regularly for beach cleanups and spend time giving dressage (riding) lessons to adults with challenging horses.