In 2007, then-President Peggy Ryan Williams signed the American College and University President's Climate Commitment. This tasked the college with attaining complete carbon neutrality by 2050. After it was signed, the administration began developing the Climate Action Plan, which was signed by the 2009 Board of Trustees. This plan had the college pledging to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.
In the years since, sustainability efforts have been cast aside at time of financial turmoil for Ithaca College. As the college’s commitment to the long term goal continues, the sustainability department has slowly got its footing back. The position of Sustainability Coordinator was reopened this year and was promptly filled by Becca Evans on April 3, 2017. To welcome her to the college and introduce her to its students, Sarah Stuart-Sikowitz sat down with Becca and talked about the future of the college’s sustainability program.
Can you tell me your academic and professional history before coming to IC?
BE: I grew up in the suburbs of the DC/Metro area. I went to Lynchburg College for my undergrad. I had just turned 17 when I was a Freshman in college, and went in thinking I was going to major in graphic design, and I got there and realized I could do a lot more than graphic design.
I get the question a lot, you know, ‘why do you care?’ or, ‘what go you started?’ I’ve thrown around a lot of answers to that and the best answer is nothing, really. I’ve always really cared about [sustainability] and realized it could be a career. So, I switched to environmental science halfway through my Freshman year and moved into the “eco-house” on campus. The house was a group of environmental students all living together and trying to keep our footprint super low. Most of us were vegetarian, we didn’t have heat or air conditioning, we hand washed our clothes and line dried our clothes, you know, as much as we could do as undergrad students.
At Lynchburg I started a greenhouse project, completely gutted and renovated the already existing greenhouse. It was in really bad shape. We ended up having to put plastic wrap on a lot of the panes because it was such an old space. We started planting herbs and vegetables and ended up being able to supply a third of the herb use for our campus, I know we went to a really small school, but still, it was exciting. Since then they even brought chickens onto the campus and it’s continued to grow.
I then took a number of years off of school after I graduated and managed an emergency animal clinic for a while. That was really fun and really exhausting--18 hour overnight shifts got really old really fast after a handful of years.
Then I went back to school. I went to UVA [University of Virginia] for a semester and ended up transferring to VCU [Virginia Commonwealth University] where I got my master’s degree. I focused primarily on environmental ethics and policy. Ethics is where my heart is, I’m actually reading my old textbook right now [laughing]. My first year in grad school, I started working at SRVA as an intern and then was hired during my second year and continued to work there after graduation. I volunteered at Equality Virginia during my time at VCU, which is a (LGBTQ+) human rights campaign at the state level. And...now I’m here!
You said that nothing really drove you to environmentalist in college, so what is driving you to pursue environmental stewardship now?
BE: I think there’s so much misinformation out there, and getting you guys and your kids involved in this movement is really going to help make all the difference. All that we can do is prepare you guys for actually tackling real-world problems. You guys are going to be the ones that have the solutions. We’ve made it about as far as we can, and it’s going to be the 20-somethings that will come up with the solutions. So that’s what keeps me here--getting students to figure out real world problems with real world solutions and get what we have off the ground. But certainly, the situation isn’t getting any better so that definitely keeps me around.
Why did you choose Ithaca?
BE: When I was an undergrad, we were all saying, ‘oh my gosh, did you hear about that school up north that’s doing all those green initiatives?’ There was a history at IC for being a sustainable university. The history of IC is really what brought me here. And the fact that there has been a lapse of success is what really drew me here even more. I really like working with very little resources, whether that is funding or otherwise. I find I thrive in those conditions, so it’s a challenge. I see it as a challenge. I’ve wanted to get into higher education for a while and got my feet wet with SRVA. I hadn’t gotten to work directly with a college, but I worked with a lot of college students. I really liked the Northeast, and I was really looking forward to getting out of 100 degree summer heat with 90% humidity [laughing].
What is your plan for the future going to look like?
BE: My priority right now is getting a sustainability committee off the ground, and for that I’m working from scratch. I know that we have some rep communities that have been in place in the past, but I’d like to see us restructure to make sure we have a good team working and that we all have the same goals. I know people are frustrated with how things died over the past several years, and I’d like to step away from what went wrong in the past and focus on what we can do for the future. I know it kind of seems like the office died, but we still have a pulse and an interest. The sustainability committee is definitely my first priority because that’ll help push our agenda.
After that, I’d say my next priority is sustainability literacy testing. That would entail having a number of questions that incoming freshman can answer, just to give us a baseline of knowledge of what they know. Then they’ll answer the same questions when they graduate. It would be required testing similar to Alcohol EDU. That way we can see where the holes are. So if we find out that students don’t know about one aspect of sustainability that we’d like you to know, then that’s the problem in our curriculum and we can hyperfocus on that.
There are a number of smaller projects I’ve been working on. I’d really like to get a fund going for carbon offsets. When we report our CO2 emissions, the biggest problem we have are our scope-3 emissions. So basically carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere through travel. Students driving to and from campus, faculty either driving an hour each way every day. One, that’s really hard to control. Obviously we can’t send the TCAT out an hour and have it pick everyone up and bring them back, and we’re really restricted with the TCAT on campus as well. So one thing I’d like to see is a totally optional donation portal for carbon offsets. When you buy your parking pass, what I’d like to see is a little survey that says: ‘how many miles do you drive to and from campus, to campus activities, etc,’ and then if we can somehow have some sort of equation that quantifies how much CO2 you’re emitting every year just from driving to and from campus, and to show that ‘this is how much it costs to offset your emissions, do you want to donate this much money?’ Again, totally optional. I think people would end up taking part in it. Of course, you can donate as much as you want. If you don’t want to donate the $8 or whatever it is to offset your emissions, donate 50 cents. Fine, 50 cents adds up really fast.
Finally, communication is the biggest problem we have on this campus when it comes to--not even just sustainability. There isn’t a good way to get the word out about anything. The Intercom has its limitations, it certainly is useful in some ways, but to get the word out on campus in terms of sustainability...it’s not working. I’ve found that a lot of frustration with our office and with other departments is, ‘there’s nothing happening with sustainability here.’ Well actually, a lot of things are happening, we just don’t know how to tell everyone about it. So we’re working to put together a website. We want to make that a sustainability hub for students and faculty and staff, on campus, off campus, people out of state, whatever. That includes student research and faculty research and having an archive for projects that have happened in the past and what succeeded and what didn’t.
What does your position mean to you?
BE: I’d really like to be a resource for students. I want students to feel comfortable coming to me and saying, ‘hey, I have this really cool project I’d like to work on and it doesn’t fit with any of my classes, is there something you can do to help me?’ Absolutely, I am here to help you. Whether that is trying to track down someone else who has a better idea of how to help you, or if it’s trying to help you find funding, or if it’s something that might help this campus specifically, certainly we want to see if that’s possible. I’d also really like to connect faculty. It seems like there is a number of faculty members working on similar projects that could easily tie in with one another but they just don’t know about each other. Obviously, I’d like to get the community involved. I am working with Cornell on a getting a sustainability competition program going. That’s currently being planned. At the very least, I’d like to have people hearing about what’s going on at Ithaca and saying, ‘I can do that at home, that doesn’t sound so hard.’ Getting people to think about these ideas and think about what it means to be sustainable or eco-friendly.
So would you say your position is mostly being a resource for students? Do you have a part in making bigger changes on campus?
BE: Yes and no. I think the students are going to be what makes change, and I am here to help facilitate that change. I have many projects I’m working on alone, but it’s taking a lot of help from students to get those going. The sustainability committee, I know there have been whispers about it on campus, it’s been through SGC. So now it’s my job to say, okay, this is what students want, let me pick it up and let me see where I can go with it. But I want students to get involved, and not to rely on this office to get things done. Of course, the end goal is for this campus to be sustainable, and we’re going to get there one way or another.
So what about things that students can’t get involved with such as the school’s investments in oil?
BE: I wouldn’t expect students to fix that issue, of course. Getting students who express an interest in that, that’s what I'm expecting. We’ve got things working here, but funding is always a limitation, and I don’t expect a student to look through the budget of any office or department. If a student is thinking about starting a divestment from fossil fuels, coming to us and saying ‘hey, can we get XYZ data of how much we are invested in oil?’ and ‘what is possible?’ Yes, I can help do that. But real change will come from the students and the resources of the Director and Provost. I don’t know if it’s my job to make big energy decisions.
What is your coolest or most peaceful moment in nature?
BE: When I was a senior in undergrad, for spring break I went camping in the panhandle of Florida. It was not peaceful. [laughing]. We were expecting a beachfront campsite, hardly anyone around...definitely not the case. There were like, electrical outlets at every campsite which were 10 feet apart. But we ended up having a really good time. I saw my first live alligator. First time flooding a campsite, there was like 6 inches of water in my tent. Learned the hard way not to set up your tent at the bottom of an incline. Plus I spent a lot of time kayaking.
What is your favorite recreational activity?
BE: Kayaking. I haven’t gotten the chance to go since I got to Ithaca. That’s been a bummer, because of the weather. When I lived in Richmond I used to go all the time. You will more than likely see me out on the water either sleeping in my kayak or having a beer taking a lot of pictures. So kayaking is where I feel the most peaceful in nature. My partner is an avid rock climber and tries to drag me out more often than not. We even have a climbing wall in our basement. But kayaking is my favorite.
Members of the Ithaca College community can contact Becca Evans at: