Student-founded statewide conference to address college sustainability efforts

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Last fall, Lauren Stebbins ’21 and Bethany Costello ’22 were brainstorming ideas for U-Sustain. As co-chairs of the group of environmentally and socially concerned students, faculty and staff who steward the College’s sustainability initiatives, the women wanted to plan events for the winter and spring terms.

Hampered by COVID-19, which had limited the group to mostly virtual events, they struggled to come up with new ideas. They also realized students at other schools must have been dealing with the same challenges. With help from Josh Dranoff, Union’s sustainability coordinator, Stebbins and Costello reached out to representatives at other schools to gauge if students were interested in sharing their own sustainability efforts.

A graphic that says: Student efforts to advance sustainability

“We couldn't find anything that existed like that, so we had an idea to build a conference for students to learn from each other and connect on their work,” said Costello, of Londonberry, N.H. She is a mechanical engineering major with an energy studies minor. She is also a Seward Organizing Theme Minor studying climate change mitigation.

The result is Student Efforts to Advance Sustainability NY, a conference that aims to “engage, inspire and empower students to enact sustainable change” on campuses across the state.

The online conference, set for April 17 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., features speakers who are leaders in campus sustainability, industry and grassroots activism. The keynote speaker is Jamie Margolin, climate activist, founder of Zero Hour, and author of “Youth to Power: Your Voice and How to Use It.”

There are also small workshops to help students network and share ideas for sustainability initiatives at their schools.

The planning committee, which includes students from Hobart and William Smith, Bard and Cornell, lined up the Nature Conservancy in New York and Common Energy as sponsors. Students were responsible for everything from the branding and marketing materials to securing the speakers to designing a website, advertising the event and creating the schedule.

So far, 142 people from 32 schools have registered for the event. The goal is 150.

“This is our first time planning something like this, so we are so proud and excited,” Costello said.

In addition to Stebbins and Costello, other Union students who helped plan the conference include Ebyan Abshir '24, Alyssa Harrynanan '22 and Hailey Stoltenberg '23.

“The main thing we hope to accomplish is to establish a network across college sustainability leaders to improve communication and help everyone elevate their own impact on their respective campuses,” Costello said.