Sustainability in action: Local graduates work to build community

From monsoons to mudslides, hurricanes to floods, and earthquakes to fires, 2017 witnessed its fair share of natural disasters. As extreme weather becomes more frequent in today’s world, concerns regarding climate change and global warming have increased as well.

While the natural disasters that plagued 2017 received national news coverage, the Allegheny and Meadville communities have begun to promote green initiatives in more subtle and inclusive ways to further efforts to call attention to environmental issues and promote environmental stewardship through community programs.

Allegheny voluntarily completed an energy audit in collaboration with Siemens Energy Company and the Clinton Climate Initiative during the summer of 2008, and pledged in 2011 to achieve a 20 percent reduction in energy by 2020, partnering with the Better Buildings Challenge initiative.

“Through that goal, the school has been able to construct and redesign buildings on campus that either require less energy to run, produce alternative sources of energy, work to absorb carbon dioxide and provide cleaner oxygen on campus,” Allegheny Student Government President Mark MacStudy, ’18, said. “Within ASG, sustainability is a key focus and we try showing that through the work done by our Director of Sustainability and Environmental Affairs.”

MacStudy said ASG encourages sustainable behaviors throughout campus. He hopes students learn how to be more environmentally friendly and practice habits that follow them after graduating Allegheny.

“I feel that it is important to focus on the educational aspects of green living and sustainability to start because, without a basic understanding of what it all is, it’s impossible to improve upon,” MacStudy said.

Allegheny Student Government Director of Sustainability and Environmental Affairs Akeem Adesiji, ’20, said Meadville is moving in the right direction and, as the college and Meadville’s relationship grows stronger by working together in local initiatives, community members will become more aware of environmental issues on a local, state, national and global level.

Adesiji said the college and Meadville communities have been working together to promote community. He said local businesses have been working with the administration to give student discounts and promote events.

Like MacStudy, Adesiji said he thinks education plays a key part in addressing environmental issues and community concerns. In his junior seminar, Adesiji, said his class is working to assess the resilience of Meadville in correlation with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as well as examining the economic, social and environmental aspects of the community.

Community projects and programs like Grow Meadville, Creek Connections, the DeHart Local Foods Market and Dinner, I Heart Meadville and I Heart Allegheny teach and encourage others about sustainability, environmental action and form better relationships between the college and Meadville, according to Adesiji.

The United Nations issued a list of Sustainable Development Goals on Sept. 25, 2015. By addressing and striving to meet the goals, communities are working towards creating a more cohesive and environmentally friendly world.

“Each goal has specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years,” the UN website says. “For the goals to be reached, everyone needs to do their part: governments, the private sector, civil society and people like you.”

While local programs may not directly focus on publicized issues like climate change, Kerstin Martin, Carr Hall garden manager, said programs like Grow Meadville still promote attitudes of community, stewardship and educate citizens as they create bonds with their neighbors.
Through collaboration between the Allegheny and Meadville communities, the Sustainable Development Goals are being promoted, according to Adesiji.

Grow Meadville is a youth program that gives eighth-, ninth- and 10th-graders the opportunity to learn how to grow and cook food. Another aspect of the Grow Meadville network is the series of community gardens around town where signs can be found and are used to educate garden visitors about the program and its goals, according to Martin.

“I think both of those programs are kind of grassroots efforts that involve residents working with residents to create something that they want to see in the community and sustain in the community,” Martin said. “I think that having a program or a visual representation of the gardens is just very rewarding and it’s kind of a snowball effect.”

Although these programs are specific to the local community, Martin said she thinks they can grow and have a greater impact on society as they work to promote sustainable attitudes.

“When we were developing our programs, we definitely looked at other communities that were doing similar things for inspiration and ideas for how to do it,” Martin said. “I know with our community garden, we’ve gotten a lot of questions and people coming to see how they can start their own garden wherever they are. I hope that people who are visiting or people that move away from here would take that with them and feel like they can do that in other places.”

Sustainability Coordinator Kelly Boulton, ’02, believes graduates who decide to stay in the area help create opportunities for students to connect with the local community.

“There are students in Meadville that are doing amazing work to do community-building and I think that’s having some social impacts,” Boulton said.

Overall, Martin and Boulton think that creating relationships and personal ties to the community helps establish stronger bonds. Through those relationships, misconceptions are disproven and opportunities become more evident to students.

Local community work can have a significant impact, according to Adesiji. However, the personal relationships and willingness to learn are the keys to creating real, lasting change.