Campus sustainability efforts halted completely by eight-month closure of Sustainability Office

The office has been closed and its programs inactive since March, though it will hopefully be reopening soon.

Earlier this year, MU closed its Sustainability Office and suspended all its programs, bringing sustainability activities on campus to a standstill.

The closure happened during the initial COVID-19 panic this spring and seemed to student employees to be a temporary closure similar to what many businesses and resource centers experienced in the early days of the pandemic. However, once school started again for the fall semester, they were blindsided by the news that the office had been closed because its manager, Srinivasan Raghavan, had left the university. This left the office unable to operate and facing an uncertain future until very recently, when MU confirmed the office would be moved under Student Affairs and reopened.

“The office has been closed this entire time,” said Zoe Westhoff, student intern at the office and president of Sustain Mizzou, the student organization associated with the Sustainability Office. “I had no idea what was going on or where the money was for the office.”

Prior to its closure, the Sustainability Office was funded from two primary sources: the student sustainability fee, paid by every student as part of their annual activities fee, and by the Department of Operations, under whose umbrella the office fell. The sustainability fee is only $1.24 per student, but those dollars add up quickly on a campus with tens of thousands of students.

The Sustainability Office’s official Twitter states that it is “focused on sustainability principles of social equity, environmental stewardship & economic prosperity.”

“The Sustainability Office does a lot of stuff,” Westhoff said. “We do the campus farmers market, which brings local farmers to campus. We do the bike resource center which is free bike repair. Those are all funded by the sustainability fee.”

Westhoff explained that the Sustainability Office is also responsible for collecting all data when it comes to sustainability on campus. That means running audits for things like how much recyclable material actually gets recycled. “We do STARS [Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System] reporting, which is really important to the university,” Westhoff said. “It helps us apply for grants, it gives us a status for how sustainable we are, it shows us in certain categories where we can improve. And it takes years to do. With the fact that the office has been closed for eight months now, nobody has been doing it. I understand that COVID comes as a priority, but pushing everything away is definitely not the best way to handle it.” The Sustainability Office’s campus presence has been growing in the past couple of years. At the same time, according to Westhoff, its funding has been steadily decreasing, forcing some services to be cut. For example, the Mizzou Dashboard, a website monitoring various sustainability statistics on campus for easy student accessibility, was cut a few years ago. “I’d say we’re growing in terms of awareness on campus, but in terms of programs we’re definitely getting defunded,” Westhoff said. “We’re losing a lot of money and we weren’t able to keep up with some of the things we need to do.”

However, Westhoff is optimistic about the office’s future and the forecasted move to Student Affairs, and she has good reason to be.

“Because of financial challenges to the Sustainability Office, we are moving the student programs associated with the Sustainability Office under Student Affairs to ensure their viability for the foreseeable future,” a spokesperson from MU said. “Sustainability is important to us and is a key component of our campus. We want to make sure our student programs stay vibrant and are supported.”

“I think this’ll be a lot better because under Operations we were more working with landscaping services and other background departments,” Westhoff said. “I’m hoping that with this change we can restructure things a little bit better and actually have more of a focus on what we actually want to focus on, sustainability-wise.”

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