Kayleigh Rust had no idea that she would be spending part of her college career becoming proficient in PVC. But it’s all in a day’s work as the sustainability intern at Sierra Nevada Brewery in Chico.
In fall 2007, the CSU, Chico environmental economics major was researching strip curtains, those plastic strips that hang at the back of delivery trucks and refrigerated warehouses, keeping the contents cool. She was looking for curtains that conserve energy but don’t tear the shrink-wrapping on the boxes that pass through the curtain on a conveyor belt.
Rust says that attending a university with a clear commitment to reducing carbon emissions prepared her for this sought-after internship. CSU, Chico has won national honors for this commitment, including being named the top campus in the nation in 2007 by the National Wildlife Foundation for innovative efforts to curtail global warming, and among the 10 “Greenest Colleges in America” in 2008 by The DailyGreen, a popular Web site that bills itself as “The consumer’s guide to the green revolution.” The University also boasts Professor Jeff Price, one of the lead authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore.
Many of CSU, Chico’s successes and innovations in sustainability have been initiated by students, and the campus culture has served as a firm foundation. “The professors and staff have presented us with opportunities, including internships, major programs, minor programs, and funding, that have allowed us as students to really take off and run with it,” says Rust.
Rust helped design the new minor in Managing for Sustainability with Professor Tracy McDonald, making CSU, Chico the only business school in the United States that offers such a minor to undergraduates, says Rust. She is also a member of Social Entrepreneurs Emerging with new Direction (SEED), a student-run organization focused on businesses’ relationship to the environment. SEED was envisioned and established by Taylor Bass, a senior business major who won the first Jack Rawlins Environmental Prize for the project.
SEED’s main goal is to “create young social entrepreneurs,” says Bass. The organization consists of a group of students serving as an environmental business consulting firm that does sustainability assessments for a number of organizations, including the City of Chico. The money earned by this environmental consulting work will become “seed” money for alumni entrepreneurs starting sustainable businesses.
The SEED project got a big boost when Bass was the first recipient of the $10,000 Jack Rawlins Environmental Award in December 2006. James Pushnik, chosen in 2003 to serve as CSU, Chico’s Rawlins Professor in Environmental Literacy, says the Rawlins selection committee was very pleased to honor Taylor with the award.
“His plan of creating social entrepreneurs is based on a large vision,” says Pushnik. “It reflects Jack Rawlins’ own large view of environmental problems and solutions. Taylor’s project sets the bar high for these awards.”
“Rust and Bass are two of many students making a difference at CSU, Chico”. For example, an ongoing partnership between University Housing and Food Service and Associated Students Recycling, the award-winning Diversion Excursion program in 2008 diverted 17,595 pounds of unwanted electronics, clothes, canned goods, and furniture from student residence halls, and distributed these reusable and recyclable items to community charities.
Bass sees the wide range of social, economic, and environmental issues in sustainability as an opportunity to engage a larger variety of students. “This is why Jack Rawlins started his award, to get some students who aren’t normally leading interested in working with sustainability,” he says. “This is why programs like the Sierra Nevada internship that Kayleigh had are so important. I think these efforts are the next step for our campus: Offering more opportunities for students to succeed will broaden the types of students who involve themselves in sustainability.”