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NIU Sustainability Coordinator to help unify campus environmental efforts| NIU Sustainability Coordinator to help unify campus environmental efforts

NIU Sustainability Coordinator to help unify campus environmental efforts| NIU Sustainability Coordinator to help unify campus environmental efforts

NIU Today | NIU Sustainability Coordinator to help unify campus environmental efforts

NIU Associate Professor Courtney Gallaher assumed the role of NIU’s first sustainability coordinator in July 2021. Although sustainability efforts have been ongoing on campus for at least a decade now, the new sustainability coordinator will unify the efforts of many departments and organizations.

Associate Professor Courtney Gallaher became NIU’s first sustainability coordinator in July 2021.

Gallaher’s first year has three main goals. She wants to conduct a greenhouse gas inventory of NIUs campuses, to track NIUs sustainability efforts in accordance with standards set by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, and to conduct a campus tree inventory as part of Tree Campus USA, an Arbor Day Foundation program. With the support of an advisory board, Gallaher hopes that she can advance sustainability goals related energy efficiency, recycling and composting.

We are delighted to have Professor Gallaher as NIUs sustainability coordination coordinator as part of Northern Illinois Center for Community Sustainability. (NICCS) director Gerald C. Blazey, NIU vice-president for research and innovation partnerships, said. NICCS aims at combining research with action to make a real difference in the world. Courtney’s background in research and teaching in urban agriculture, environmental geography, and environmental management positions her well to lead NIU as it responds to the sustainability challenges that the world faces right now.

Gallaher’s position is the result of a joint vision between the NIU Office of Research and Innovation Partnerships and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She will be working closely alongside Dean Bob Brinkmann (an international expert on sustainability).

Brinkmann stated that the university’s commitment to making their campus and communities more sustainable is demonstrated by having a sustainability coordinator. NIU has been a leader in sustainability research over the years. This will be matched by strong campus efforts.

Dr. Gallaher is a strong expert on a variety of sustainability issues. This will help us address both environmental sustainability issues and issues of environmental equity, Brinkmann explained.

Gallahers journey to sustainability coordinator took decades.

Gallaher explains that my mom learned about the contest for schools to do environmental projects. She also won prizes. My school decided to count all the paper used in school and plant the equivalent amount of trees on school property. I was appointed class manager for this school project. I clearly remember talking to the waste management agency for the city and trying find out how much paper a tree produces. How much can that be recycled into? We would refill the paper towel dispensers and fill in the little tree charts that were made. We ended up planting 30 trees on school property on Arbor Day. It was a huge success and we had a great time.

Gallaher says that the project inspired me to think about sustainability in institutional settings. So, when I went to college, I knew I wanted something environmentally-minded.

Gallaher earned her B.S. Gallaher went on to earn her B.S. and Masters in Soil Science and Ph.D. In Geography. Her research focuses on sustainable food and agricultural systems as well as international development and environmental management. Gallaher and her students have been involved in community projects since Gallaher arrived at NIU 2012 They have partnered up with DeKalb Community Gardens to study how community gardens can affect food insecurity. They also helped to create a bicycle-sharing program on campus and collaborated with DeKalb to conduct the city’s greenhouse gases inventory.

Gallaher, an associate professor in the department of Geographic and Atmospheric Sciences and the Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality, was jointly appointed. She sees her new position as an extension of her teaching and research, and to scale up the work she and her colleagues have been doing to make NIU more sustainable.

This is a way to collaborate with student groups, other departments, and centers on campus so that we can collectively make an even bigger impact, Gallaher states.

NIU is not alone in appointing sustainability coordinator. As universities recognize the benefits of sustainability for students and staff, this position is becoming more common across the country.

Gallaher states that it is clear that the world is facing major ecological crises. NIU and other universities have recognized this and are committed to doing something. But sustainability is also a practical issue. It makes economic sense to conserve energy. You’re helping the environment while also saving money for your university. There are good reasons for universities to prepare for climate adaptation as part their risk management planning.

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A focus on sustainability is equally important. It not only makes students more attractive, but it also prepares them for the growing number of jobs that require environmental management and sustainability.

Gallaher says that the whole purpose of higher education is to prepare students to do meaningful work in the world and get jobs. I will have a graduate student working alongside me. I also teach an Environmental Management class every year. After we’ve completed the greenhouse gases inventory, these students will be helping to create the campus climate plan. They will also assist with general sustainability documentation and work with the City to create the city’s climate action plan. There are many opportunities for students to come in and be trained.

Gallaher also argues for sustainability as a social justice issue, which is in line with NIUs larger focus on equity.

Gallaher states that there is strong evidence that environmental issues negatively impact minoritized communities more than others. The environmental justice movement was born from the study of how environmental toxins are differentially dumped within communities of color. We are seeing climate change play out in a way that low-income communities don’t necessarily have the ability or resources to relocate, have adequate air conditioning, or have adequate health facilities. As our environmental problems increase in scale, equity issues arise.

For the past year and half, we’ve had such intense conversations about social justice and race in the United States that it would be beneficial to bring these two issues together. I believe that people are finally able to talk about equity as well as sustainability as one issue.

Despite the challenges, Gallaher believes there is hope for the future, especially when she sees the passion and commitment of students to address environmental and social issues.

She says that one of the best things about students is their enthusiasm and willingness to help. Sometimes we don’t know that there is a problem. So students often come to the faculty and say, “I see this problem. How can we solve it?” We’ve been able make it happen.

Learn more about Northern Illinois Center for Community Sustainability. Visit the NICCS website. If you are interested in joining the sustainability advisory committee, please contact Professor Gallaher at: cgallaher@niu.edu.

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