Students and Sustainability at SUU

‘Going green’ has become a trend for college students across the country, and those at Southern Utah University are no different. With an increase in environmental interest on campus in recent years, understanding how to live more sustainably is a priority for both the university as a whole and for the students who attend.

However, what exactly a ‘sustainable lifestyle’ looks like is a complicated issue.

Part of this is because of controversy surrounding whether or not individual behavior changes actually have a positive environmental impact. This is an issue that SUU senior engineering major and Sustainability Club president Paul Rhodes III grapples with in his attempt to live more sustainably. 

“After getting involved with some national environmental organizations, I’ve learned a lot about just how… you really need systemic change. You really need widespread climate action if we are actually going to solve everything,” Rhodes said.

However, the relatively small impact of individual behavior changes doesn’t diminish their value for Rhodes. To him, even small steps are crucial to a more sustainable future.

Jason Mark, editor for the Sierra Club, argued in an article for the organization’s magazine that both systemic and individual behavior change are necessary to better support the environment.

“Dodging the issue of individual behavior could lead the climate movement into a cul-de-sac in which the public won’t be willing to shoulder the work of the climate transition,” Mark wrote. 

He explained that because a more sustainable future will require a different lifestyle even after systemic changes are made, not only is there value in individual changes, but it is necessary for aligning individual needs with those of the planet.

With eight million tons of plastic being dumped into the ocean every year, it can be difficult for those looking to live a sustainable lifestyle to know where to start.

Rhodes recommends trying not to get caught up in living completely sustainably, but instead making small changes.

“I think a great way to start is to start with the little individual actions of recycling, using less water, trying to reduce your own carbon footprint,” Rhodes said. “If you live in Enoch or New Harmony, don’t feel obligated to bike to school… Do what you’re able to do and do what works for you.”

Common ideas of everyday changes people can make include driving less, eating less meat, composting food, and creating less plastic waste by using reusable options, such as grocery store bags and water bottles. 

Eco-conscious students can also volunteer for large-scale environmental activism organizations such as the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, or even participate in the numerous clubs SUU has on campus that promote sustainability.

SUU’s Sustainability Club focuses on both teaching people how to make individual changes, such as eating meatless on Mondays or thrifting clothing instead of buying new, and also advocates for more sustainable practices from the university as a whole.

One of the biggest events the club has held was a climate strike last fall. The event attracted around 150 people from numerous cities in southern Utah who held signs advocating for more environmental awareness and better protection of natural resources. 

“We marched around campus and it was really awesome. At the end I read the student climate resolution where we were asking SUU to take serious actions in the form of tracking our climate emissions, working to reduce them,” Rhodes shared.

Because of this climate strike, the university developed a sustainability committee made up of faculty, staff and students who oversee ways in which the university can adapt to be more sustainable, whether that be reducing power usage or creating less waste.

Last year the Sustainability Club also facilitated a yard sale with around 500 participants, where students came and swapped or sold clothes among each other. They also hosted a campus-wide campaign encouraging students to walk or bike to school once a week, and offered refreshments to those who participated.

However, Rhodes expressed that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the club hasn’t been able to hold such large events during the year, and has been focusing more on small events, such as a recent canning night.

In addition to the Sustainability Club, Rhodes shared that the two other programs associated with it are a great way that students can get involved.

T-Bird Bikes is an organization Rhodes started with fellow SUU student Greyson Jones at the beginning of the fall semester. The organization allows students to rent bikes for free and learn in a shop about bike repair. 

The SUU Community Garden is a new club on campus that meets weekly at a community garden that students can help take care of through planting, maintenance, and harvesting. Rhodes shared that they are always looking for more help.

Above anything else, Rhodes thinks people should try and become more excited about trying to protect the environment and live sustainably.

“Most of the time news articles, science, scientific research and stuff like that just seems like it’s always bad news,” Rhodes said. “And rather than looking at all the negative aspects of it, look at the positive things. Go to the national parks and really fall in love with the Earth. I think that works way better to get people excited and energized about this.”

According to Rhodes, college is the perfect time for students to begin making changes to their lifestyle, because it is a fresh start where people are finding themselves and discovering their passions.

To join the Sustainability Club, students can contact them on Instagram or join via T-Bird Connection. For more information about T-Bird Bikes, students can find them on Facebook or contact SUU Outdoors. To get involved with the SUU Community Garden, students can find information about future club meetings on Instagram. 


Story and photo by: Lainey Cartwright